09 August, 2008

The road less traveled

Location: just south of forty
Mood: deep breath

It’s true. I’m just south of forty.

My brother is 18 years older than I am, and I remember quite vividly when he turned forty. I remember because he decided to quit his job as a teacher and go back to school full-time to become an attorney. I was 22 years old, just out of college, and in engineering graduate school. I thought it was awfully extreme for him to make that huge transition in his life. That turns out to be chronologically hypocritical, because I eventually made a number of similar, very large changes in my life. I left engineering at 30 years old to go back to school and study Neurobiology – only to subsequently leave Neurobiology to become some other type of researcher that paid better and had better hours.

The difference between my brother and me is that he had two children when he made this decision. A seven-year old daughter, and a two-year old son. So his choices impacted an entire family. I maybe should not go on to mention that he subsequently decided not to practice law. Had he stayed with it, perhaps one could justify the sacrifices of those three years.

I have no children, as you probably know. I plan to have no children. And practically speaking, it’s a fair guarantee that I will not have any children. Ever. As a result, there are all sorts of frivolous choices that I can make in this world. I could change course every couple of years, and never commit to anything, if I so chose. There would be some detractors who would say that I don’t want to grow up, or that I don’t know what I want to do with my life. But there would be an equal number of silent (or vocal) cheerleaders who are envious of all the opportunities that I continue to have. The freedom to go wherever, whenever.

There have been a couple of people (okay, ex-girlfriends) who have labeled this choice as “selfish”. The words came from a place of hurt, and a place of “lashing out”, because most of us objectively hear the word “selfish” and think “a bad thing to be”. But there are different types of selfishness, and I am starting to realize that there are types that can be embraced without apology. First of all, I don’t think I am selfish. I actually think I am generous, in a variety of ways. But one way in which I am selfish is that I want my “great journey” to be a personal one. I don’t feel the need to populate the world. I don’t feel the need to “see what I can make” with my DNA. I don’t feel the need to create something that will occupy the rest of my time, and mental, and emotional energy – regardless of whatever fulfillment it may bring.

Selfishness, I think, is bringing children into this world because you either think you wanted to do it, or were pressured to do it, or were just doing the automatic thing without thinking, and then you still try to have it all for yourself, neglecting what I believe are obligations that a parent should have.

Many of our religions teach us that humans are different from animals, and that we are a higher form of life. But do we really see that borne out in the Western world? True, other animals basically live to reproduce and eat, and eventually die. Humans supposedly have a higher brain that enables us to make different types of choices. But how “evolved” is it to not care properly for the young that you produce? Maybe I just don’t understand the higher workings of things because I’m sitting right in the middle of it.

Maybe Homo sapiens is doing just fine among the planet’s species.

One could argue that there is no burden for me to reproduce, because the propagation of at least some of my DNA to another generation has already been guaranteed through the progeny of my siblings.

1 comment:

  1. A standing ovation from the back of the stadium!!! Huzzah!