Why does it have to be nature or nurture? Born or made? Why can’t we talk about talent, and people for that matter, as a combination of the two? Because really, there is no way to say for sure what causes what. Who we are is a sum-total of genes intermingling with environment, not a definitive formulation of cause-and-effect. It’s so silly, this need to pick a side. Sure it’s fun to try to figure out why people are the way they are. But at a certain point, it’s more frustrating than fruitful because we will never really know.

Of course, cultural differences tell us that we are shaped by social norms. The behaviors we adopt from adapting to those norms no doubt further influence our thoughts and beliefs, which in turn inevitably inform our feelings. Together, these intricacies of human existence create the very identity by which we define ourselves, both internally and externally.

But we can’t discount heredity either. Nothing drove this point home for me quite like the story of David Crosby’s son, James Raymond. He had been adopted at birth by a regular-Joe kind of family. There was no music in the home to speak of, yet the child was drawn to it like a magnet at the first signs of development. It was clear to the adoptive parents that their son had been born with pure musical instinct and they did what they could to nurture it.

No one knew until James was a grown man that all along, he’d been walking around with genes from a world-renown musician whose music defined the 60s. This child came out of the womb, musical, without anything in his environment to encourage it. That part was undeniable. But where he actually landed had just as much to do with how his talent had been nurtured. And so perhaps here we have the evolution of this age-old debate. Whether at home with children or in the workplace with employees, maybe the better exercise is to be on the lookout for natural talent; and then once you find it, invest effort, resources and faith to cultivate it into a gift that can be shared with the world.

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About the Author

Donna Flagg

Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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