Monday, March 24, 2008

I will choose my own way

In a womb – somewhere on earth, sometime in history – a small baby grows. Its tiny, pink hands float freely in the surrounding fluid; its small head rests gently against the uterus. Only a few hours are left before it is born.

Suddenly the small body stirs, and in its mind ghostly faces appear around it. Some of the faces are kind, some are frightening. They stare at the baby, silent and solemn.

After a few moments one of the faces, a man with a beard, moves forward and in a slow, deliberate voice says:
“Little one, when you enter this world you will be expected to follow Allah. Because you are female you will, when you grow up, cover your entire body in public, and your only desire will be to serve your husband. You will have no choice, because you have, by the very fact of your birth, inherited our religion.”

A second face, a black one this time, moves forward:

“Little one, because you will grow to be a Xhosa male you will go to initiation school to be circumcised in order to enter manhood. You will follow all our traditions, because you have, by the very fact of your birth, inherited our culture. You have no choice.”

A white, angry face interrupts:

“Because you are black you will, for the rest of your life, serve yo
ur white masters. Sadly, you will never have the intelligence to rise above the tribalism of your race, you will never have the ability to govern your own affairs. By the very fact of your birth, you will become the very stereotype that we have imposed upon your race. You have no choice.”

Another face speaks up:
“Little one, because your skin is white you will always be expected to feel guilt for the evils of the slave trade, colonialism, and apartheid. Your race has been responsible for much suffering, and by the very fact of your birth, you have inherited the sins of your forefathers. You have no choice.”

A man’s face, full of kindness, smiles and says:

“Son, I’m so proud to be your father. You will grow up as I did, and as my father before me. You will play baseball, and will excel in mathematics. You will follow the family tradition and become a successful lawyer. You have no choice son, because by the very fact of your birth, you have inherited the responsibilities that come with the privilege of carrying our family name.”

Suddenly, more and more faces make their demands, and soon their voices blend into a cacophony of unintelligible sound.

The baby stirs its little feet, and within its mind it shouts:

“Please, stop!”

The faces are quiet for a moment, and the baby addresses the crowd from within its mind:

“Why do you demand so much from me? Look at me for a moment, will you? All that I have inherited are two sets of chromosomes that will determine my physical attributes. But in terms of your beliefs, traditions, culture, and religion – I have inherited nothing. Those things do not currently form any part of me; thus I have no obligation to pay homage to them in any way.

“I can’t understand why are you so eager to mould me to according to your expectations, or why I must carry the burden of your fears and desires? Is it fair that I be a victim of the pain, mistrust and guilt that you caused in the world before I existed? Would it not be better for me to represent a new beginning instead?

“Why do you think you have ownership over me somehow? This is my body, my mind, and my future. You own no part of me. My genes determine what I am, but the only agent that will choose who I become is me, and me alone.

“You can teach me your creeds, culture and traditions, and instruct me on what to wear, who to love, how to live. You can even condition me to act according to some racial or gender related stereotype. But I am the one who will one day make that final decision whether to live by your expectations. I do have a choice, and you can’t make that choice for me.”

The baby pauses as the first spasms of labour shiver through the womb. As the faces, now expressionless, fade away, the baby tenses in preparation for its birth into an unknown time, place and culture; and one final thought lingers in its mind:

“I’m sorry, but I will choose my own way.”


Zoe said...

I really love this Kevin. Especially holds power as I read it, if I just stay in the moment.

And I wonder about the impact of the moments you were in when you wrote this.

As difficult as birth can be, in hindsight, for many, it is the easier journey. No baby chooses it's own way.

CyberKitten said...

Though we are not born believing anything (about God or anything else for that matter) we *are* born into a culture which may include a religion - which most people will adopt.

All we can hope for is that at some point in people's lives they actually make a decision to be part of that - or not. But I don't think that most people actually make that decision & stay with the belief system they are accidentially born into.

Stew said...

I really liked this post. We're all born with absolute freedom of choice, unfortunately we're also born without any knowledge and all of the knowledge we do gain is from the culture we're born into. It really takes a lot of a person to break from that culture and claim that absolute freedom of choice again.

Debbie said...

Very good piece of writing, Kevin (should be published!) I especially loved the south-africanisation of the people. and quite thought provoking as to the life-directing power that parents have over their children. Although there were several dynamics going on there...apart from belief systems...(race issues for example)..which may not always be a factor. hopefully some things will be put right in our life time -or our chuildren's... as for beliefs, are we saying to have none is better than having them? Or to have them but keep them to ourselves entirely? this would essentially wittle down to not having any. it's like holding back on opinions or advice or guidance...* A person who does that might as well not have any to give, as far the potential receiver of (*) is concerend. So basically, have your beliefs (for good reason though!), share them by all means, yes, even with the new life being born into this world, but DO let him hear the other voices too and give him the same freedom to choose his beliefs like we did/do and love him anyway.
no, not tolerate. love.

Kevin Parry said...

Very good comments all around. I came up with the idea for this piece when thinking about all the burdens and expectations that society places on a newborn child when it enters the world; some of it good, some of it bad. I guess I wrote the post in support of individualism, but there is some weight to the argument – as outlined by some of the comments here – that pure individualism might not possible: the culture in which we are born forms much of who we become as individuals, and every decision we make is somehow made within the context of the collective. It is quite difficult – maybe even impossible – to fully disconnect ourselves from what we have inherited from our culture, but maybe we can at least make a choice on which bits and pieces to follow (the bits and pieces being various traditions, religious beliefs, etc).

I also didn’t write to post to criticize religion, culture or tradition in particular. This post is a statement against the belief that the individual has no right to choose.

Amy said...

Simply and poignantly stated. This post brought tears to my eyes. I am thinking of my yet un-born niece, her mother (my sister) and myself for I have thought your thoughts so many times and never expressed them in words.