Children are born with a built-in sense of fairness. One that is quite challenging to any parent who has ever had to settle a disagreement on fairness.
Siblings interacting with each other keep their keen little eyeballs peeled for even the slightest infraction of injustice. Every parent knows that failure to pour liquid into two matching glasses in exactly the same identical amounts will reward you with howls of “That’s NOT FAIR! He/She got MORE than me!”
If I had a nickel for every time I have lost my patience and muttered back, “Life isn’t fair, get used to it.”…Well, let’s just say that I haven’t been presented with my Lifetime Achievement Award in parenting yet.
Scott M. Peck in his best selling book, The Road Less Traveled, starts out with this thought-provoking statement:
Life is Difficult
On the surface, this statement may elicit a thought such as “Well, duh, anyone who has bought a gallon of gas lately knows that!”
Perhaps it doesn’t seem like such a provocative statement in this day and age after all.
Yet it is precisely our reaction to the opening line that is of interest. It isn’t that we don’t know that life is difficult; it’s how we feel about it that matters. It’s what we do about it that makes the difference in our daily lives.
Do we accept that life is difficult and accept that there is no such thing as fair? Do we move on from there and use our choices, talents, goals, and energy to reach the next level?
Or do we, like small children, keep our eyeballs peeled for the injustices done to us, whining about every obstacle, getting dragged down by the unfairness of it all? If we are honest, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
To be clear, I am not speaking of the great injustice of human suffering. I’m not speaking of rampant poverty, murder and the unspeakable evils that can’t be explained.
I am talking about the day-to-day expectation of fairness that our inner-child still secretly longs for. The child that keeps getting disappointed and wants to whine and shout, That’s not fair…” when the guy who wasn’t as qualified (in our opinion) gets the job over us. When the annoying woman ahead of us in the parking lot rushes to take the last parking space. When our spouse or dear friend makes some remark that sets our teeth on edge or our hair on fire. All the pouting and huffing over the extra work that is never noticed or the countless unreciprocated moments of our lives that we will never get back again.
There is no such thing as fair.
How do we handle it? What are our options?
We can still play fair. Stubbornly believe in the hope that others like us would like it to be fair. We could not treat others as if this is a dog-eat-dog world with all illusions of fairness blown out the window so who cares.
We have all learned that we need to give without expecting back. Love without expecting love in return. Work without expecting that next jump up the corporate ladder. Just do it because it is the right thing to do. Do it for the greater good. Do it for yourself, because believe it or not you’ll feel better in the end.
Very lofty ideas. Good ones. Hard to put in practice. Especially at 9:00 pm when I’m still washing dinner dishes, the kids are fighting and I’m feeling at that moment that the greater good would be to bang them with the pot lid….
I needed something more practical to get me through the day. So I came up with:
Wendi’s Practical Tips For Dealing with Your Own Whining “That’s Not Fair” Attitude.
1. Stop, Listen and Pay Attention.
As soon as you hear those magic words inside your head, train yourself to recognize them as a warning sound to alert you to trouble up ahead. Start paying close attention to your surroundings, your feelings and your physical well-being.
2. Zip the Lip
Immediately or as quickly as possible. Nothing good can come out of a conversation that comes from a whiny place. Hold your tongue until you have had time to analyze all of the facts and emotions that are in play.
3. Look in the Mirror First
We are often quick to point out what others are doing that is unfair before we have looked at how we are affecting the situation. Sometimes after a good hard look in the mirror, we see that things aren’t quite what they seemed after all. Maybe we were over-tired, too hungry, pumped up on caffeine. Perhaps our head wasn’t in the game, we were over-committed, or have under-delivered. What could we have done differently to make a change?
4. Re-examine Your Communication
Sometimes what we thought we said isn’t what they heard. Can we go back as partners and work out better ways of communicating with each other?
5. Don’t Spit in the Wind
There will be times when you have done everything on the checklist to be sure you are playing fair and the wind is just going to blow back in your face. Stop spitting in it. It doesn’t work and it never will. Ask yourself if this is a situation that you can really change or not. Some things you just can’t change. Learn when to walk away and shake it off. Don’t waste energy whining about it. Know that you did your best, release the guilt and let it go. There is too much to get done.
I think that somewhere inside, we all long for the day when life will get easier. That day isn’t coming. What can get easier is learning to take control of our actions and choices to improve our experiences in a difficult world. A lot of us spend a great deal of time spitting in the wind, only to end up with spit on our faces and we don’t even bother to ask why.
Life isn’t fair. What are you going to do about it?