“My world’s on fire. How bout yours? That’s the way I like it, and I never get bored.”
These lyrics play in my head whenever one of my fellow millennials casually drops the phrase “well, the world is on fire” into a conversation. Thanks to a suburban late-90s childhood, the lyrics to All Star by Smash Mouth are always readily available to me, folded deep into my gray matter. The other thing folded into my brain? The idea that things are not good right now.
The “world is on fire” sentiment is now commonplace. It’s a meme. In California, it’s currently a painful reality. A chaotic presidency, global warming, a divided nation, and a torrent of bad news on your TV and phone all seem to add up to the same conclusion: this is a bad time to have children.
It’s too late for me. I’m already a Dude Turned Dad. But I wrestled with this question before ultimately deciding to bring my kid onto this diaper barge we call life. I understand my friends who cite population statistics and show me dire climate change articles. And yet, my son is here. Here’s what ultimately informed my decision to have my first child.
For starters, things aren’t as bad as they seem. Joshua Rothman posed a similar question in the New Yorker “Are Things Getting Better or Worse?” and gets a sunny response from cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, “Pinker’s message is simple: progress is real, meaningful, and widespread.” In Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now he argues that globally, crime, rape, and murder statistics are all trending downward. People now live longer, better, easier lives. We’re pessimistic about those lives, but still… this isn’t the dark ages. We have the Great British Baking Show, after all.
I also thought of my grandparents. Both Grandpa Kaufman and McNeel were medics in World War II. They lived through the Great Depression and the rise of Hitler. The world was very bad. They lived through horrors I can only imagine. My Father’s father had four children. My Mother’s father had seven.
We do not get to choose the time we were born into. All we get to do is decide how we respond. The world is not perfect. But it has “good bones.” It’s my job to build off that foundation and to teach my son to do the same. I’m trying to leave the world a better place. And I just called in reinforcements. We have to have hope, and make the best of the world we have.
Or as my favorite lyricists once said, “The ice we skate is getting pretty thin, the water’s getting warm so you might as well swim.”