Thursday, May 25, 2006


"Why do people in the West have children?"

I've heard a lot of questions in a lot of classrooms over the years, ranging from the defining characteristics of Canadian death metal to what all that blue stuff is on the map, but this was one was strange simply because it didn't feel that strange to me. So its' strangeness was its' lack of strangeness. (Which is kind of strange.)

I had been discussing the differences between Westerners and Easterners, Canadians and Cambodians, white people and Asian people. The student was a Korean staff member in his mid-twenties; he'd been away from home, from Korea, for a few years. We were talking about the reverence for elders in Asia, the fountain of wisdom that they represent, the necessity of their prescence to the well-being of the entire family. In the East, in the Orient, for the most part, it's not uncommon to have three (or four) generations of families living together, fighting together, loving together, growing old together. In the west, we want to leave our home at eighteen and never look back, unless it's to find out the necessary contact information needed to ship our parents off to the old-folks home. ("Such a nice facility," we say. "Just look at the walls!")

So, yes: Why would we have children? Children are there to nourish and grow so they can become part of the nucleus of the family, so that they will take care of us when we can no longer take care of ourselves.

A stupid question, actually, but it's usually the stupid questions that have the most truth, and are the hardest, ultimately, to answer.

I finally spouted out the usual platitudes: that we have children for the same reasons as all humans do -- to see extensions of ourselves, to continue our line, to provide companionship and love.

And yet, my answer didn't satisfy me.

It felt pat. Contrived. Somewhat robotic.

People in the East sometimes see those of us from the West as a little, well, decadent, might be the word. We travel the world, get divorces, do what WE want, when we want it, screw everybody else, this lane is mine, mothefucker. Japan and Cambodia and the Philippines are all group countries; the group is the boss. The individual is subordinate to the greater needs of everyone else. Where I'm from, well, it just...ain' that.

Again, I tried to say something else, something unique. But the class was ending, and the late-afternoon monsoon rain was getting stronger, and I had to get home.

"Why do people in the West have children?"

A simple question. Are we that remote and alien, us Westerners? Do we seem that callous?

I thought about it as I walked home, through the rain, the sky darkening from a gentle charcoal grey to a firmer shade of black.

1 comment:

bethanie_odd said...

What an interesting question!! I wonder sometimes why anyone has children at all, and then I wonder why not everyone does. It is a curious thing,loving someone so completly (or not, depending) as one does with children. Actually being responsible for life and having to be distant enough to let them be their own people. I could definatly go on.

As usual this was a wonderful, thought provoking post.