Fairness   June 8, 2011

This week I took my car to have it repaired. It came back running worse than when I took it. For a little over $1000 they’d be happy to try again to fix it. That’s not going to happen.

An acquaintance redesigned a website for an attorney. The attorney chose her because she the felt she was being overcharged by her previous vendor. After a year she decided to change yet again because she felt she was being overcharged by my acquaintance. The new provider charged her more than double what the first two charged and now she wants to file a suit against one of the previous companies because she does not want to pay it herself. What’s funny about this is that they all probably charge less than she does. I sure plenty of the attorney’s previous clients were dissatisfied with their outcome. I wonder how many of them got money back. We all know the answer is none.

It all reminds me that life is not fair. I have certainly been on the receiving end of unfairness. If I am honest, I have dished out some unfairness also. If God had intended life to be fair there would be no birth defects or starving third world children and crime would never pay. If you don’t believe in God, if you believe that everything is what it is because if random chance, then you have already come to terms with the notion that life is not supposed to be fair. If you haven’t then there is a basic inconsistency in your philosophy.
For many people the response to unfairness is to try to correct, to make life fair. I don’t believe that humans are capable of creating fairness on any large scale. We can take a toy from the child who took it from another and return it to the child that it belongs to. In a sense we are making things more fair. But is it really fair if one child has many toys and the other child has none? Or maybe the child who says it was taken from them is not telling the truth. Can we really decide what is fair? And if we have a hard time deciding what is fair in a simple case like this how can we even begin to make a fair world.

Is it fair that one group is penalized because of prejudice against them or because they started from a worse starting point because of past injustices? Is it fair to penalize others who had nothing to do with the past injustices to make up for it? Can we actually give everyone an equal starting point in life? Of course not! And any plan that we put in place to correct unfairness will be fraudulently taken advantage of turning it in to yet another platform for unfairness. Sometimes I think it would just be better to let the chips fall where they may then to try to make things fair. Perhaps the fairest thing would be if we just all know the rules and no side gets any help. Then again maybe I think that because my life is better than some. The winners always think the game was fairly played.

But we still have a longing for fairness. I think that people often will turn to religion in an effort to believe that there will be pay back for the unfairness in the world. Karl Marx said “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Some people believe in God because we need God to extract the revenge that we cannot extract ourselves. Revenge is a poor reason to be a believer because revenge is rarely sweet.

I remember a conversation that I had with someone about eating meat. In her mind it was fine to eat the meat from some animals but not others. It came down to whether the animal was cute or not. Apparently to her it is fine to kill an ugly animal for its meat but not a cute one.

There’s not a lot of fairness there, and this example seems ridiculous, but most of the time our idea of fairness is based more on what we want or who we like than on any moral sense of right or wrong. History has shown that our opinion of guilt or innocence is skewed by physical appearance as is the punishment handed out by judges. It is also affected by who we identify with. If you are a single mom you are more likely to be unsympathetic towards a father in a child support case even if the mother in the case is fraudulently trying to extract an unreasonable amount of child support. If you are a dad who has dealt with such an ex then you are more likely to be sympathetic towards the dad even if he truly is a dead beat. According to every domestic relations attorney I’ve talked to, judges are all biased depending on their predisposition.

There is a shallowness in people for whom things come to easily. And there is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in people who have struggled and overcome. We all look at people born with a silver spoon and believe that it is unfair that they are given so much and yet they are deprived of the opportunity to struggle and overcome. To whom much is given, much is expected. I know many miserable rich people and many happy people who are financially poorer than anything we can really imagine in this country.

Life is not fair. I believe that life is not supposed to be fair. I believe that a person’s ultimate success is determined not by how many hurdles are in front of them but by how good of a hurdler they are. And I believe that we are all on a different journey which will expose us to experiences that will teach us the lessons that we need to learn. Whether we learn them is up to us. A better approach to the unfairness in our lives than seeking reparations is to seek the wisdom that they can teach us. If we take the bad breaks that come our way and sulk about unfairness then we probably have not learned the lesson yet.

Then again, the winners always believe that the game is fairly played.