When we are born into this world, we are mushy and undefined – much more than our animal counterparts. We have a backing of DNA and genetics which can (and does) affect the trajectory of our lives, but in a large sense, we are born without the “built-in” instincts that our mammalian relatives have.
While other animals walk or run within hours of life, we humans do no such thing. We humans rely exclusively on caregivers and environment to give us our start and oil our potential. We are pretty much born a lump of clay – with all the potential our genetics can provide, but largely leaving our fate in the hands of our environment, which molds our clay to the world we live in.
In other words, we are born as an undefined “Full Slate” of much potential that the world then co-opts. We are all entirely a co-creation of the world we are born into.
What evolutionary advantage does this serve us? Dr. David Eagleman asks this question (in his TV series The Brain), and it really got me thinking. Indeed, it is a risky thing to be so heavily dependent on environmental factors in order to guide our brain development to its full potential. In the second episode of the series, he cites that our brains finish building the vast majority of neural networks by age 2. In effect, the first two years of your life have immense importance on your cognitive future. And given that social contact and human interaction is highly associated with building neural networks, if a child is missing out on these crucial components in the first two years, then they suffer for it – even potentially into adulthood if the experience was severe.
How in the world is it more advantageous for our evolution to be so dependent on the environment we are born into?
From a non-scientific, hypothetically spiritual point of view… I feel that our positive advancement forward depends on the wheel of advancement before us. One influences the other, and in an exponential way. Our positive life experiences influence future generations, and so on.
However, it is just as likely that the wheel of influence will work the other way – negatively – and then snowball the other direction.
But then – when looked at from that perspective – being born as an undefined, moldable lump of clay serves a greater purpose than we may have supposed. Even if the world is snowballing into dark, unfortunate events, the chance will still exist that we can snowball the other way. We can be re-molded. We are always born into the neutral, and could essentially “re-start” if the chance presented itself. Even as adults, our neural-plasticity can bear amazing feats.
What gives me hope is that one small act of positivity can roll fast and large into more and more positivity – faster than we thought possible. Even with the garbage of the political climate and international terrorism looming dark and ominous, I am struck by how many people that are thinking beyond it. That are being led by their hearts, and not their fear. I actually didn’t expect it at all.
It is this rhetoric that I think will lead us to the future. Leaning on our heart intelligence, our dual intelligence, is how I think we will overcome and grow in heart and spirit. And all it takes is one little snowball.
I want to take a moment to be grateful for the immense beauty of being born into a world with a vast infinite potential that is unwritten.
It is a risk – yes – but also a loving, joyful, and trusting leap of faith.
What a thing to be thankful for.
4 thoughts on “We Are the Clay, We Are the Potter”
Good title. I’d argue a little about the blank slate. From the research I’ve read, we’re born with genetically coded inclinations that are then greatly affected by environment. The nurture part plays a big role, of course, but the inherited inclinations can be seen, for example, in twins reared apart. Doesn’t take away from your main point, but since we disagree so rarely I thought I’d point it out.
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You picked up on the one thing I hemmed and hawed about extensively before pushing the ‘publish’ button because I was taking too long 🙂 I guess using the phrase ‘blank slate’ is more of a generalization, and a nod that our future is yet unwritten. After thinking about it, I think a more accurate term would be that we are born with a “full slate” – full of our genealogical potentials and potentials yet to come, however the circumstances of our environments that we are born into are the main catalyst of whether or not certain genes will express or develop at their fullest or be suppressed. And then our slate is slowly edited down… kind of a depressing thought – but not if you are in the right environment?!
(I would be interested to know if there are any twin stories where one of the twins was nurtured beyond belief, and the other happened into an abusive home early in life…)
So, yes, the blank slate thing is slightly misused in this case… I am glad you brought it to attention!
*I’m going to edit this post to be a little clearer. Thank you Mel.
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I have a lot of respect for Jonathan Haidt, who wrote the book “The Righteous Mind.” He likes the metaphor of a first draft. We are born with a first draft of in out genes, and then our environment revises it.
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Oh, yes, I like the use of ‘first draft.’