Susan Badeau

There are only two lasting gifts we can give our children - one is roots, the other is wings


"Nature vs Nurture" And Navajo Rug Weaving

Posted by Sue Badeau on August 17, 2014 at 5:45 PM

A child is rude, disrespectful and constantly “acting-up” in the classroom.

Was he “born to be wild?”

Or is it a case of bad parenting?

Two frightened children survive a school shooting by squeezing side-by-side under a desk.

After a period a shock and grief, one emerges seemingly unscathed, a fighter, strong and flourishing, while the other is gripped by a paralyzing fear, seemingly incapacitated and unable to move on in life.

We call one “resilient” and an example of the strength of the human spirit. Does she have better DNA or better parenting than the other child, who we silently accuse of “wallowing” in self-pity or “refusing” to “get-over” the experience?

Nature vs. nurture. The age-old debate.

In recent years, brain scientists have helped us to understand a third option. It is not nature versus nurture - or biology versus experience in some grand cosmic battle, rather it is the interplay of nature/biology and nurture/experience that forms, shapes and continually modifies each individual’s sense of self, world-view, feelings and behaviors. The term to describe this interplay is “epigenetics.”

If you love science, as I do, it is the fascinating, compelling, exciting and exhilarating new frontier. As we learn more about how nature and nurture interact, we can also have increased hope for the possibilities of helping children heal from often overwhelming traumas associated with abuse, neglect or other horrific life experiences.

And yet if you are not a scientist, as I am not, this new frontier can seem too complex and confusing to possibly make sense of.

Until you spend an hour or so watching a Navajo rug-weaver practice her craft.

A weaver can sit at the same loom, constructed of the same material day after day. She can use the same tools. Work with the same skeins of yarn, dyed in the same colors. And yet, each time, she will produce a distinctly different and marvelously unique artistic masterpiece.

Almost like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike.

Those who know and study Navajo rug-weaving point out that you can “feel the weaver’s hand” in the completed rug, the heart and spirit, hopes and individuality of each weaver is as tangible as the individual threads of yarn.

As I watched Beverly Benally weave, during a presentation by the “Adopt a Native Elder” program the whole nature and nurture thing, that scientific frontier of epigenetics, it all became clear to me in a beautifully simple way.

The loom, tools and skeins of yarn are like the elements of “nature,” DNA, biology.

The weaver and the act of weaving are like the elements of “nurture,” experience, relationship, love, hope and faith. The same weaver will never weave the same rug twice.

Two or more children can share DNA and biology (nature). They can also share the same parenting and life experiences.

And yet, they will not reflect these elements in the exact same way.

And if these two or more children experience trauma, this means their response to that trauma in their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, will be different.

And they will require different responses from the adults in their lives in order to heal and create the beautiful tapestry of their own personal story.

We can each be a weaver, helping a traumatized child not only heal from trauma, but to create their own artistic masterpiece.

Where science and love come together there is great beauty and great hope. And that is worth getting excited about.

“She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle. – Proverbs 31:19

*More about the Adopt-a-Native-Elder program:

Categories: Building Bridges of Hope

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