Monday, August 30, 2010

Why have children?

Before Chloe was born (and, I admit, when she had colic) I often asked myself this question. Was I choosing to have children simply because it was the next stage in life, or looking for some sort of greater meaning to life, so far elusive? I certainly didn't think that there was any ethical need to continue to populate the planet. In fact, I was convinced, and still am, that having children or not having children is a question of purely personal preference, with no particular relevance to the advancement of the human race. No matter what I were to have decided, for example, there would have been lots of people quite willing to continue populating the world for all sorts of reasons, including out of some crazy sense of divine duty.

Now that I have children, I'm startled, exhilarated, and frightened by how the experience has changed me already. Having children has brought me in touch with some of my core human emotions. When I look at Chloe and her innocent curiosity, her endless love of discovery, and her incredible sensitivity and empathy - "ca va Maman?" - I want to share in it, feel young again myself. I want to do well by her, raise her to be a good citizen, a contributor to the advancement of all that is worth advancing. But more than anything, I want her to be happy and whole. And I would protect this potential at all cost.

I have become acutely aware of just how fragile our social fabric really is and how important it is to the success of my girls as they grow and reach for their dreams. I've come to realize that we have been living in a special time and place, where girls and women can become whoever they wish to be, where tolerance, rights, and acceptance have been core beliefs of our society.

We have come a long way, and of course we have much further to go, but we could also slide back. There have always been people and movements with authoritarian and totalitarian impulses who would like to turn back the clock on all that we have achieved. And there are many others who, out of blindness and ignorance, would willingly follow. Do I sound a touch paranoid? I recognize that, but if you look at the history of our species, we are very much in a unique age, when reason, individual freedom and human rights are held up as ideals. It's been a short window so far (to think, Status Indians in Canada were given the right to vote only in 1960, and married women have been tolerated in the workplace for less than 50 years).

We are now seeing a resurgence in religious muscle, both here and abroad, and for the most part religion spells danger, especially for girls and for women. Where reason has slowly broken down all arguments for the natural dominance of the few over the many, for men over women, the monotheisms provide doctrine to justify inequality and suppression. I hope the time never comes when I have to fight for what we now take for granted, but if that time comes, I'll be there, for my children and their children.

When I look at my girls, I see what matters - a quiet tentativeness, an energetic curiosity, a sensitivity to others. Children don't come with ideologies and revelations. The don't come confident in their own certainties. They come with a natural faith in their own parents, and a natural desire to interact with each other - completely oblivious to artificially imposed differences. Why have children? Because they humble you. They fill you with awe and wonder. You realize that you don't know everything, and in fact don't know much at all. Neither do they, so you learn together - what an antidote to the certainty with which most people speak everyday. Socrates was supposed to have said, during his trial for heresy, something to the effect that a man is educated once he understands how truly little he actually knows. My daughters have helped me already in my education.

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