Life is suffering
Now, to continue with those thoughts about children, the environment and our choices…
The group calling for a birthstrike says they are primarily doing this because they are afraid of unforseeable, potential suffering which their children may experience in the future. My instinctive response to this is: life is suffering. No matter how much you wish to shield your children from pain and suffering, they will experience these things. There is nothing we parents can really do to protect our children from that. The only thing we truly can do is to provide our offspring with the tools they need to weather the challenges they will face.
Let’s put things into perspective for a moment. My husband’s grandmother was born in 1926. She was one of four surviving children. She had four siblings whom she never met because they all died of diphtheria in the same month, many years before she was born. Now that, my friends, is suffering. We cannot begin to imagine what that must be like because modern medicine has given us an escape from it. We no longer have to watch our children die in the myriad ways they did - less than a century ago (well, unless you are an anti-vaccer, but I won’t get into that today). We are incredibly lucky, and should acknowledge that.
Modernity has brought with it an unimaginable array of improvements and alleviation to suffering.
But that is only for the “developed” world. Although vaccines are more easily available in most developing countries these days, these countries are plagued by far greater issues that contribute to the suffering that is life. Tropical diseases that don’t have vaccines, malnutrition, bad hygiene, limited prospects, natural disasters, violence... the list is endless. The world is filled with people who suffer daily.
And still, despite all the improvements in the “developed” world, life is suffering. People still die in unexpected ways through suicide,accidents and terrorism. These deaths are the deaths of children which brings suffering to their parents, or the death of parents which brings suffering to their children. And then of course we also have increasing health issues such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
So, let’s just think about the suffering diabetes causes. Did anyone suggest having a birthstrike when we realised what sugar and the food we eat, that our society told us was good for us, is causing our children to suffer obesity and type 2 diabetes? That is a direct, causal link between something that we should be changing and the suffering of millions of people. The suffering mentioned by the women calling for a birthstrike is hypothetical - we don’t even know for sure that future generations will suffer (although we have reason to believe that the risk exists).
I just don’t see how a possible potential future is more important than millions of children suffering from obesity, shortness of breath, bullying, the belief that they cannot achieve/do things because of their bodies, and diabetes. This is incredible suffering experienced by people around us, every day of their lives.
Furthermore, when these women say that they are choosing not to have children in an attempt to protect those children from potential suffering, I wonder if they’ve ever thought about the resilience of children. They may appear to be frail and delicate, but they are truly incredible. Just look at our species - all 7.7 billion of us. We are here, living our lives despite plagues and disasters and wars over the course of millenia. We have survived indescribable suffering, much of it induced by our own kind. We are very strong creatures.
And finally, there is the added fact that we thrive on suffering. It is the basis for much of our creativity. Oscar Wilde would hardly have written his outstanding works of fiction without the depression he suffered. What about Van Gogh? Sylvia Plath? The list is incredibly long. But it is not only artistic creativity which grows out of suffering. Just last year, a group of Kenyan school-girls won an award for having developed an app to help young women threatened with FGM (sometimes referred to as female circumcision). Their creativity is the result of a desire to alleviate suffering - the currently lived suffering of several hundred million girls and women around the world.
I honestly don’t understand how a birthstrike is a productive suggestion to incite changes. Such a thing won’t work unless it’s on a very a large scale and long term (you can check out my thoughts on why that is not going to work, here). That would essentially be a form of blackmailing nation-states into taking action to bring about the changes the citizens are asking for. But is blackmail really the answer?
I personally feel we are better off actually doing things. Taking action right now, instead of blaming others for the fact that changes don’t happen. If you have a problem with the political situation regarding the climate change debate, then become politically active. Join a party that aligns with what you’re looking for, or create a new one if such a party does not exists. Lobby businesses and government for change. Present bills to parliaments. If you have a problem with the massive quantities of plastic that we are producing, or the impact we are having on the environment, then perhaps you should actively be abstaining from using plastics and/or developing new technologies to improve how we do things while maintaining our lifestyles. If you have a problem with the consumer culture we live in and the toll it is taking on the environment, then get together with your local community and investigate options to make the municipality more cohesive and ecologically friendly (you can take a look at The Leap for inspiration).
Can we stop blaming others and begin with ourselves? What do you eat? Where does your food come from? What car do you drive? Where do you go on vacation? What do you do with your waste - do you recycle or what? How does your place of work do business? Is it environmentally friendly? Is it sustainable? Where do you buy your clothes? What products do you use on your hair and skin?
Do I need to go on?
I think it is clear, that we need to be more proactive and to leave the business of raising children out of the discussion. The choice of whether to have children or not should be a personal decision, not a politicised one. You don’t want to have children? The reasons are irrelevant. That is your choice. Good for you. I want to have children, and you should be okay with that too. Children, too, should be respected. They are not a linchpin for blackmail. You just can’t use them that way. They are humans too and deserve our respect.
So, here I am, raising my child to be the best person he can be and learning all about early childhood development in the hope of passing on that information to less-informed parents in poverty-stricken countries so their children can also grow up to achieve their potential. Here you have me and my son, ready to learn and change and do what we can to make the world a better place - day by day, step by step.
I hope you enjoyed the read. I would love to hear your opinions on this matter, so please do comment. And if you’d like to stay informed when my next blog post is published, subscribe here.