Human Capital and the Vagaries of Life

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Accounting for human capital begins early in life. At birth, each of us carries certain capacities and attributes which our environment will mold, define us, and greatly influence the trajectory of our lives. These are attributes, temperaments, and tendencies that we are endowed with at birth, including the family and culture we are born into. In Oriental culture, divining the hidden blueprint of the future life of a child is common practice. This is done to guide parents on how to create the optimum environment for the developing child. The Hindus have Sanskrit terms for these: Karma and Samskara.

For many of us, we call these Fate a rather deterministic concept. Karma is the totality of our manifest or tangible circumstances, both positive and negative, such as being born in a wealthy family or with a handicap or musical gifts, or special skills, etc. Samskara consists of our potentialities, both positive and negative, waiting to bear fruits. Karma and Samskara are acted upon by our environment, circumstances, and events that hasten their fruition. Likewise, Karma and Samskara have a determinative influence on our environment, circumstances, and life events. Hence, under certain circumstances, we can learn and develop skills or talents that we were not gifted at birth but possess the capacities for them.

Think of human capital as a basket of tokens that account for our assets and liabilities. The basket of human capital we carry in life consists of tangible and intangible tokens. Some are stable or static, and others are dynamic in value. As we navigate life, these are what we have to fend for ourselves, such as coping with adversities or tending for life’s blessings.

“The basket of human capital is far from permanently set at birth. As we journey through life, we grow or squander them by denting our individual capacities, temperaments, or deficiencies.”

The nature or nurture debate about which one has greater influence in determining the individual’s chances to thrive and succeed in life comes to mind. Recent studies tend to favor nurture or environmental experience’s power to shape the person’s capacities over genetic endowments of nature. A baby may be born with the DNA of a math genius inherited from a parent or both. Still, that capacity remains dormant until the right condition in his environment acts upon it. The condition must be persistent or salient to ignite the potentialities and shape the appropriate regions of the brain. Corollary to this finding is the plasticity of the brain throughout life. In other words, our brains and capacities are continually being shaped by our experience for better or worse.

The basket of human capital is far from permanently set at birth. As we journey through life, we grow or squander them by denting our individual capacities, temperaments, or deficiencies. Some men of stellar achievements come from modest or humble beginnings. Others born with silver spoons in their mouths end up squandering their inheritance. Experience, it seems, is what molds our character.

“All things being equal, each baby is born a potential genius or a serial killer. However, the knowledge that our environment and human experience can be fashioned to bring out the best in a person is a great equalizer.”

It is true not only to our species but to animals, as well. We can train them to do certain tasks or tricks. What sets us apart from animals and contributes to the exponential growth of neurological networks in the human brain, which allows us to engage in complex and sublime achievements, such as our culture and civilization, is our social brain. Our highly evolved social brain allows us to establish multiple, complex, and varied relationships with other people; some are transitory and others long-lasting. These relationships, in turn, continue to shape our brains.

All things being equal, each baby is born a potential genius or a serial killer. However, the knowledge that our environment and human experience can be fashioned to bring out the best in a person is a great equalizer.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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