This paper will address this author’s beliefs about human nature and what determines distress and dysfunction within a system. The author will present her views on why systems experience dysfunction, and how attention to the system’s need for growth and balance is of primary importance. The author will support her theory of change by drawing on existing theories and examples of research studies, including examples from Erik Erikson, Betty Friedan, Virginia Satir, and John Dewey.
The complexities of the human experience are staggering. An attempt to discern what another individual may be experiencing will require acknowledgement that reality is relative to the context of that individual’s experiences. As a family therapist, my own determinants about human nature and the processes of day to day life will affect how I view a situation, and ultimately how I choose to work with the client in navigating their situations. In developing a theory of how I might approach a client’s distress or dysfunction, it will be important for me to have a clear understanding of what I believe makes an individual or a systemic relationship healthy. What are the key elements that cause systems to feel distress? What is essential to human experience that fosters a successful passage through periods of stress? In examining my views on human nature and change, I will create for myself a deeper understanding and more secure position on my personal ideas of therapy and how I will approach my work as a family therapist. This paper will attempt to portray my views regarding human nature, and why I believe humans have a need for personal growth. I will also provide support for my theoretical position.
Tabula Raza or A Priori
The dispute concerning human nature is not a new one. The various schools of philosophy have struggled with this subject for generations, and are no closer to agreeing on a particular view. Empiricists defend some version of the tabula raza. They come from a theory of knowledge emphasizing the role of experience in the formation of ideas, and deny any metaphysical explanations for human nature. They argue that there is only the observable world that is able to be examined and tested, and that this observable world exists as one reality for all individuals. Empiricists believe that humans come into this world as a blank slate. And it is the interaction of humans with the environment that gives rise to experiences; which, in turn, develops the human nature. The eighteenth century Scottish philosopher and Empiricist David Hume called into question the previous assumptions about cause and effect. Hume argued that we could not prove that any given cause necessarily creates any given effect (Radcliffe, McCarty, Allhoff & Vaidya, 2007). With this revelation, the idea of an innate human nature became suspicious.
Idealists, on the other hand, defend a stance of the a priori nature of man. They will tell us that there are things inherent in a human, and suggest that we come into this world with some characteristics predetermined. In concert with the a priori stance, American linguist and analytic philosopher Noam Chomsky developed a theory emphasizing the universal structure of human language. He suggested that humans share an innate characteristic that gives us the structure for grammar that makes language possible (Chomsky, 1957). Also, research in early childhood temperament and personality provides a genetic and biological basis for an individual’s personality (Thomas & Chess, 1977). Objective Idealists argue that experiences are relative, and therefore we cannot assert that there is one reality for all individuals; but instead there are multiple perspectives of reality possible. Thus, truth is relative to context.
A Time to Grow