Ending Nature & Nurture: Adoptee Opinion Whether Adoptions Are “Good” or “Bad”

For the sake of brevity, I posted the bulk of what I want to ask here over here. The summary version might be: whether the “worldview” of a child (adopted or not) fundamentally agrees or disagrees with the “worldview” of that child’s parent is a central determinant whether one’s childhood (adopted or not) is deemed “good” or “bad”, respectively. Insofar as I am pointing only to one factor (“worldview”), albeit one with a sturdy carrying capacity for meaning, more articulation of this might be in order. And maybe that mostly would belong over at the other post noted above.

If there’s merit to this distinction, I would suggest it also illuminates the sometimes painful, sometimes contentious gulf between adoptees who “defend” having been adopted and those who “criticize” that experience. The irony of this situation is that defenders almost always would never wish their experience on other children despite their defense while critiquers are often hard-pressed to find any justification for why a child shouldn’t give up on life in the face of enduring such a genuinely true wrong being committed against them.

For this reason, I’m motivated especially to expose the gulf of opinion regarding “adoption is good” or “adoption is bad” as arising from a single source (“worldview”), so that the discourse about adoption doesn’t lose sight of the forest of adoption (as the social consequences of it in different societies) for its trees (as the personal consequences of it in the experiences of individuals). This, especially since the brutal collision of these two factors–of the effects of the social and the personal on the world in which we live–isn’t represented and can’t be represented by those who most exemplify that collision: the adoptees who rendered their verdict on adoption by committing suicide.

Whether we believe adoption is good or bad because of our experience of it, we arrive at that point by being (at least for now) survivors. By our very existence, whether by finding our separate peace in some way or by succumbing to the Devil’s Bargain of assimilation, we are (literally) living proof that adoption can be looked at in strictly personal, rather than social, terms. But this involves a social injustice. Because it is those who are no longer with us, who many of us might nearly have been, who must be spoken for most vociferously. Not simply because they cannot speak for themselves, but because those who do speak for them are most complicit in their absence. Their absence is our loss, everyone’s loss. It is not just a personal matter, whatever our experiences of it.

5 thoughts on “Ending Nature & Nurture: Adoptee Opinion Whether Adoptions Are “Good” or “Bad”

  1. Brief sketch – arriving at a worldview is not a given but assimilating to a prevailing view in the place we are adopted-to does not mean in the end that we necessarily believe or understand that we have a worldview. We simply view the world and have our mind stocked with concepts that reside in the global context which we may or may not have internalized and made our own. These global concepts come from a wide variety of cultural places. My own held native American concepts like the Seven Arrows and the Fourth World as well as European and Mediterranean concepts Augustinianism, Thomism, Lutheranism, Calvinism and specifically modern and global concepts like mathematics and science. A real mishmash and very hard to understand. At times one places oneself into other cultures and identify with them; but at least for me this procedure left me in the same place I started.

    In the first instance, adoption whether good or bad is a fact to be contended with. It leaves its mark in a particular world and time. Evidently, adoption has mixed results. Some are more pleased and others devastated even to the point of suicide. Adoption marks human beings in certain ways from body and sexuality to culturally. Perhaps for some adoptees, one felt task is to create or define a personal worldview in order to make sense of one’s experiences. Other adoptees may not feel that way. Thinking now of those who do need to define or become conscious of a worldview, this is what is made only after many experiences and questions and probably some suffering.

    Deriving a worldview requires becoming conscious of what one knows and seeks to know. A frequent starting point for adoptees is the denial of pastness, whether through international adoption or closed records, whatever means. This factor, combined with other factors like family secrecy, religiosity, forms of abuse, racial barriers, creates deeply felt questions of a personal nature that persist through one’s lifetime. These questions are very different from abstract and impersonal questions we learn in school, questions disconnected from anything genuinely and urgently significant. Discovering a personal question can be very significant and an important step towards consciousness and personal discovery – the formation of one’s worldview.

    At this point, having to some degree begun to experience a worldview, my opinion is that adoption practices are both in the past and present terribly misguided and harmful…often unnecessary. (I’m not talking about “ohana” of the Polynesians or other old and traditional forms of incorporating “alien” children into a family or people.) Everyone involved with adoption (except the child) should be involved with deep soul searching and acquiring an actual – and good – worldview themselves. The worldview that can then appear in the world, that incorporates understandings of the needs of an adopted (or donor conceived person) may assist the child’s growth and integration of his or her body with the world. The adopted person must be able as an adult to form their own worldview so that they can further integrate themselves in a meaningful and satisfying way in the world.

