We’ve all repeatedly heard, “Life’s not fair”, and we’ve probably all even said the words ourselves. But if we look past the words to how we really feel deep down, I think we have to confess that somehow we expect fairness in life. We don’t face each day anticipating something unfair to happen, so when it does, it takes us completely off guard, to the point that we cry out like children in complete disbelief, “What?!?” And when the shock at something “not being fair” subsides, anger sets in and we silently protest, “But that’s not FAIR!”
I’ve never really been able to deal very well with unfairness or injustice when it happens to me. And I’ve always wondered why. Now I think I know. It’s my fundamental expectation of “fairness.” Simply put, I’ve somehow grown up believing that life is fair. That I not only want fair treatment, but I deserve it. And worse, that I can even prevent injustices if I do and say all the right things. Or at least fix it – make it all right and fair again – if it happens. So of course, when the inevitable injustice comes along, I have absolutely no idea how to process it in a healthy way, deal with it, and move on.
So how did I arrive at this place where I am incapable of processing and coping with unfairness? I think a big part of it is that my life has always been, well, …. fair. I was not born in a war torn country or a crime infested neighborhood where I had to constantly worry about my safety. I never wondered if I would get to eat that day. I was not born into a home broken by alcoholism, poverty, neglect, or abuse. I never had to deal with childhood cancer or the loss of a parent. I had a home, food, parents who loved me, and every opportunity for educational and spiritual growth. I had it all.
So I guess when you hear words like, “Life’s not fair”, when you’ve been given the luxury of a loving family and a safe environment, the words somehow seem empty.
Then suddenly, you grow up, either via age or via a painful event, and you move out of the protection of your imagined fairness. For me it started when I entered a tumultous relationship with a person who despised me for reasons I could never understand. Then I developed chronic pain that no doctors could resolve. Then I lost a friend. Then a friend lost her child. “Why?” I cried out. And when that same friend later lost her husband, I cried with her, and I said the words that came up from deep within the recesses of my soul, “It just. isn’t. fair.” And suddenly I was shattered by my realization that I live it a world where truly nothing is ever fair. There is absolutely nothing just about the tragedies that strike some people while leaving others alone. And there’s no escaping the same fate. We are all delivered blows. And it’s just not fair.
So now when I hear my children sing the all familiar “it’s not fair” song, I see way beyond their words. I see deeper into what the implications are of attitude that life should be fair, and how that belief will affect them in the future. I see them years later, like me, completely incapacitated and not knowing how to move forward when something that’s “not fair” happens to them.
So deeply ingrained is their misconception of fairness, that the idea weaves itself through how they analyze every event. Yesterday I was telling my daughter that at her next girl scout meeting, she was going to have a Halloween party. “What?!?” My son immediately demanded. “That means she gets TWO Halloween parties – one at scouts and one at church! And I only get the one at church. How come she gets two and I only get one?” He wasn’t angry. He was truly sad.
Wow, what have I done wrong? I’ll tell you what I’ve done wrong. I’ve led by example. I myself want life to be fair for me and my kids, and I work tirelessly towards that end. I hold them strictly accountable for fair and just treatment of others, so I (and they) have come to expect that others will do the same to us. But they don’t. Which isn’t fair. But it’s reality. So I say with my lips, “Life isn’t fair”, but then my actions don’t refelect that because I work against any unfairness that comes our way, trying to make it “right”. Not too long ago, I made a point to give the last piece of candy to my daughter and said, “You are getting this last piece of candy, not your brother, because life isn’t fair. And some other time, he will get something that you don’t get. And that’s just life.”
I think, as parents, it’s time we intentionally expose our kids to unfairness. All levels of unfairness – small ones like candy, and big ones like kids in third world countries who are overjoyed at just getting some water that won’t make them sick, or possibly kill them. We cannot deny that unfairness exists – on many levels. And we fail as parents if we don’t prepare them for the real world that we know awaits them. A world where life isn’t fair. We need to equip our kids with a toolbox for coping with unfairness and injustice, and we can’t do that if we don’t first teach them that true unfairness does exist, that no one is spared from it, and most importantly that it’s okay that everything isn’t always fair. They’ll be okay. Some unfairness is a tragedy, but not all. If we can’t accept (if not embrace) unfairness, we will be blind-sided by it, and it will cripple us from moving forward. I’m afraid we will be setting our kids up for failure if we don’t start, right now, redefining what’s “fair”, accepting what’s not, and embracing the life we’ve been given, unfairnesses and all.