What’s the purpose of life? To live longest? Propagate our ideas longest? To live until we die and then ‘whatever’? I’m going to posit that the purpose is to maximize meaning. People travel around the world looking for it and we read books and watch movies about those who went through trials and tribulations in order to overcome adversity. It is those who stick their neck out and go beyond their usual capacity or the usual capacity of mankind that we consider heroes.
Now, take man and take woman. We’re completely different. Take one small example from “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” – a woman understands “I’m sorry” to mean “I care about you.” A man understands it to mean, “I was wrong and made a mistake.” A woman says to a man, “tell me you’re sorry” and a man hears, “what do you mean I was wrong?” I don’t get it any more than the next guy, but anyone who’s been married for more than five minutes knows very quickly that men and woman are not the same. Having a wife is like having your own personal “cheshbon haNefesh” as we say in Judaism, or, “accounting of your soul.” You do something you shouldn’t have, or even say something in the wrong tone, and you’ve got someone right there telling you what you did wrong and what you should do better. In some respects, it’s like your own personal prophet – just like the manna in the desert fell further away for those who did things they shouldn’t have done, your wife will be further away from you when you do things you shouldn’t. Also, just like in the desert, even though ever person had everything they needed, some said “enough of this – just give us meat like we had in Egypt!” because they’d rather eat without the “cheshbon haNefesh”.
You have the opportunity in life to strive for more growth and more breaking from the cycle of comfort. The ultimate in meaning is the ultimate in extending yourself beyond what is easy and comfortable towards a greater goal. The more you extend yourself and grow and incorporate the aspects of it, the more meaningful your life will be.
To truly love another, for whatever kind of love we’re talking about, also means to give up a portion of yourself to another. If you truly love your country, you’ll fight it’s battles even if it means you may sacrifice your life. If you truly love your spouse or your child, same thing. You’ll take a chance at giving up something of yourself for one who is different and who needs things different than you do. However, if you ‘love’ a hamburger, it means you want to eat it. That’s not love of the hamburger, that’s love of yourself. Want a homo (meaning “same”) relationship . . . that’s missing out. I can’t say from personal experience, but I can intuit that it has got to be much more meaningful (and difficult) to grow with a person who is of the opposite sex and wired very differently than you are. There’s much more room for growth. We are (whether biologically for having the species continue, because a Creator made us this way, or rather, both) designed as a species to have the relationship and growth with the opposite sex. If you take the cop out and go for yourself and your own kind, you’re missing out on what life has to offer you in a tremendous extension of self, towards a different kind with different needs and ways of functioning. The heroes in all our stories are the ones who sticks his neck out there and gets it done. That’s what is meaningful.
By extension, having children is a further extension of giving of yourself, and therefore, meaning. Having kids is extremely rewarding and just as above, the more rewarding something is, the more difficulty involved. We’re not living for comfort. We sleep on nice mattress all night long. There’s plenty of comfort in your sleep, but if you never get out of bed, we put you on medication because something is wrong.
If (as above) being married is a mirror, than having children is a mimic. This is another aspect of self-perfection as you don’t have to worry about what you tell your kids, because they’ll see everything that you do. Again, some will opt out of this and say like my example above, “I don’t want the manna from heaven – just give me a nice steak to eat!” No! That’s not growth! That’s just waiting for death. No one ever accomplished by eating a steak put on their plate. No one ever improved themselves by the act of eating alone. Children take and learn from you and give you another constant outlet to give of yourself and become greater than yourself. A young child can’t do anything for you, and even as they get older, they may not “do” for you. A child can never pay a parent back for everything the parent has done for them. It is an altruistic act of giving and is most meaningful.
(While attempting to not bring religion into this article any more than to bring transcendental philosophical points, asking “Why would G_d Create Man? What does an infinite Creator need us for?”, one might answer, “Why would people have children? To altruistically give, and thereby, be greater than our previous selves, grow ourselves, and enjoy what we’ve created.” Just as a child can never do for the parent what the parent did for it, we can never give back to G_d sufficiently for creating us, but the parent / G_d still enjoys the effort in doing so and the success of the child.)
In August of 2013, Time Magazine ran a front page article on why married couples without children aren’t selfish. The Time Magazine article that prompted this is says in very long form “I’m not selfish for not having children.” (Now you don’t have to read the article.) You don’t have to call it ‘selfish’ for not embarking on marriage or children, but you’re certainly missing out. Is it selfish not to run into the burning building to save someone because you might get hurt? I don’t think so. But if there are no heroes and no one sticks their neck out to give of themselves, in the end there is no life and no perpetuation of giving.
There’s a lot of meaning and pleasure to be had. it is for you to do – to live your life to the fullest and take on these exceedingly meaningful things that you can do even if you might get burned on occasion. My wife worked in a nursing home and said that every one of the elderly who didn’t have children regretted it. If you choose not to, well, the love of the hamburger is never going to compare to the love of another. Going outside yourself and extending yourself is approaching the realm of heroes.
To this, my high school friend without children responded, “yeah, but children can bring lots of pain. Who says they’ll even take care of you when you’re older?” That’s not a hero talking. Any time you stick your neck out to do something, it can have good or bad results and there’s only so much that’s in our control. It’s true that if you never try something, you’ll never have the pain of failing at it … but you’re also never have the pleasure of working hard at it and sometimes even seeing the positive results of your efforts.
The above is meant to be a positive recitation for what is marriage and having children. It’s actually an outgrowth of the “anal marriage” or “gay marriage” debate. This debate is unwinnable. If you’re coming from the point of an objective morality, you’re going to say that objectively, what we call “marriage” in society comes from religion and has been between man and woman. even without saying so because no one ever thought they needed to specify the obvious. On the other side, it’s all subjective so we can change it to whatever we want. Then the debate goes, “it’s between two consenting adults, so what right do you have to tell them it’s not marriage?” The objective counter argument is something like, “isn’t that arbitrary to require ‘consent’ and ‘adults’? Greeks had man-boy love affairs. Draw the line at what the government should recognize to what’s been done and works for a functioning society or your on a slope to forced poly-pedio-bestial-whatever when the next guy comes along.”
To top it off, the “anything goes” crowd, who seemingly include the editors of Time Magazine, will point to short-lived celebrity marriages. The insinuation is that if marriage and having children is so great, why are there so many marriages that fail and terrible child raising experiences? So if it’s “bad” already, with a 50% divorce rate in the Western world, and we’re already looking inward to self-gratification rather than happiness of another (causing marriages to fail), then let’s just do . . . whatever with it. Why make restrictions on it? Hey, why make restrictions on anything? In a world in which no one’s opinions and nothing matters, you might as well drink beer in Hoboken or Fort Lauderdale until you’re old and miserable. Along the way, someone wants to do stuff which would be blocked be even the worst of internet filters and call it ‘marriage’, meh … what’s it to you, right? Anyone remember the Shakers or Father Devine? Unless you read lots of history, probably not. That’s because In the real “Darwin awards” these are certainly the winners.
When society turns in on itself and has nothing left to give to others, anything goes. It’s towards letting entropy do it’s thing. Let it all go towards nothingness, and as we so often see in history, it’s also just waiting for replacement by another society that has something to give. This is the negative side of the argument and why I leave it for last. Still, there is nothing to win against those who choose the picayune over the ethereal. I can show you the door to greatness, but if it’s going to be a difficult journey and you may fail, will you try?