Why Was I Born?
By R. Jharit
Sometimes—and, these days, increasingly so—I am driven to wonder, 'Why am I in this world? What is the purpose of life? Am I here just to earn, eat, sleep, procreate, and amuse myself? To suffer and, ultimately, die? Why was I born at all?' Honestly, if I were asked— I would probably have never chosen to come into this world at all. Perhaps I would have been much happier off wherever I was before I came here.
I've often thought about why my parents decided to produce me. I'm sure they didn't have me—as I now am—in mind. And that leads me to wonder at what makes people want to have children at all. Producing a child, or bringing a new life into this world, is, you will admit, serious business. Yet, I wonder if most people who've produced children really know why they've done so and if they really are capable of living up to the serious responsibility that they've take upon themselves. Not having produced a child myself, nor having ever pined to do so, I can't really answer these questions, but I suppose that would-be parents have a number of motives in wanting children. And, probing deeper, I suspect that many these motives are often utterly selfish—although this most parents would, very expectedly, stiffly deny.
One fundamental reason why many people produce children is simply this: Children are often an unplanned consequence of the lust that drives a man and a woman to copulate. This is particularly so in societies where contraception is unknown, unavailable, too expensive to afford or else condemned (often as 'anti-religious'), and where couples produce large numbers of children not because they really want or need to but simply because there's no way, short of complete sexual abstinence, to stop them from happening. And since such people (especially men) are simply unable to curb their selfish drive for sex, they have to put up, much against their will in some cases, with the inevitable children that their seemingly irrepressible sex-drive brings in its trail. You will readily admit that such children are a product of a very selfish urge.
In societies that lack state or community provision for the elderly, children are often considered simply as a support to lean on—or, to be blunt—to be made use of in old age. This is particularly the case among the poor, who lack financial resources to rely on to take care of their material needs when they reach an age when they can no longer provide for themselves. That is definitely one reason why the poor tend to have many more children than the rich, and why in richer countries the number of children per family is considerably lower than in poorer countries. Now, if you really see through it, cutting out all the sentimentality out that surrounds the question, people who produce children in the hope of being supported by them in their old age are actually engaged in really hardnosed cost-and-benefit economic decision-making simply to suit their own needs. And that, as far as I am concerned, is utterly selfish. To produce a child, compelling it to suffer the torments of this world and face inevitable death, simply in order to use it just to make sure that your old age and passage into death is smooth and that you have someone to pay for your food and hospital bills, is, you will agree, really, really mean.
Another reason why many people produce children is, as I have often heard people put it, 'to carry on one's name'. That's no less selfish a motive than the economic one related to old age. In the face of inevitable death, most people pine for immortality, for their memory to be preserved after they've left the world. And that they hope to do through their children who inherit their name and lineage. In this way, children are used simply as an instrument to fulfill one's desire to be remembered even after one's death. Thankfully, however, this egotistic dream is never fulfilled and one is soon forgotten within a generation or two, even by one's own family.
Yet another selfish reason that people might produce children is to fulfill the dreams that they once had about themselves. A father thinks that he was an utter failure in life. He had a burning ambition of becoming the Chief Executive Officer of a multinational company or the President of his country, but all he became was a law-paid clerk. The bitterness caused by his perceived failure in life remains smouldering inside him till he dies. To compensate for the failure of his dreams that he had for himself he insists that his children should fulfill them. They should become a CEO or President, or at least monumentally rich, even if he couldn't! In that way, the father thinks that he can vicariously succeed in doing through his children what he could not himself. The 'achievements' of his children serve to somewhat compensate for his own failures and thereby assuage his battered ego.
A fifth reason why parents might produce children is to bring into this world mirror-images of themselves—and that's also a selfish motive, you will admit. Imagining themselves the epitome of virtue and correctness, they want others to be, think, behave and believe just as they do. And because other, unrelated people simply won't do that (because they, too, think of themselves in the same way) the easiest way to fulfill this egotistic vision of oneself is to produce children and rear them so that they turn into one's identical clones. That is why many parents simply cannot stomach the thought of their children acting, thinking or believing in any way other than they do, sparing no effort to force their children into unthinking conformity and obedience. For the children to dare to differ from them is considered nothing short of anathema, for it violates at a very fundamental level the selfish reason why such parents produced their children in the first place.
