Posted by: joha5 | May 10, 2010

Birth, Babies, and Belief: A Cultural Examination

I’m not really much of a baby person.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate them but I am certainly not in love with them either.  They just don’t offer that much to me and I probably don’t offer that much to them either.  And the idea of actually taking care of one full time fills me with the most unbearable sense of terror or dread that you can possibly imagine.  I can barely take care of myself let along another human being that needs around-the-clock attention.  Granted, there simply must be rewarding moments when the child learns a new skill, laughs uncontrolably, learns to communicate, and is just generally in an agreeable mood.   But I feel that these moments are few and far between.  The vast majority of their time is spent on being grumpy, sleeping, eating, pooping, crying, and just generally doing anything that they can to make an adult’s life a living hell.     

Look at this baby's poor attitude! Are they all like this?!

It’s hard to believe that I was one of these once.  I am just glad that I have no recollection of it because, if I did, I would be ashamed at how selfish, self centered, and terrible my attitude toward the world would have probably been.  The sad truth is that 28 years removed from this forgotten life experience, it is questionable whether I am actually better or worse now than I was back then.  However, with yesterday being Mothers Day, I made the concious decision to focus on being ‘Benevolent Jon’ rather than the always enjoyable-yet-tyrannical ‘Malevolent Jon’ and decided to take my mother to see a new movie called ‘Babies’. 

For those of you who haven’t heard of it or know nothing about it, ‘Babies’ follows the lives of four separate children starting with the day that they are born to the day that they learn to take their first steps.  There are 3 girls (from San Francisco, Namibia, and Tokyo respectively) and one boy (from Mongolia).  I was more attracted to this film from a cutural point of view regarding child rearing practices across the globe rather than some sort of deep brooding instinct and I was sure that my mother could appreciate it on both so off we went. 

It would be very easy for me to write a review of the movie (I won’t) and to recommend everybody to go and see it immediately (you should) but it really made me rethink this whole idea of babies.  Again, I am a long way off from having a child.  First things first.  I need a job, money, a place to live, furniture, financial savings, to pay off my student loans, and to figure out where it is I want to be exactly.  But after I finish all of that stuff I would be happy to maybe entertain the idea of a baby.   It all seems so distant that it is hard to even fathom that I will be able to do any or all of this in the next 10 years or so.  Maybe I will and maybe I won’t but his movie certainly made me think about it.  Even more, this film made me contemplate the universality of the human experience.  

Culturally, these kids could not have been more different.  Economically, these kids could not have been more different.  But developmentally, these kids could not have been more identical.  It is strange to think that we all kind of start off carte blanche and then develop independently based on our own experience in the way that we are guided and navigate through the world.  Watching these children develop and witnessing them very rawly follow their instinct to touch, to learn, to crawl, to walk, and to talk is incredible.  No cultural imprint has been made on them yet but you can’t help but wonder how their early experience’s will help to shape them as people later on in life.  For example, the girl from San Francisco goes to a baby exercise class with her mother while the Mongolian boy plays in the fields with goats, cows, and chickens.  The Namibian girl learns to clap and sing and dance while the Japanese girl has a 30th floor view over Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest intersection in the heart of Tokyo (think Times Square and multiply by 1,000).  We actually witness these children begin the long process of understanding the world around them by building on their experiential knowledge.  They will never remember it.  They will never look back on these experience’s conciously and critically.  This is going to be what they know.  These are their first steps in engaging the world around them and even though their experience could not be more different, their development and our development as humans is universal.  

Eventually they will learn the customs, traditions, languages, rituals, religions, and social and national politics of their areas.  Some may have access to the world’s finest education and some may be relied upon to tend to the fields and livestock.  Some will work work 60 hour work weeks in an office and retire and some may die younger.  They will make friends, experience happiness, tragedy, love, and anger.  And throughout all of these moments in their life they will be learning more and more and they will be constantly shaping their view of the world.  

But throughout it all, each of these babies is a human being and in spite of what they grow up to be like or who they turn into or how they learn to experience the world, it is unbelievably refreshing to realize that these kids, just like all of us, all come from and begin at the exact same starting point.



  1. I’ll just say that I think your eventual progeny will be one of the most interesting and complex human beings to walk the planet, and she/he will also have a strong desire to practice Ramadan and eat copious amounts of Taco Bell and KFC at sundown.

    • If I ever have a baby I will teach it to cook and clean the second it is stable enough to walk around. When it learns to crawl I will be sure to attach a rag or duster or something to it so it can sweep the kitchen too. I’m no idiot, Charles! Also, it’s diet will reflect Ramadan and we shall have Taco Bell and KFC feasts at sundown each day. First on the menu?! Chicken Burrito! And don’t pretend that you don’t like feasting on Yum Brand Foods either (they own Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut…don’t ask why I know that).

  2. Jon, your comments on culture are so spot on and I love that picture of the grouchy baby – cuteness overload! I watched the trailer to babies some time ago and am waiting eagerly for it to be shown here in Asia.

    • The film will DEFINITELY make you think. It is absolutely fascinating to watch and I definitely recommend it. It also gave me pause as to why I love to hate babies and hate to love them. I love your comments and I appreciate you reading more than you know. Thanks so much!

  3. I’d be seriously scared of Haworth offspring!! The idea makes me shake…

    However, good posting!! Certainly enjoyed your discussion on the movie and the way that children develop! Good work kid! Keep it up!!

    • Thanks for your support, Dave! It means a lot to me coming from a bigshot lawyer these days! And as long as I am unemployed I will continue blogging so keep checking back in when you remember!

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