Do people have children as means for dealing with our own mortality?

Do people have children as means for dealing with our own mortality?  Not that this would be a bad thing at all, but does it possibly explain our decision to have children and other deep motivations behind human behavior.

For a while now, I have been curious to understand why some people want to have children and raise a family, and why others do not.   We don’t really live in an age where we need children to do manual labor on the farm anymore so why do some people want something even when it–in many ways–it makes no rational sense.   For parents, children, after all, mean: more responsibility, less  freedom, emotional vulnerability and suffering caused by the relationship with them and their eventual extended family members, etc.

So why, amidst all these reasons to not have children, do people want them?  Since I believe we are rational creatures, we must be having childrent because we essentially feel that doing so will bring us more pleasure than pain.

Then I watched an interview with futurist Jason Silva, and he said some things about human behavior and psychology that I think make a lot of sense and that I had been wondering about for some time.

I think one of the ways children generate pleasure for parents is by helping parents deal with something every human undeniably struggles with: our own mortality.  We know we will die some day, but we do not like this; and so we do things to try and deal with this uncomfortable truth.   One way to deal with it is to rebel, and to try controlling it.    We can try to freeze ourselves in sub-zero ice chambers (Walt Disney) or we can get lost in an experiences that provides an escape or distraction from thinking about the fact that we only have so much time (movies and stories), or we can try and do things that make us feel like we can escape death (daredevils), or, I argue, we can try and create things that will live on after we die.   And I think having children–at some level–serves this selfish need inside us.   In addition, I think this need to create something that will live on beyond us, partially explains the attraction people have to:

  • writing books or blogs (putting their thoughts/voice into a medium that will live forever on Google’s servers somewhere)
  • create organizations or trusts that, legally, can have an infinite life
  • volunteer as mentors to younger people or children
  • join political movements that leave lasting change on something that will exist after we die (environmental movements)

Ultimately, I agree with Jason Silva.  I think all humans want to leave our mark in this world.  We want to feel like we matter; that we have a purpose.  I also  think our struggle of dealing with our humanity and mortality is so core and fundamental to who we all are that it is worth exploring and understanding further no matter who we are; and then make the world a more enjoyable place for us all.   As business person, for example, I wonder how I can create and manage a business in a way that makes people feel like they matter?   Can I listen to employees and customers better?  Can I involve them in the decision making processes such as product development, which results in tangible market offerings that people can point to and know they were a part of?   Indeed, I think we are now seeing modern management practices doing just this, and as a result, seeing improved productivity with employees and greater satisfaction and brand equity with customers; all because they are serving our fundamental human need to feel like we made a lasting difference on our world, and that we are not just some kind of puppet being controlled by some mystical god.

How do you deal with your own mortality?  Do you embrace it?  Do you ever think about it?  I realize it’s probably not healthy to be thinking constantly about our eventual death, but we should probably not pretend like it is not going to happen.  What do you think?   Leave a comment on this post.

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