Dear Josh: Stages of Our Lives

by / 0 Comments / 66 View / August 31, 2015

Do you think that people are born good, evil, or with a clean slate that develops purely through environmental factors?
-Sara, Killeen

I think people have underlying motivations more complex than good or evil. Self interest is a highly adaptable survival mechanism, and we get along in this world by either cooperating with society or standing against it. Usually we’re called on to do both. Most conflict in the world isn’t between good and evil, but one good versus another good, with both parties gambling that their good is ultimately better. This is the nature or nurture question, and the best answer we’ve been able to come up with is both; people are born with dispositions towards certain personalities, but their upbringings and experiences direct those personalities towards constructive or destructive action.

It was once thought that there was an inheritable gene that can steer a person to risk taking, or potentially dangerous behavior that can spur someone into either heroism or villainy. As it turns out, it’s less an individual gene sequence but rather the right genetic cocktail that can turn someone into a risk taker, and like any good cocktail the ingredients vary. Boredom, aggression, thrill seeking, depression and sociability are all personality dispositions which contribute to someone being a risk taker, and while most people have a few of these as dominant traits, seldom are these all present in one person. For example, drinking and smoking are risky behaviors, but they’re usually adopted by those with a sociable disposition. In a roundabout and not-an-official-opinion-of-this-newspaper-kind-of-way, this can help develop stronger relationships with people, and make someone more likely to act kind or generous to that social circle.

People who are bored seek new stimulation and in the process make scientific progress by doing things others haven’t done before. Aggressive people antagonize others and cut off 18-wheelers on the highway, thus ruining everyone’s morning. Thrill seekers are addicted to the adrenaline of extreme physical activity. Depressives internalize a mental state of worthlessness in order to do good to justify their existence. All of this is behavior that can bring someone to an early demise, yet we haven’t evolved out of it because it’s all been the driving force for our continued survival for thousands upon thousands of years. We need aggressive people to defend us, the bored and the thrill seekers to be willing to explore the frontier, and depressives to use their ability to ruminate deeply to solve complex problems. We also need sociable people to tie us altogether to prevent us from killing ourselves.

Many people possess these genetic traits, some more than others. However, instinct is muddled in this modern era, so we usually freeze up and remain inactive because we have to process it now. Training, mental preparation and muscle memory enable us to activate our genetics, for better or worse. So, yes; people are born slightly more likely to do things which could be good or could be bad, and their life molds them further.

How do I get my temper down when playing video games?
-Chris, Killeen

When we spoke you play baseball and soccer sims. I mainly play fighters casually, but probably on some rudimentary competitive level. I generally get destroyed when feeling a game out for the first time, until I learn from my mistakes, recognize my opponent’s patterns, and study the habits of pro players. Of course, this all requires a great investment of time, so I usually don’t get very far.

You’re going to have to put yourself in a certain mindset. This is difficult in any competitive activity, but you have to separate yourself from your own ego. It’s your abilities that will be judged in the middle of competition, not your very being, and unless you have studied a game to a near-obsessive degree then you’re likely not going to consistently win games. The fact that you still maintain a temper while playing video games means you probably haven’t been bested enough; you’re going to have to develop humility.

Basically, you’re going to have to witness high level play, and appreciate players who can push you to that level of performance. Playing itself is, of course, an artform.

To you, dear reader: if you have a question burning a hole into your mind’s eye, please email it to for submission. Because I still need to write stuff.