“It’s not fair” is a phrase I used a lot as a child. I was the middle of three siblings and they were so mean and constantly blaming everything on me despite the fact that I never did anything wrong (some of that is partially true). I would wail that phrase from the designated time out corner because I was so sure whatever I did was definitely not a punishable offense. That is how I associate the phrase “it’s not fair.” In general it is reserved for small children who have not lived enough life to understand that the idea of fair doesn’t really exist. Let me just stop for a second and say there are very real unfair situations that happen in the world, and important causes like human rights deserve the voice of someone saying “this is not fair.” These issues are important and I applaud anyone who is brave enough to step up and take a stand against unfairness.
When I say the idea of fair doesn’t exist I am talking more about day-to-day personal lives and relationships. There is not some magic scale in the universe looking out for all of us to make sure we all get an equal parcel of love, happiness, support, luck , success, and money. You have to work at all of these things. I know it’s not fair, right?
People also have a tendency to think about fair as an immediate reaction: if you get a $500 bonus at work I should get one too. Without knowing anything about the nature of your bonus I will think it is unfair, and likely become resentful. This is where the concept of fair becomes sort of dangerous. It becomes a tit for tat game and someone always leaves angry or hurt.
This is especially true for those who believe relationships should be 50/50. They should be 50/50 but they will never at any given time be that even. The amount of effort a partner is able to dedicate to the relationship is always fluctuating so sometimes it looks like 60/40 and sometimes it is 90/10. With most relationships though if you look at the percentage of effort over time it ends up at 50/50, but it is never immediate. I have been in relationships before with people who keep an internal fairness “tally board.” Partner expectations are clearly laid out: if I cook you have to clean, if I wash the laundry you have to fold, if I grocery shop you have to put it away. This is the expectation every time, and does not waver because then it wouldn’t be fair. I hope it goes without saying that those relationships were not long-lasting. By the way, this concept is true for friendships, siblings, etc. keeping a tally board is toxic for all close relationships. The key to fairness is to give without expectation and know that it will come back at some point, and if it doesn’t then reevaluate the relationship.
The idea of “fair” also varies depending on your life experiences. It is easy to say being passed up for a promotion or raise is not fair without really thinking through what led to that point. What did the people who did get raises do differently? Was it more sales or volunteering for additional projects on top of their duties? Most situations that appear unfair on the surface can be reasonably explained, it won’t make you feel better but it provides a better context of understanding than it is simply unfair.
Lastly unfair situations happen to everyone, it doesn’t matter if you are a multimillion dollar CEO or a minimum wage worker. Sometimes it comes in the form of an employee embezzling money and bankrupting a company, or sometimes it comes in the form of a life threatening illness like cancer. None of us are immune, and it reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of advice my dad has ever given me. It goes like this:
“Life is only fair in the respect that it is equally unfair to all of us”