One of the oldest arguments in Sociology is “Nature vs. Nurture”. Does our genetic map determine who and what we will become? Are our destinies instead decided by our environment and early training? Or is there yet a third possibility – That we continue to grow and change throughout our lives?
Lori and I don’t get out to the movies very often, but we managed to see two this week – Star Trek and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. There was a common thread to the two films – Both looked at future Heroes before they came into their power. Corey is also currently reading one of Gordon R. Dickson’s “Dorsai” series, “Young Bleys,” which is also about the origin of an extraordinary person.
While James T. Kirk, Bleys, and James Howlett (aka Logan aka Wolverine) were in no sense “ordinary” as children, they all had to develop before they became true Superheroes. Along the way, they faced a number of “character challenges”, where they made life choices that eventually led them to become greater than they began.
Nature is clearly a powerful factor in both Wolverine’s and Kirk’s lives. Kirk’s father was a Starfleet officer who briefly becomes Captain of a Starship and sacrifices himself to save his crew. Kirk is born with the superior intelligence, charisma, and physical qualities that characterize a leader. He also appears to inherit his father’s willingness to take risks and make sacrifices despite never having met him. James T. Kirk would certainly be a Warrior in the School for Heroes.
Wolverine discovers his hand-spikes and learns that his half-brother has claws. They are different from those around them from the beginning, and their struggles to survive push them even farther from the common run of humanity. But Logan is not the same as his brother. Wolverine has an unbreakable sense of honor and rightness. He refuses to kill innocent people or to compromise his ethical principles. Although Wolverine appears on the surface to be a Warrior – he certainly has warlike tendencies – an argument could be made for placing him in the Paladin class. He certainly has the integrity and independent spirit to be a Paladin, and he has no desire to be a leader of others.
It would be easy for these heroes to “give up” – Kirk as a fatherless, reckless child constantly in trouble with the law; Wolverine as an outcast, hunted by anyone who knows of his “difference”. But instead, they fight, and struggle, and survive. And in the course of that, they learn. Kirk somehow manages to score highly on academic exams. Sure, he’s a smart kid, but so are most of our students and readers. What set him apart from the “merely above-average” crowd was that he loved learning as much as he loved danger and excitement. He never gave up, never accepted that he had any limits, and took the time and effort to excel in everything he tried. Kirk didn’t have superpowers, “just” an indomitable spirit and the drive to prove to himself that he could do anything. Kirk is the ultimate Warrior – A man of direct action and a self-assured leader whom others want to follow.
In “Young Bleys”, by Gordon R. Dickson, Bleys Ahrens also has a rich genetic background – He is really, really smart. But his mental power is just a tool. He really takes off and begins to come into his own when he decides that he must know everything there is to learn in several crucial areas of study. He also decides that he needs physical strength and martial arts training so that his body will support what his mind can do. Over the course of many years of intensive work and study, he hones his natural abilities into those of a superman. Bleys Ahrens is clearly a Wizard – He analyzes everything, then acts on the knowledge. His domination over others is through manipulation, rather than the result of true leadership.
Bleys believes that he knows – better than anyone else – what the future of humanity should be. He devotes his life to bringing about the future he foresees, even though he knows that few will thank him for changing their lives. Bleys sees himself as a Paladin, but he does not have the Paladin’s wisdom and understanding of the Right Path. His pursuit of “the greater good of humanity” is driven by arrogance and ego rather than true caring. Young Bleys has the potential to become a super-hero or a super-villain, but neither path is preordained for him. A Wizard pursuing the path of a Paladin is a powerful force for good or evil.
Predestination or Chaos?
I think that both theories – Nature and Nurture – are missing something. Their proponents seem caught up in the idea of predestination – Whatever happens to us early in our lives takes charge over everything else. We don’t buy that. We think it gives people a convenient excuse for failing to take charge of their own lives. After all, everything important has already been decided, so what difference does it make what training or effort you take later in life?
Well, it does make a difference. People change careers. Businessmen fail, come back to fail again, then go on to succeed in their next venture. People pull themselves out of the ghetto, or the gutter, and go on to have useful and happy lives. Athletes have a heartbreaking loss, then come back with the performance of their lives. Current “King of Bowling” Wes Malott defended his crown today by making a comeback after missing an easy spare. He said, “Ironically, I had talked with a father with three kids before the show and I told them you had to put bad shots behind you and focus on making the most of your next one. That’s what I did. I could have given up, but I bounced back.”
A long-shot, “Mine That Bird”, just won the Kentucky Derby. Four race previews listed him 20th, 20th, 16th, and 17th of the 20 horses. One reporter commented that he was, “Too slow to be a factor.” The betting made him a 50:1 underdog. He seemed to fulfill that prediction in the early running, riding well behind the pack. But the Derby isn’t a sprint, and isn’t decided in the early running. Jockey Calvin Borel believed in his mount and focused on its strength, not its weakness. He used Mine That Bird’s smaller size to maneuver between the other horses and skim the rail to make his way through the pack. The result – The second-biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it. The way to buck the odds is to keep trying. Figure out what went wrong, but treat it as a learning experience, not a life-defining failure. Go back and try again until you get it right – or the random factors align in your favor – then keep on going. Your life is not formed at birth, and it’s not defined in childhood. Those just give you your starting position. So what if your critics give you no chance to succeed? So what if they put you on the outside gate? If you can’t run with the pack, maybe that’s a signal that you should ride in front of them. It just might be your chance to be a Leader.
Do You Want to Be a Hero?
Ask yourself this: How do you want to live the rest of your life? Do you want to continue to be an above-average person with o.k. results? Does that satisfy you? Does it thrill you?
Or will you be a Captain Kirk? A Wolverine? Someone extraordinary, a Hero? If you want to be more than ordinary, it will take more-than-ordinary commitment, effort, and willingness to fight the odds. It will be a lifelong journey, but one you can take a few steps at a time.
Better get started!