We have all heard it and probably have all said it at one time or another, “Well, life is not fair.” It is the automatic response we give to ourselves or another when what we think or believe should happen, or when something that has happened, is not “fair.”
But what exactly is fair? One definition states that fair means, “in accordance with the rules or standards.”
Ah, there is the problem, the “rules.” This is one of my favorite topics. What are the rules? Rules are truly subjective, meaning that each person, group and society has devised a set of standards by which they deem to be “fair.”
As a society we create laws to decide what is and is not appropriate in regards to behavior. As we all know not everyone believes or agrees in the overall standard of laws. I recall a conversation I once had with an assistant U.S. attorney after a court case had ended. He commented that “everyone knows the difference between right and wrong.” so I asked him, “whose definition of “right and wrong” are you referring?” I went on to explain that each person has their own version of what is “right and wrong” and his standard may or may not be in accordance with the person deemed a criminal.
This is evident in just about any argument. Generally people argue because they want the other person to agree with their point of view or fairness quotient.
This brings us back to the idea of “life is not fair.” There are many things that happen in our lives that we don’t like, or don’t get what we think we want or deserve.
But does this really mean that life is not fair? Or have we each set standards that determine what we believe to be “right and wrong” and when we don’t get the desired result we assume the position of “not fair.”
I wish I could take credit for this analogy because I believe it really explains the space between what we “want” and what actually “is”. A friend and I were discussing this topic years ago and he exclaimed, “That’s where the pain is, the gap between what I want and reality.” And there coined an idea that helps me in everyday life and plays a major role in my practice.
I actually think life is fair in its simplicity, but perception and ideals affect understanding. When I put a box around what I believe will be the absolute best thing for me and then limit what actually is, I never truly see life for what it is offering. I waste precious time trying to fit the world around me into my ideal of perfect.
On one side you have what you want and on the other side you have what is real. The closer together these two sides are, the less pain is felt in accepting reality.
I’m not suggesting that we have no standards, but am explaining that when we don’t get a desired result, it is less about fairness and more about our current belief system.
Children believe it is not fair when they don’t get what they want in that moment. Parents understand that their children need a standard by which to live that will help them navigate life and do not give in to their every whim. No two people will have the exact same idea about fairness because of what they have been taught about right and wrong.
There are many things that happen in the world that appear to be just plain awful. But if we are honest we may be able to see that many things that we don’t like stem from the root of our personal belief of fairness.
If we are to understand each other, and ourselves, in this world and shorten the “gap” then it is imperative that we let go of our personal preconceived ideas of life and accept that not all people think the same way. There are really no right or wrong ways of living, just differing perceptions.
If you are struggling with life not being fair then perhaps a therapist can help to navigate what fairness really means to you and how to shorten the “pain gap.”