Have you ever said, “Life isn’t fair”? Of course you have. We’ve all said that. And we’re right. Life is NOT FAIR. At least it’s not fair all the time.
But sometimes life IS FAIR — to be fair. So somebody commits a capital crime. The crime is investigated and a suspect is arrested. The defendant is tried in court and convicted by a jury as a result of the evidence. Finally, the convicted is sent to prison to serve their sentence. That’s fair, is it not? The person broke the law and the law punished them for the violation. This is not only fair, but our society functions effectively because of it.
Or consider a young person who decides to pursue a preferred career option. They do well in school; are accepted into a good college; attend the college and excel; graduate from the college; apply for jobs; and eventually get hired by a firm and they have a stellar career. That’s fair, isn’t it? A just reward for discipline and hard work. It’s a common motivator for overcoming the inertia that’s all too common.
But even as we agree that some things in life are fair, we know that some things are NOT FAIR. In fact, many things in life are not fair. For example:
On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives through an act of terrorism. People who were just trying to earn an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Children. Peace-loving people. Business people. Daycare workers. Service workers. Firefighters. People who not only did not deserve to die, but certainly not in the horrific way that took their lives that beautiful crisp September morning. That’s not fair. It’s not fair at all.
Martin Luther King, Jr., while pioneering the ideals stated in our Declaration of Independence, was assassinated by a man who had no concern for fairness at all. A man who had dedicated his life to freedom and equality and dignity for all — was cut down by a man who had no concern for any of these things. This is just not fair. Such unfairness makes us angry and we cry out against it.
Some people are born into privilege. Born into a family with money and influence. Sent to the best schools. Afforded opportunities that most can only dream about. But others are born into crushing poverty. Where survival is a daily challenge. No money or influence. Few, if any, opportunities. Yet neither the child of privilege nor the child of disadvantage did anything to bring about their fortune or lack of it. How is it fair that a child who did nothing to merit their good fortune receives so much of it? How is it fair that a child who did nothing to deserve their misfortune receives so much of it? How is that fair? It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all.
In many respects, life is just not fair. We would all agree on that. And agreeing to life’s unfairness is a good place to begin. So let’s just say it. LIFE IS NOT FAIR! And it’s a certainty that we will continue to see manifestations of life’s unfairness into the future. So what do we do about it? What do we do given the fact that life is unfair? Consider the following suggestions.
We should begin by simply admitting that life is unfair. And it will always be unfair to a point. It’s not our fault. It’s not our doing. We didn’t cause it. It just IS. Denying that life is unfair is not only inaccurate, it’s pointless. So just admit it. Say it out loud. LIFE IS UNFAIR. It helps.
The second thing we should do is accept that life is unfair. That life always has been and always will be unfair. We can’t change it except on the smallest of scales. Accepting what we cannot change is one of the hallmarks of the Serenity Prayer. It’s also a good approach to the unfairness in the world. We simply accept it as part of life. And part of our own journey.
Given the fact that unfairness is part of life, we should anticipate it. Unfairness is universal in every culture, in every time, and in every place. Admitting and accepting that life is unfair will help us anticipate it, and not be shocked when we see it or experience it. We may be disappointed when we experience life’s unfairness. But there’s no reason to be surprised by it. Certainly not shocked by it. Anticipating it will go a long way toward helping us not be disillusioned by it.
Adjust To It
When we recognize that life is unfair and adopt the proper attitude toward it, we’ll be ready to adjust to it. We adjust by not letting the unfairness of life derail us. By not letting life’s unfairness divert us from our mission and purpose. Life’s unfairness can lead us to bitterness and cynicism. It can generate fear and dread in us as we think about the future. But none of this is necessary.
We can adjust to life’s unfairness. When something happens to us that’s not fair, we simply declare it so and adjust to it. We admit the unfairness. We mourn the fact that it was unfair. We don’t like it. But we don’t deny it. We accept the unfairness when it happens. But we don’t equate acceptance with endorsement. Nor do we ignore the unfairness.
There are things we may choose to do that will better ensure that the particular unfairness ceases. But accepting it helps this process rather than hinders it. Until we admit and accept that unfairness has occurred, we won’t be ready to deal with it. When we adjust to unfairness, we’re ready to move forward.
Adapt To It
When something is inevitable and unavoidable, it’s usually fruitless to get worked up over it. It’s okay to get angry and resolve to change it if possible, but fighting unfairness doesn’t always have to be a fight. When you’re out on the open sea in a sailboat and the wind shifts, you don’t fight the wind — you change your sails. You will never defeat the wind. All you can do is work in harmony with the wind to accomplish your goal.
If we insist on getting worked up over life’s unfairness, we will only relegate ourselves to frustration. One of the quips of the ages is, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” We may feel better for a brief time by cursing the darkness. But cursing the darkness generates no light. We must light a candle to do that. Fighting doesn’t bring the light. Cursing doesn’t bring the light. It’s the candle that brings the light.
Of course, we’re free to do battle if we choose. I’ve known people whose life consisted almost entirely of railing against the unfairness in the world. As if their complaining about the unfairness will eradicate it. It’s not going to happen. The best we can do is adapt to the unfairness by accepting that it will always be with us. Then do what we can to combat it when we see it. And certainly not to contribute to it ourselves. The choice is ours to make. We don’t need to be frustrated by the unfairness. We can respond to it in a healthy and productive way. And we should. So let’s review.
Life is not fair. It just isn’t. Sometimes it’s mildly unfair. Sometimes it’s grossly unfair. When we see life display its unfairness, here’s what we should do:
ADMIT. Deep down we know that life is unfair. Just admit that it is. It will help.
ACCEPT. Accepting life’s unfairness doesn’t mean we like it. It does mean we accept it as part of our journey.
ANTICIPATE. Once we accept that life is unfair, we’ll be less shocked and derailed when we see it. We should expect life to be unfair because it is.
ADJUST. Because life is unfair, we’ll be called upon to adjust when we experience it. If not, then life’s unfairness will get the better of us. We don’t need to let that happen.
ADAPT. If we fail to adapt to the unfairness of life, it can break us. We can become so disillusioned by it that we give up. But don’t give up because life is unfair — adapt to it and use it as a springboard for change.
Many of the world’s great changes were brought about because someone sensed an unfairness. And they began to work toward a change. A change that in some specific way eliminated the unfairness that had earlier prevailed. Life isn’t fair. Get over it or get frustrated. It’s your choice.
I was born and raised in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. My dream as a child was to play professional baseball. I made it as far as a baseball scholarship to a Division 1 college. But it’s a long story. I’m a teacher at core, and love to teach anything and anybody who wants to learn. I started out as a public school teacher. But eventually felt called to the ministry, where I spent 32 years as a pastor. I love the outdoors. I love to read. I love people. I love to learn. Not necessarily in that order. I try to take a long walk every day year-round. I’ve done that for nearly 40 years. It’s where I do some of my best thinking. It also clears the cobwebs from my head and the nonsense that tries to take root there. I now run a blog (which you can visit by clicking here), where I discuss the meaning and lessons contained within some famous quotes.