For such folks, their children are often also a means for them to express their authoritarian tendencies, which they may not be able to flaunt outside their homes. A man is bossed around in his office, where he has to meekly submit to his superiors, but it gives him no little psychological satisfaction to know that at least he has children at home whom he, in turn, can boss over, and that way prove that he isn't the powerless creature he is otherwise made to feel to be. 'I've given birth to you. You better be grateful to me for this and do as you are told,' such parents, who can't dare try to exercise such authority outside their homes, will thunder at their children, and it fills them with a great sense of power over others that they desperately crave for.
A sixth selfish reason why people might produce children is because this is the 'expected thing' to do, with everyone else doing the same. In many traditional societies and communities, for a married couple to choose not to have children even if they can is unthinkable. 'What will people say about us?' they fear. Childless husbands dread being mocked at for allegedly being infertile. A married woman who doesn't want a child lives in mortal fear of being harassed by her natal family or in-laws for not living up to what is considered the fundamental duty of a wife. And so, often people are compelled into producing children, even if they can't afford them, simply to save face. And of course you will agree that producing a child in order to avoid being branded as sexually impotent and, therefore, a miserable failure by society is being utterly selfish.
A seventh selfish motive some folks produce children for is because they fear that not producing children when they could do so would invite the wrath of god. In certain strands of certain religions, family planning and contraception are considered to be a grave sin that merits divine punishment. The fear of being punished by god for controlling their reproductive behavior drives forces hardcore believers in these religious traditions to produce as many children as they possibly can, even if this means that because of their limited resources their children are poorly-fed, often chronically ill and are deprived of a good education. The damage this does to their children is of no consequence to such believers, whose motives in producing as many children as they can are utterly selfish: supposedly saving themselves from divine wrath, while at the same time inflating the numbers of their co-religionists, which, they are led to believe, is a principal means to please their deity.
Now, you will think that I am being unduly unfair, and that while some parents indeed are impelled by such selfish motives as I've suggested in producing children, not all of them are that way. Surely, you will say, at least some parents produce children only because they really want to nurture a new life and tend to it lovingly, for the sheer joy of it, with no thought of the supposed benefits it would bring to them. You might be somewhat right there, I have to admit, but, truly, how many parents are really impelled by such noble motives? I know of hardly any. And even if they have these motives at the time when they decide to produce a child, how many of them truly do give their children the love, compassion and freedom that a new life deserves?
In such rare cases, too, I would hasten to point out that the fundamental impulse that drives such 'noble-minded' parents to produce children is selfish for it is to satisfy their own desire of a child, on whom they can supposedly shower their love, that they decide to bring one or more children into the world. The child has absolutely no say in a matter that is fundamentally about him or her. For all you know, the child might have had no desire whatsoever to be born, to be forced to grow up to face the inevitable miseries (and, admittedly, the few joys) of human existence and then to face the agony of death, but, yet, is compelled to do so simply in order to fulfill the selfish desire of his or her parents to have a child whom they think they need in order to express their love to and without whom they feel wholly inadequate. And that's downright selfish, you will be forced to agree.
Bringing a child into this world and rearing it with love and compassion is no easy task or child's play. It simply isn't enough for a couple to copulate and then produce a child. Parenting requires parents to be truly psychologically qualified to shoulder the tremendous responsibility of nurturing a new life in such a way that it grows to succeed in passing smoothly through the traumas of this world and unto death. How many parents are really the loving, compassionate, kind, selfless, non-grasping and non-dictatorial people who can honestly live up to the tremendous task that they've taken upon themselves? Very few, if you ask me for my honest opinion. Parenting is a fine art, and, as far as I know, it isn't something that everyone, or even most, people are truly capable of. And maybe that's why many parents are hopeless failures, though this they would hate to admit.
Admittedly, these motives that I've tried to uncover as to why most people produce children don't address my fundamental existential anguish about my presence in this world and the purpose of it all. Painfully aware that I may never get all the answers I want, I am compelled to live with the silence that surrounds the mystery of existence. Some of the most fundamental questions about life must, I suppose, be left that way.