Existential Psychology

Water Your Good Seeds

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When trying to explain away evil actions, people on the nurture side of the nurture versus nature debate are likely to say, “He couldn’t help it. He’s a product of his environment” where people on the nature side of the nurture versus nature debate are likely to say “He couldn’t help it. His genes are responsible for how he is.”

Existentialists find the whole nature versus nature debate ridiculous because they realize that all freedom is bounded by the unalterable aspects of existence, but that within these bounds we always retain the freedom to respond to our situations as we see fit. It’s obvious to competent psychologists that people are a mixture of nature and nurture, that each is influenced by and influences the other in a continuous cycle.

But although there are many unalterable aspects of your situation, like the culture, family, and time period you were born into (nurture) and the genes you inherited (nature), you are the one who gets to decide how you’re going to respond. Having an evil thought doesn’t make you evil; acting on it does. As Thich Nhat Hanh has often explained, we all have good seeds and evil seeds, the potential to help or to harm those around us, and it’s up to us as individuals to take on the responsibility for our gardens, choosing to actively water the good seeds so that they can grow into lush plants while refusing to water the bad seeds so that they never have the chance to sprout. It’s never too late to stop watering the bad seeds and to refocus all your attention on the good.

This is where existential freedom lies. In spite of all the things outside of your control, you can control how you are going to respond to the unalterable aspects of your life. You can make the decision to try to reduce suffering in the world instead of add to it. There are many things you are not responsible for, but what you are responsible for, and your only true possessions, are your actions. You always retain the freedom to choose the correct action despite the transitory thoughts or feelings that might be compelling you to choose an action that will harm you and those around you.