Het is nu een goede drie weken geleden dat onze Westerse Wereld even op zijn kop stond na de gruwelijke aanslagen in Parijs. Opvallend: de shock leek vooral betrekking te hebben op het feit dat de aanslagen in onze achtertuin plaatsvonden en zowaar werden bekokstoofd in onze geliefde – of verguisde? – hoofdstad.
Als mama van twee bloedjes van kinnekes is er een hele nieuwe dimensie aan de verontwaardiging en woede die je voelt bij dergelijk zinloos geweld. Veel (jonge) ouders vragen zich dan ook luidop af of het überhaupt nog wel verantwoord is om kinderen in deze door terreur geplaagde wereld (op) te brengen.
En het is een vraag van alle tijden. Hieronder lees je een fragment uit de brief van Margaret Mead, waarin ze haar jongere zus advies geeft over het krijgen van kinderen in de jaren die voorafgaan aan WOII. Wat mij betreft slaat ze nagels met koppen.
It’s been three weeks since we were swept off our feet by the earth-shattering Paris attacks. The common sentiment amongst us Belgians seemed to be shock about the sheer proximity of terrorism, quite literally in our backyard. Moreover, the very plotting appears to have taken place right under our noses in our beloved capital.
Being a mom of two beautiful and innocent little children adds a whole new level of indignation and anger over this senseless violence. In fact, it makes one wonder about the world we’re raising these kids in and question the very decision of bringing them into this world of trouble and terror in the first place.
The question of whether or not it is wise to bring children into what seems to be an ever more violent world, isn’t new. Pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978), addresses the very issue in an endearing letter of advice to her sister, Elizabeth Mead Steig. The letter was written in 1938, in the looming threat of global violence preceding WWII. A few weeks earlier, Elizabeth had asked her older sister for advice on whether she and her husband should have children given the violence that seemed to be spiraling out of control ever so quickly. This is what Mead replies:
Elizabeth darling, today is your birthday, your twenty-ninth isn’t it, and how good it is to be as young as you are at twenty-nine, with the world still ahead of you. Next year, when you are thirty, you will find it correct to have very staid and sober thoughts — at thirty I decided I would never do anything better or different from what I was doing, and what a bore that was — but this year, you are still in your twenties, the very best year of them because with the joy of the twenties you almost hit the wisdom of the thirties. So be as happy as you can, my love, and don’t live too much under the shadow of coming events.
Coming events, seen in retrospect, have never been very hot. What if you had been a bride in 1860, or a mother in 1935; what if you had been a European bride in 1914, or an English mother in 1895. You have read Joan and Peter, haven’t you, in which [H.G.] Wells describes the beautiful safe world, in which all the nurseries had rounded corners and science was going to solve every problem, science and humanitarianism. Just the age in which to be hopeful and happy, to breed freely for the great new world. And the boys who were born into those English nurseries so lighted with hope, are dead.
Mead’s sister ended up having two children. The sentiment underlying the letter is an unflinching faith in the transformative power of living intensely and doing good work despite whatever uncertainty or hardship the world may throw one’s way:
I’ve no responsibilities in the world except friends and students and cherishing the life of the world — and the belief that there is enough love to go round.
I couldn’t agree more with Mead’s credo. We can’t know, anymore than the parents of the 1930s knew, what the future holds. But let’s not dramatize too heavily on the evil to come and respond to terror in a way which is worthy of a democratic regime.
And in the meantime, let’s smother those munchkins with all the love of the world.