Human Nature and Holistic Development
During my first year of study at the university, I learned several new ideas about normal and abnormal human behavior. On a weekend visit with my parents I went on and on about these new ways of behaving until my mother interrupted: “Well, it’s just not human nature to do that!” Ever since then, I have been asking myself the question “what is human nature?” A similar question is “who am I?” “Why do I think and behave the way I do?”
More recently while living in Washington, D.C., I attempted to assist a family in finding treatment for the mother who had displayed psychotic behaviors on several occasions. We drove her to a mental health facility for evaluation by the resident psychiatrist. During the conversation, a young male intern dressed in white walked by and the mother instantly changed her disposition, spat on the intern and began to scream: “He has the head of a donkey!” Later, after she was restrained and admitted, a female intern tried to reassure the family and said: “Science has discovered that our brains depend on the proper balance of various chemicals. When we find out what chemicals are out of balance in your mother’s brain, we will be able to restore her to normal.” Are we humans just matter, composed of chemicals that direct our brain functions?
I suspect that a sociologist would refer to the past history of the mother in question and point out that, for years, she had been verbally abused by her husband as a stupid, worthless excuse for a wife. Of late, even the grown children had begun to tell her she had no sense and could not do anything right. After her husband abandoned her for a much younger woman, she began to develop eccentricities which evolved into psychotic episodes. Are we humans just intelligent animals that respond to social circumstances and the treatment we receive from others? What is human nature?
Centuries ago, Greek philosophers pondered this same question. Many of them concluded that human beings are composed of mind, body and spirit.
These classical philosophers observed three aspects of human existence and elaborated the implications of the influence of each on mankind’s behavior and relationships. From the individual’s perspective, when your body feels sick with the flu, you really don’t want to study for a test or even spend time on some spiritual discipline. In a similar fashion, when your mind is stressed by a mental fixation on making a higher grade in calculus, or convincing that cute classmate to like you or deciding on a future profession, you can make yourself physically ill or begin to doubt your religious convictions. By the same token, when you engage in behaviors that violate your spiritual values, your mind repeats the consequences over and over or your body feels stressed and even fatigued.
Most days, I agree with this way of thinking which we inherited from the Greeks. However, I think that the causes for our behaviors and ways of relating to other people are even more complex. All of us live within a society that presents us with a set of norms for what behaviors are proper, allowed or illegal. All of us participate in a culture that shapes our sense of right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral. Given the socio-cultural influences we “swim in” without even being aware of them, how can we understand “who we are” and “what our purpose is” unless we involve ourselves in a lengthy process of self-discovery?
I want to encourage you to take a holistic approach to learning and to achieving your own well-being as well as contributing to the well-being of others. In the global society of the 21st century, your future profession will likely take you into situations in which you will have to understand and relate to people who are quite different from yourself. Their behaviors and ways of thinking may have been influenced by their background from a different country, ethnic group or socio-economic level. Your career satisfaction and professional success might just depend on your ability to assess the influences on your own understandings of human nature and your view of the world.