Just as some psychologists reject the notion of the unconscious, pleading “lack of evidence,” there are those who reject the concept of tabula rasa (literally, blank slate), or the idea that humans are born with an “empty and meaning-less” sense of self or being. Jung, for instance, reportedly did not believe in tabula rasa.
In the former case, I know where I stand: I believe the unconscious exists and one proof of it lies in dreams and in obtrusive visions and daydreams. Why do you think advertisers resort to all those subliminal appeals or convincing strategies? Why the existence of backmasked messages in popular recorded music? We can't deny the unconscious (which is different from the subconscious). Like my old mentor said, “Don’t underestimate the power of the unconscious.”
In the latter case, however, I can only register my shock. Much as I am convinced of the validity of a clean slate or blank canvass from birth, I only have high regard for Jung and his idea of pre-set archetypes, seeing various evidence of personality types around me, which are -- though admittedly a complicated affair -- roughly classifiable into general types: introvert, extrovert, gregarious, choleric, phlegmatic, etc. In the MBTI Test, there are 16 various personalities resulting from the combinations of four types: introvert, sensing, thinking, judging. One new personality test recently fascinated me: Sally Hogshead's F-Score Personality Test, which claims 49 (!) personality types.
Obviously, I’ve come across a new conflict inside of me, and apparently, I must resolve it, or else I will be forced to reject one thing in favor of the other. What to do now?
Last weekend, I went home for a high school reunion (I studied in a ‘laboratory high school’ inside a teachers’ university campus, where we were taught by student-teachers and college professors), and I came across a poster (actually an old material to me) that provoked my thoughts on the subject (I can’t help inserting a couple of intrusive commentary):
"Children Live What They Learn" (Or, The 10 commandments of child-rearing/-modeling? -RO)
"If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns violence.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty. (-->I believe this should be reworded to “toxic shame” and “unnecessary guilt” because there’s such a thing as healthy shame and necessary guilt. -RO)
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, he learns faith.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to love the world."
The above seems to indicate a fixed GIGO or petri-dish quality to parenting. An X type of parent will always produce an X type of child, it seems to say, which is fully in support of the concept of tabula rasa. How a child will turn out is dependent on how he or she is reared, or on a given set of environmental variables.
Indeed, this is what I have learned from someone's draft paper in the past that I had (fortunately) saved. Here's an edited outline:
Parenting Styles and the Kind of Children They Produce
Parenting can be categorized into authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved, if based on the four aspects of parental behavior: level of strictness; demands for the child to achieve intellectual, emotional, and social maturity; communication ability; and warmth and involvement.
The authoritarian parent has zero tolerance for disobedience, is obsessed with the child’s success, and is very strict/adopts an iron rule, believing in corporal punishment to the point of physical abuse, controlling of everything, leaving no room for the child to think for himself, and being never flexible, leaving no room for the child to learn from experience and showing no love and affection because he/she himself/herself had an unhappy childhood. What's more, an authoritarian parent has little communication with the child, never respects the child’s point of view, in their childhood always felt anxious and frustrated so, in turn, as adults, reacts by showing that he can control something in his life: his child.
Children of authoritarian parents learn through operant conditioning (learning through reinforcement or because of the consequences. They are definitely not learning how to love and socialize because they are robots who are only learning what their parents want them to learn. They usually become people who don’t know how to make their own decisions because all their lives they have been told what to do and how to do it. Growing up, these children also have a hard time adjusting to society because of their lack of ability to make decisions for themselves. Their spirits are broken and they give up or they rebel. They are thus often anxious, withdrawn, and have an unhappy disposition. They also have poor reactions to frustrations, they do well in school as compensation, and they are not likely to engage in antisocial activities because of learned fear.
Authoritative parents provide a structured environment using routines, set limits and rules and enforce them, are flexible, yet firm (and not harsh and cold like the authoritarian parent and not nonchalant like the permissive parent), are flexible and supportive, encourage verbal give-and-take, and share with the child the reason for the rule. Authoritative parents recognize the child's individuality or the fact that not all children are alike and that rules sometimes need changing depending on the child.
Children of authoritative parents learn from a classical conditioning environment (i.e., simple associative learning that enables people to anticipate events). Children are able to grow and become the person they are, but within guidelines and restrictions. They become responsible, cooperative, and self-reliant; lively as adults with happy dispositions; self-confident about the ability to master tasks; and well developed in emotional regulation and social skills.
Permissive parents give too much freedom, are responsive but never demanding, and are very loving and involved but also place few demands or responsibilities.
Children of permissive parents are spoiled brats: they get away with anything, unthinking of the consequences, whether of their good or bad behavior. They have no boundaries and never learn to control their behavior. They grow up thinking that the world is theirs for the taking. They evolve into teenage party animals, vulnerable to drug use and alcohol. Having no sense of responsibility, they may be given to living at home forever.
