The “Better Never to Have Been Born” of Children and Young People

Schmid’s Son

It was by his six-year-old son that the author Wilhelm Schmid was enlightened as to the fact that it was not a matter of fun that he had brought someone into existence but that he had rather, by so doing, brought it about that one more human being had to die:

“I have a six-year-old son who has shocked me by suddenly announcing: I wish I had never been born. I am appalled to hear this because he is a decidedly lively and happy little man. I believe that he is also very pleased with the family of which he is part. And this little fellow says to me: ‘I wish I had never been born. I wish I were still flying with the butterflies.’ (Because we told him the story that, before he was born, he was flying around with the butterflies). But it was only when I had spoken more to him about it that it emerged just why he felt this way: he does not want to die. And he has now grasped, for the first time, that to be born means, automatically and necessarily, also to die.”

To Schmid’s consolation, and in support of his son, let it be said that it is perfectly possible for someone to be entirely content with his own life and yet be able to hold, without contradiction, that >it would be better never to have begun to exist.

 

Rölleke’s Daughter

The five-year-old daughter of the renowned scholar of narrative topoi, Heinz Rölleke, once uttered, according to Rölleke himself, the following words: “Well, then I would rather not have come into the world at all.” (Rölleke, p. 9) His daughter, Rölleke goes on, “uttered these words without spite or anger and quite definitely without the slightest trace of despair” on learning from him that all human beings must, at some point, die. Here once again the claim is borne out that children are often the best philosophers since, unlike grown-ups, they are able to think, and to draw their conclusions, in a way that is undisguised and unobstructed by the inessential.[1] If one orients oneself by Rölleke’s own investigations into the topos Mä phynai”, then his daughter was thinking in a “classical Greek” manner: the only way to avoid one’s own death – and having to witness the deaths of those near and dear to one – is never to have come into the world at all. Ironically, Rölleke does not take entirely seriously this profound seriousness of the child, which allows not just his daughter but many other children besides to think in a way that spans epochs. If he had done so, then he would perhaps have brought to light the hidden reproach to which he does not need to feel himself exposed for as long as he dismisses his daughter’s utterance as a mere curiosity instead of supposing it to contain an important psycho-genetic constant: namely, why did you cause me to come into this world, since this means that I must know in advance of my own death and be witness to your death and that of many other human beings besides? In short, Rölleke fails to acknowledge the reality of that >Experience of the Death of Near and Dear Ones which is generally an experience imposed on all children.

 

A 14-Year-Old

Very much in the spirit of Schmid’s son and Rölleke’s daughter are the words of an anonymous 14-year-old who succeeds in seeing through the nativistic >Instrumentalization of children and rendering of them a means to nativistic ends:

“You put me into this world without asking me. You gave me a name, declared me a member of the Christian confession, and provided me with a family home, all without my assent or agreement […] You ask me if I see any sense in the life we lead here on this earth? I would like to ask you in my turn whether you saw any sense in your putting me here? Did you envisage that I would be just another link in the chain of society, earning money only in order to spend it? Am I nothing but an ‘exhibit’ for you?” (In: Krömler [Ed.], Horizonte des Lebens, p. 26 and 27)

 

Dohm’s Grandson

In view of the stint that must be performed, Hedwig Dohm’s grandson also prefers non-existence to existence – although he eschews all experimentation with the thought of “never having been born”. “My little seven-year-old grandson finds that death is a finer thing than life. On being asked ‘Why?’ he replies: ‘When you’re alive, you have to do so much work.’” (Hedwig Dohm, Die Mütter)

[1] A grown-up who speaks like Rölleke‘s daughter is the character Berliner in Grabbe’s “Napoleon oder die hundert Tage”: “O if my mother had only held me back within her and never borne me; then I would not need to die.” (Grabbe, Napoleon oder die hundert Tage, S. 407)

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