"Fair is as Fair
by Catherine Alfieri
"It's not fair!"
How many times have parents, teachers, coaches and others who work with young people heard that plaintive wail, tried to settle and soothe a young person's real or imagined tribulations with the well worn truism "Sorry, life isn't fair." As adults, we may not so often complain of life's unfairness, but the thought and emotion can surface as strongly as in our youth during certain adverse circumstances and times of stress.
While on the face of it these words seem harsh, they are comforting at some levels. If life isn't fair, the hurt, anger and frustration are justifiable - the coach really wasn't fair for not putting me in the starting line-up, the boss isn't fair for promoting someone less qualified than me, my parents are not fair in always siding with my brother. Sometimes we are more altruistic in our feelings - it is not fair that much of the world goes to bed hungry each night, that violence is a daily fact of life in many corners of the globe and that justice is many times not equal under the law. The concept of life's unfairness serves as an explanation, however inadequate, for many of the world's miseries and allows us to accept life as it is. If life were fair, it would fly in the face of the individuality and diversity we all hold so dear - that makes each of us unique. What a dull world it would be if everyone were as well formed as a supermodel, as athletic as Michael Jordan or Mia Hamm, as creative and intelligent as da Vinci or Edison and wealthy as Midas.
It can also, in a less noble sense, relieve any feelings of guilt or responsibility - life just isn't fair and there isn't a whole lot we can do about it - in fact, life would be quite uninteresting to boot. Also, if life were fair, it could mean we would all be equally miserable - poor, hungry and unhealthy. The concept of life being unfair can serve to keep the status quo, to justify our inertia in pursuing self-improvement or ameliorating the lot of our fellow man. It could even be considered intrusive, self-serving or presumptuous to interfere in the lives of others, however well meaning.
Perhaps life is not fair and maybe it is best that way. But perhaps it is also time to attach a corollary to that adage: life may not be fair but it can be fairer. By saying positively that life can be fairer we do not sacrifice our individuality or uniqueness. We do not dwell on what can't be done but on what can be. We can truly feel a little less guilty by making a difference in someone else's life. With our small efforts, we won't appear too self important - if so, the damage would be minimal. It also makes the task of fairness more manageable - we may not be able to save the world, but we can improve a piece of it. While life isn't fair is a win-lose proposition, making life fairer is a win-win. It can lead to our own self-improvement, especially of our souls and in the process, make life a little better for those around us.
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