Uninvolved parents are detached, uncaring, and undemanding or unresponsive; provide the basic needs most of the time, but leave the child to raising themselves; give no emotional support; are dysfunctional and abusive; and therefore have no right to become parents.
Children of uninvolved parents mature beyond their years and don’t feel important in their parents’ life. Growing up, children of uninvolved parents may become delinquent and play truant in school. They also display bad or rebellious behavior and become emotionally withdrawn, affecting their adult relationships later.
My experience of the real world, however, has shown that environment is not all. Heredity also counts, not just in terms of the biological aspect of genes, but also in terms of the mysterious aspect of ‘inherited’ character traits, both strengths and weaknesses. For example, it is easy to find certain great-grandchildren of certain families to emerge like a clone/carbon copy/reincarnation of a long-deceased ancestor, whether it be in looks, temperament, or personal preferences/inclinations. Worse, there are also certain families with a mysterious predisposition to certain diseases (colon cancer, say) and vices (alcoholism, womanizing, etc.). Dysfunction (or pattern of sin, in religious lingo) runs in certain families this way, for several generations.
With its inherent limitations, heredity also seems to debunk the concept of tabula rasa. Is it merely a cultural coincidence or an arbitrary construct, for another example, that the ethnic Chinese amidst us have generally higher aptitude in math and business? How much of it could be hereditary?
Jung’s observation of the existence of archetypes, whether on the personal or collective/social level, can only be supportive of heredity.
Since I’ve tackled religious matters, I might as well bring up the subject of ‘calling,’ or the belief in some sort of a predestined role in life for a given individual, set up by a mysterious divinity ahead of schedule and fulfilled in due time despite any amount of earthly opposition. This belief also somehow weakens the idea of tabula rasa, from the Christian point of view. Is life really a matter of choosing what to do, who to love, how many kids to have, and how to entertain oneself? What if we are here for a specific purpose each, and woe to anyone who defies?
But I’ve also encountered critics of heredity, and by extension, perhaps Jung, even Freud and Dr. Spock. The EST and NLP (neurolinguistic programming) enthusiasts/advocates/adherents have proven that people can actually go beyond their limitations, whether physical or imagined, whether self-, socially, or genetically imposed, through the sheer act of the human will, through sheer choice. Among these groups of people, it’s not uncommon to hear success stories, as when a person who once thought of himself as dumb in math becomes a CFO in a blue-chip firm, all because of strong resolve and personal choice.
Indeed, I’ve personally seen people with tragic childhoods able to forgive their tormentors, overcome the hurdles of the past, and proceed to lead happy and fulfilling lives. Despite being permanently scarred, perpetually bogged down by the demons of the past, they can claim a certain constancy of ability to move on, instead of getting stuck in the quicksand.
Also, in a past blog post, I’ve similarly dwelt, albeit tangentially, on how different children raised up in abusive environments can have diametrically opposed outcomes out of choice, out of heeding the mysterious instinct of distinguishing between right and wrong, which I later used as a personal argument for the validity of the existence of what lawyers call natural law.
Note that even enthusiasts of personality tests recognize that personalities do change in time -- a loaded statement. In the face of these contrary evidence -- the proof of people eventually going against the grain, against established types and all expectations, out of choice -- the idea of tabula rasa is restored.
Perhaps the most convincing proof of the tabula rasa lies in twin studies, both scientific and anecdotal. If two persons with exactly the same genes can have two different, even opposing, personalities, then the tabula rasa is affirmed by the conclusion that personalities are ultimately individual choices notwithstanding genetics.
The problem, however, in mentioning the word instinct vis a vis the tabula rasa is that it makes the very concept of tabula rasa inescapably genetic (because theoretically all instincts are natural, biologically, genetically wired into the person's makeup). Is the tabula rasa genetic, after all? How do I reconcile Jung's archetypes with a given person's choice of personality? Or as a Catholic, the thought of calling and mission?
I'll wager that a person is indeed predisposed to a certain type and that his passions are built-in, indicating his life's calling or mission, but he still has a choice whether or not to 'honor' these or reject these as he sees fit at a given period in his life span. People have an amount of choice over the kind of person they want to be. In the end, they are the ones who do the deciding, not being automatons. If my Catholic catechism is right, man has free will, an inherent freedom embedded in one's being an unconditionally loved child of God -- a Christian way of affirming tabula rasa.
Christianity makes a further, very important distinction, however, which separates it from other faiths and schools of thought: It declares the state of emptiness/nothingness not just as a blank canvass but also as a clean slate, as something basically good and pure. (Whatever negativity emerges thereafter is a result of spiritually inherited sin.) This is the point where Christianity splits with Buddhism, and today's intepretations of the concept may be various and it is quite unclear which branch each adheres to.
You can’t blame me for seesawing, ping-ponging, or swinging like a pendulum with each new encounter of new thought on the subject, but at this point, I am confident that tabula rasa is a valid assumption.