With little transition, the Martian sky faded from the soft pink of rose quartz to a hard-angled obsidian night, its many facets twinkling and glistening as the stars sprang into view. Only a faint blue glow along the horizon indicated where the sun had set… [Read More]

Sometimes I see articles discussing how far the birthrate has fallen in many countries and pointing out that this is a worldwide trend. Families are much smaller than they were in the past, and many young adults are opting not to have children at all. The authors often make dire predictions as to what will happen if this trend continues for another millennium or so, leaving a tiny human population on the brink of extinction.

There aren’t enough reasons to want children in today’s society, they say. In past generations, large families had economic value because children worked on the family farm. As they grew older, they took care of their aging parents, who might otherwise be left destitute upon becoming unable to work. But nowadays, a child is just an expensive, time-consuming luxury item. Even in countries where the government provides good child care and pays generous stipends to parents, birthrates remain low. Simply put, modern-day humans have many other things they’d rather be doing than raising families.

While I agree with the short-term prediction that the world’s population will soon reach its peak and then begin falling, I don’t see this as a cause for alarm. As I see it, the resulting labor shortage and high salaries will be very good for wage-earners. Raising a family on one parent’s salary, while the other parent stays home with the children, will be an affordable choice. Lost career opportunities won’t be as much of a concern because the average lifespan will continue to increase. A parent who stays home raising a large family until age 50 might reasonably expect to have a productive career until age 100, or perhaps even longer. Employment discrimination will be much less of a problem because of the labor shortage. Because the young adults of the future will not have to face today’s social and economic constraints with regard to families, their choices may turn out to be very different from what we’re seeing now.

When I wrote this post, my main purpose wasn’t to reassure worried readers that humans are not heading toward extinction. Nor am I suggesting that all children would be better off with a parent who does not work outside the home. Rather, this post is meant to illustrate how current trends often become absurd when they’re extrapolated out too far. We lack a sufficient frame of reference to predict what will happen in the long term because our baseline assumptions soon become outdated. Thus, although a calm, well-reasoned focus on solving present-day problems may not get as much attention as shrieking about a coming apocalypse, the former approach generally results in wiser policy decisions.

Among the items that my husband and I keep on the desk next to the computer monitor in our study, there is a metal nail file. If I notice that the pointy end of the file is facing toward me while I’m sitting at the computer, I pick up the file and turn it around. Having a sharp object pointing toward me seems disturbing, even though the file has never actually poked me. I expect many people in our modern culture would dismiss this as a neurotic worry, or perhaps wonder if I have an obsessive need to arrange things in particular ways.

But according to feng shui—the ancient Chinese art of design—avoiding sharp objects in one’s environment is both a natural response and an effective way to improve one’s mental health. Sharp objects or corners pointing toward a person are called “secret arrows,” a phrase that refers to the subconscious disturbing effect they have when they go unnoticed. When something sharp in a home or workspace gives the impression it might cause injury, it leaves people subconsciously feeling that they need to be on their guard. This can cause anxiety to build up over time.

Feng shui designers recommend being careful, not only about the placement of sharp objects on desks and tables, but also about the corners of the desks and tables themselves. If a piece of furniture has a sharp corner positioned in such a way that it might bother a person looking at it, moving the furniture or placing a houseplant or other harmless object in front of the corner is advised. Even sharply angled corners of nearby buildings can be secret arrows; when this happens, interposing a tree, a fountain, or another landscaping feature can help to create a more relaxed feeling.

Although some aspects of feng shui may simply be old superstitions or otherwise unsuited to our modern society, I believe there is merit in the basic premise that how we arrange our physical environment affects how we feel about our lives. Rather than adopting the view “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” and forcing ourselves to put up with small irritants in the belief that doing so improves our coping ability, we might do better to arrange our surroundings in ways that leave us feeling more at peace and refreshed.