Psych-Hack: The Paradox of “Fair”

Fair_Globe“Life ain’t fair.”

Or “Nobody said it was gonna’ be fair.” are lines that are stereotypically delivered by some broken soul whose dreams have been crushed over a lifetime of disappointment, to a younger, more optimistic person. That this is a has become a cliche speaks to why our relationship to the concept of fairness is one we should take seriously.

We (in the U.S.) live in a time of heightened tribalism (mention “Obama” on any news site, and see what happens – shit’s crazy), that seems to prevent us as a people from thinking bigger, more systemic (harmony in human relations, human health, ending hunger, etc.). Not like we’ve ever been particularly awesome at large change, the civil rights movement (which is a straightforward assertion that all citizens have equal rights under the law) dragged on forever and the conditions it sought to remedy exist in shadow form to this day. So I ain’t holding my breath that this little meditation on the nature of fairness will do anything more provide food for thought!

Fair or Unfair?

Fair_ScalesDo we live in a savage, Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest world with pockets of kindness? Or an egalitarian utopia that’s a little broken? For my money, it’s both, and learning how to fully embrace and appreciate the fine distinctions between what we face as individuals vs. communities is vital.

Look out any window and see that nature, the natural world is profoundly unfair. Tsunami’s don’t distribute themselves to even things out, fire kills the wicked and innocent indiscriminately, and big strong animals habitually run down and eat smaller weaker animals. No, fairness is a human construct, and it’s one of our best inventions – it allows us to have civilizations that can value art, science and laws (and not simple bands of roving marauders whose only purpose is to serve the strong).

What’s the Paradox?

Fair_RockAs humans, we have to (as individuals) manage all manner of unfairness, ones that work for and against us, while finding consensus on areas we agreed to artificially make “fair”. I’m a tall, big man – I’ve never seriously worried about physical injury, not from people, and not from the environment. Someone born with great beauty, whether they admit it or not, has tremendous social advantages over those who do not. Some people are crazy smart – either emotionally or intellectually – putting them ahead in competitions where smarts is the key.

This unfairness happens in a million different ways, a million times a day, and it’s awesome. It’s the thing that allows us to be individuals, to have personal goals and vision. It allows us to choose to throw ourselves into a vocation, or just have a job so we can provide for our families. Figuring out what we have that others don’t, and using that to our advantage is what gives us the ability to continuously evolve over a lifetime.

But what if your advantage is that you’re a white guy and that’s the reason you don’t get shot by police? That’s unfair (to say the least, I don’t use this example lightly, I find a lot of white folk think of themselves as upstanding using lack of arrests as proof – never connecting their “whiteness” to the lack of getting hassled on the street). And it’s in these areas of life that all of us need to take stock of what’s “okay unfair” and “not okay unfair”.

Embrace the Paradox

Fair_ShakeI think I bit off more than I can chew with this subject, but I do want to suggest the following idea before I close. I think if you can view the world through the following prism – “I want to make my life as unfair as possible, while making the lives of others as fair as possible”. Pursing life from the perspective that you will press every advantage, improve every weakness, and evolve yourself to match or exceed the life you want. And at the same time, do what you can to give everyone an even shake (being “win/win” in the parlance), offer help to those that deserve it (people who will grow, not just take more), engage in charity, and be mindful that others won’t try to make life as unfair as you will.

Okay, that’s my two-cents on the topic, what do you think?