Nature and Nurture
33rd Sunday in OrdinaryTime

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

The other day I was watching a high school presentation that showcased the students’ talents. I was impressed by these young people’s display of their abilities in public speaking, singing, dancing, and playing different musical instruments. I could see that the students were enjoying their own as well as their classmates’ entertainment numbers. They enjoyed showing off the natural gifts that have been nurtured with the encouragement of parents, peers, and teachers.

As we approach the end of the chuch liturgical calendar, the Gospel reading reminds us of our accountabilities. The Gospel passage is the familiar parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). The obvious conclusion from this parable is also oft-repeated. We are responsible for the talents that we have received from God. Some have more talents than others, but just the same, we have to do an accounting before God. When we are before God’s throne for judgment, God will not ask us whether we have been as loving as Mother Teresa, as full of missionary zeal as St. Paul, and as courageous as Lorenzo Ruiz, rather the good Lord will ask if we have become the best person that the our creator intended us to be.

Action starter: What is the most important choice that you have to make now?

There are different ways of interpreting what talents are. There is the conventional interpretation of talents as one’s natural abilities or potentials. Nowadays, in educational circles, we speak of multi-intelligences as categorized by Howard Gardner. What we used to call as I.Q. is focused only on the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. There are other intelligences such as bodily-kinesthetic and rythmic-musical intelligence, interpersonal and intrapersonal intlelligence, visual-spatial and naturalist intelligence.

A child may not be academically-inclined (linguistic-mathematical), but she may be a good dancer or athlete (bodily-kinesthetic). She may like to sing and play in the band. He may enjoy organizing events (interpersonal) or focusing on a favorite hobby (intrapersonal), or he may prefer to design and draw (visual-spatial) or grow rare orchids (naturalist).

We can also interpret talents as one’s “facticity” in life. Facticity is the cluster of objective conditions that one is born into. It is the state-of-affairs that one has not chosen when he joined the human condition. It includes one’s genetic and biological dispositions. We did not choose our family. We did not choose being born a Filipino. Nor did we choose our initial social and economic status. We all started with certain conditions that may have influenced us but these conditions did not have to limit us or determine us.

One case in point is the popular president-elect of the United States. An examination of his “facticity” reveals conditions that were not expected to produce a U.S. President. His father comes from Kenya. He grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii. He worked as a community organizer in Chicago. Even his name sounded strange. A person can rise above his facticity.

What we are is a product of both nature and nurture. We have been born with some physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual endowments. We were nurtured and were influenced by certain cultural environments. Yet, ultimately we are responsible for ourselves and we are accountable for what we become. We do not blame our genes, nor our parents, our teachers, or environment.

Accountability is the product of freedom. We are free to choose the kind of person we become, despite all odds. To be free is to take risks and to make decisions, among so many possible options. I still recall a dictum in my philosophy class, “Freedom is an island in a sea of determinisms.”