  2. Mark: I appreciate your reply and I am sorry (on the one hand) that my word choice of “worldview” created a false impression of what I meant, although also (2) I again am appreciating what you have written.

    Perhaps you (or someone else) can help me to get a better word for what I was getting at with “worldview”.

    We cannot know in advance ourselves, and anyone looking at us cannot determine by observation, the MODE of interpreting the events of the world that we encounter might be. To use a distinction used by Jung, introverts and extroverts look at and encounter the world differently. Jung called this an aspect of personality, and he also said that the FORMS of thought that human beings have are inherent parts of human cognitive biology. He didn’t quite say that personality was inheritable from one’s parents, but he certainly said that the FORMS of thinking we humans are capable of are hard-wired.

    Let me add that he wasn’t a dogmatist about this. from my reading, I believe he means that when you observe people, you will note that there are some dominant stable tendencies in people, like how introversion and extroversion get configured in human personalities. Is that genetic or environmental? He’d say, “Who cares. What matters is this is what we’re encountering.”

    This is important because it is too easy to give in to the temptation to say, “Oh, so personality is genetic”. Personality, as an empirical phenomenon of human consciousness, is a common inheritance of all people, whether that is genetic or not, whether it expresses itself in class-groups of personalities or completely individually for everyone. I didn’t and don’t want to use the word “personality” because any sense of “personality” that exists from the moment one comes out of the womb is going to get misinterpreted or misnamed as genetic.

    So, this thing that I’m talking about is a SOMETHING that is necessarily there for us at the start, because it is our MODE of relating to the world, however weakly at first and only gradually, by genes or environment (it doesn’t matter which, and probably can’t be determined), developing along various pathways until it falls into habitual patterns that are recognizable even in young children by parents is what I meant by “worldview”.

    And when there is a fundamental mismatch between that and the same feature in one or both parents, then we will find people who report childhood as a nightmare, if they managed to survive it.

  3. “So, this thing that I’m talking about is a SOMETHING that is necessarily there for us at the start, because it is our MODE of relating to the world, however weakly at first and only gradually, by genes or environment (it doesn’t matter which, and probably can’t be determined), developing along various pathways until it falls into habitual patterns that are recognizable even in young children by parents is what I meant by “worldview”.
    And when there is a fundamental mismatch between that and the same feature in one or both parents, then we will find people who report childhood as a nightmare, if they managed to survive it.” Snow Leopard

    I see what you mean now. This is what I was driving at in an above blog post (Karma and Adoption) about karma and getting mixed up in the world – losing contact with karmic relationships – and finding oneself among people who in a sense are strangers. We are karmically related to humanity so it is impossible to find anyone (I suppose) who is an absolute stranger, but people can be very strange indeed!

    Your question raises for me the question about human nature and whether we are beings existing between birth and death (which as we know is one of two western views), beings with birth whose existence persists after death (the Christian view) or beings in which birth and death are contextualized by a larger and different existence between death and rebirth. The answer to this matters in an objective sense, the same way continuity matters to migrating monarch butterflies.

    We bring with us into the world the powers that build up the body and then release themselves for other work – powers that are transformations of previous life. Our fundamental nature is beyond our parentage, but is also related to it. Through birth we are connected to our parents, families, friends, places. This is part of karma, but then through adoption we lose those relationships for another set of relationships. These new connections spark connections with older karma. I don’t suppose that older karma makes things by nature harder but it draws on us more deeply.

    That is how I am thinking about your question.

    • If karma is actual, then it is hard to make adoption anything but fantastically destructive.

      However, I want to be careful to contextualize this in some important ways.

      On the view that one’s birth happens according to an “unchanging” karma (if you will allow me the phrase for now), by this I mean that we are reborn precisely where we must be, where our karma consequentially leads to where we are reborn. To be removed from that rightful place is how adoption gets its worst sense.

      There is also the idea that, during the Bardo (or simply between lives generally), we pick where our next birth will be; more particularly, we pick our next life. On this view, it might be that our adoption is included in that template of “our next life,” which then transmutes adoption from an unmitigated bad to a complicated fact that we would each have to come to terms with in our lives (i.e., answering to our Self, “Why did I choose this challenge in life?”) The reasons at that point are potentially limitless.

