How can we encourage society to be more reflective about nurturance, so that we can nurture the nurturers better. ?
In the last 15 years or so, the neuroscientific evidence behind all this has exploded. Our understanding of the nuances of the nurturance process has also grown (it is subtler than many of us realise, if how it is portrayed in the media is anything to go by). We are thus more confident about what kinds of nurturance work best.
Good quality nurturance produces functional, resilient beings, with a well developed capacity for empathy. Abuse and neglect leave severe permanent damage which is very difficult to undo. Our prisons and mental health systems are full of people with awful early histories of abuse and neglect. There are also subtler versions of nurturance failure, which result in human beings whose capacity for empathy is flawed; the narcissists, and the corporate and political psychopaths who blight so much life on this Planet.
We are living in a time where there is an intuitive awareness that, if we don’t, somehow, develop a critical mass of nurturers at the global level, our children and their children may inherit a planet not worth living in; a hellish world of violence , social , economic and ecological collapse .The quality of nurturance obviously has a flow on effect beyond the individual. It shapes, for good or ill, our relationships, the wider culture, and subsequent generations.
And nurturance , unlike genetic manipulations, does not require a high tech input. If we can nurture the early nurturers, we pre-empt cascades of human miseries. And we don’t need to be perfect nurturers, just “good enough”, to use Donald Winnicott’s astute turn of phrase. Nurturing the early nurturers is by far the most powerful, cost- effective and constructive measure for good available to us for the welfare of this planet. But where are the men in all this?
In this essay, I will be describing some of the advances in our understanding of the process of nurturance. I will be reviewing some of the scientific evidence that underpins it. I will also be looking at aspects of the political process through the lens of nurturance
But we need to start with a very curious phenomenon. Nurturance, both at the level of discourse and praxis, is neglected , denied and even attacked, and has been throughout human history. There is a curious hostility at work; a mindless neglect, a dumbing down, or even outright and sometimes violent opposition. Since our capacity for empathy (including our capacity to understand and extend nurturance itself) is largely a product of the nurturance we receive ourselves, this collective antipathy strongly suggests a collective failure at the very earliest levels of nurturance.
This is true even of the mainstream discourse of evolutionary theory; Darwinian “survival of the fittest” (though theorist Martin Nowak of “SuperCo-operators” would challenge this). The mainstream paradigm has tended to focus on “survival” at any cost. But what or who are the “fittest”? …..the issue is not just any old survival, but the kind of survival, the nature of the survivors.
The “Selfish Gene” is mindless (and heartless). But we, its expression, need not be. How we nurture shapes the expression of the genetic givens, for better or worse. Even rat babies fail to develop normal nervous systems if they are not licked and groomed enough. But the human capacity for reflexive awareness gives us an extra edge of influence, for good or ill. How we nurture determines whether our society will be one of Hitler clones or Dalai Lamas.
Yet nurturance, as we noted, seems to provoke resistance, even outright hatred, but also a subtler but no less destructive collective amnesia or mindlessness. It is as if nurturance needs to be re-learned and rediscovered with every generation. Nurturance itself needs nurturing. We are an empathy-challenged society. Witness the mindless narcissistic posturings of a Donald Trump or Sarah Palin. Look at our inability to empathise with asylum seekers, or the recent “repatriation” to the UK on technical “legal” grounds, of a troubled human being who had lived in Australia for 40 years. And sending refugee children alone to Malaysia is a gross failure of elementary empathy.