We can dine out and have coffee on patios now – kind of nice. Doing that recently, I overheard someone at a nearby table complain about being treated unfairly.
Listening to their complaint, I wondered what makes something fair or unfair? I never feel unfairly treated by drought or floods, by getting bitten by a wild animal I accidentally trapped, or even bitten by someone else’s dog. I may feel frightened or angry, but not feel the helplessness of being treated unfairly. For me, being unfairly treated always involves the judgment and subsequent actions of other people.
“You’re being too sensitive!”, meaning your emotions aren’t to be trusted. “You’re too old, or too young”, meaning that what you have to offer is lacking just because of your age. “You’re from a different culture or race”, meaning there’s something inherently wrong with you for that strange reason. “You should feel grateful for your position”, after working like a demon for a colleague who didn’t contribute much at all.
When those kinds of things happen, very often I hear the comeback “Well, life isn’t fair!”. But that isn’t true – life just is; it’s people who aren’t fair.
It takes a lot of self-awareness and practice to not end up feeling helpless in the face of unfairness: the self-awareness of accepting and understanding your own limits, and the practice of recognizing and dealing with unfairness when it enters your life.
For instance, it may be that you flare up when you see unfair treatment, and that approach only makes things worse. The practice then would be modifying your reaction to a response that is more balanced, leaving an opening for change.
Whatever judgments we encounter that are unfair, we usually have the power to mitigate that unfairness by learning how to master our own approach. It’s really empowering.
Why monkeys (and humans) are wired for fairness
Quote of the Week
“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.”
“I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”
– Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury
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