      Third, it may be that either one or the other of the above prevails, but for whatever reason we do not have the ability or occasion to realize this, so that ewe incorrectly understand the first as the second or the second as the first. Similarly, whichever is the case, we can always decide that our circumstance is for the best–and can assert this without claiming at all that the wrongs of the world we learn to overcome (if we do) are not therefore good or necessary.

      In terms of what we’ve written here, we’re agreeing that there can be something from birth, something that needn’t be explained in terms of the sterile nature versus nurture distinction. If I have a question about what you’ve written, it would be, “Who is the carrier of the karma that intended me to be born here (before I was snatched away to there)?” What prevents an argument that the “karmic match” between my adoptive parents and myself couldn’t be better (or even wasn’t better) than I’d’ve experienced with my non-adoptive parents? (This reprises a perennial and problematic “better life” issue for adoptees). What I mean by “world-view” or “personality” (and the potential mismatch involved) doesn’t require an prior metaphysics.

      In my family, the mode of my being and my sister’s being (we’re the adopted ones) seems different than my brother’s mode of being (my adoptive parents’ biological son). In a famous study, a teacher was told she would have four gifted students in her upcoming class and was told who they were. And, sure enough, at the end of the year, those students tested at a gifted level relative to their peers. The punch line here is not that the students were not, in fact, gifted at the start of the year but that the researchers could identify nothing in the teacher’s behavior that could explain why these students all excelled. The explanation they offered was she simply EXPECTED them to act like gifted students. And, apparently they did.

      So why can’t parents, without ever being able to identify what it is they are doing, EXPECT their adoptive children to be different? And certainly any personality differences the child would “natively” have would resonate for the parent are different.

      My point: here then is an origin of the mismatch (in adoptive and nonadoptive children alike) that leads to nightmarish childhoods for some and not for others, all else being equal. I’d like to be able to keep the idea of karma in all of this. How do you see it merging, dovetailing, contradicting hte above?

  4. weltanschauung might be the term you are looking for? I bring it up not in terms of any precise philosophical school, but more for a generic idea that our “world outlook” as it were is recursively bound to place, language, culture, society, and class.

    I find the idea of having been born with such an outlook very intriguing, if only because I can absolutely say that there are places where I am comfortable, and places where I am not. These places are, if I were to define it, governed by outlooks that seem to be categorized according to parameters that I found spelt out in the works of Emmanuel Todd.

    He categorizes (anthropologically) variations in society that are based in family structure, along particular parameters: Types of marriage; types of inheritance; etc. This breakdown allows for very interesting “remapping” of places beyond their modern-day borders, and allows us to definitely point to, say, a “Mediterranean” way of seeing the world, or a “mountain” vs. “coastal” view of things (I’m simplifying greatly).

    Here’s a good blog that dissects this all in an interesting way:


    I bring all of this up because it starts to point out another divergence, beyond the “good adoption/bad adoption” schism brought up above: That of an actual lived world outlook and living a fabricated world outlook. It seems we are more and more seeing and living a false fabricated affected existence that is at odds with what we might very well say is intrinsic in cultural terms and perhaps, beyond that, genetically speaking.

    Such that adoption relies on the ability to fabricate out of whole cloth a “world outlook” that allows this kind of attempted grafting, when culturally speaking, there is no place for such a thing. And so the mythology of adoption attempts to override what is inherently culturally speaking completely alien.

    I’ve typed this all in rather quickly, and am not sure how this is reading, so apologies if I’m not making sense. But it is absolutely compelling to me why Lebanon, which shares with the nation of my acculturation an even more focused neo-liberal economy which I despise completely, and yet, and yet, I feel a resonance here and a “fitting in” that is beyond the mere physical resemblance of things, and beyond any “honeymoon” feelings toward the place that are long, long since gone.

    This is why I think it is important, especially for those who are currently and conveniently perhaps seen as “white” within the adopted population to concentrate on their roots in a very focused way, a very localized way. Because the “stopping point” of nation (and our nationality) is constructed and therefore bogus. It is perhaps in getting down into the thick of it that we might see how our “world outlook” jibes or doesn’t with that of our forebears, as well as understand why it does or does not resonate with those who raised us.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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