Somewhere in Africa, a gazelle is running for its life, chased by a hungry lion. What are the chances that the gazelle is thinking, “This is SO unfair!”?
This may surprise you, but I don’t actually know the answer to that.
What I do know is that many people would say, “We should be more like that gazelle; just concentrate on doing what we can, rather than wasting time crying ‘Poor me’!”
Human beings are not gazelles. Do gazelles have a sense of fairness? Again, I really don’t know (and please stop asking me). But you and I definitely do. We humans are abstract thinkers, ethical and moral creatures, and we are very much concerned with the idea of fairness.
We hold fairness as an ideal; we want things to be as fair as possible. We teach our children to play fair when we say things like “No one likes a cheater,” or, “They won fair and square.”
When my brother and I were kids, our parents taught us the ultimate fairness-in-sharing technique: “You Split and I Pick.” One kid splits the goods in half, whether it’s a cookie, a bowl of pudding or a jar full of change. The other kid chooses which resulting “half” he or she wants to keep. I don’t know what we would have done if a third sibling had come along. But I’ll bet parents of more than two kids have figured out ingenious ways to preserve a sense of fairness.
In books and movies, we love it when the good guy wins in the end, and the bad guy’s punishment fits his crimes. It’s only when something bad happens in real life – say, at work – that we turn the tables. Suddenly it’s considered immature to want fairness in all things. We say to ourselves, each other, and even to our (now confused) children: “Life’s not fair. Deal with it.”
Obviously, life is not fair. Bad things frequently happen to good people, and bad people literally get away with murder. But the fact that life isn’t fair doesn’t mean we can’t have feelings about it.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfectly okay to want life to be fair — even though it never will be. Wanting fairness is in our nature as human beings, ethical and idealistic as we are. We can’t help it. We’re practically hard-wired to complain about unfairness.
So go ahead and cry. Gnash your teeth. Wish that life were fair. It’s only human.
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