Other Perspectives #94: The Dangers of Fairness

1041-op-relax-and-succeed-im-human-so-dont-be-meanYou put an “X” through that?!

Yeah. Mean of me wasn’t it? They even used little kid handwriting to make it look more vulnerable and still I X’d it out. Tough luck kid. That’s a dangerous idea to give a you.

This is the first new Other Perspectives for the first time in a long time, but I have to. I learned by doing this series that a lot of people learned a tremendous amount about why they were struggling as adults. They began realising the dangerous ideas in our culture are often not the dark ones, they’re the light ones. They’re the big lies that get told to kids and those kids grow into adults who spend their entire lives upset that those particular lies didn’t come true.

1041-op-relax-and-succeed-dont-worry-about-the-peopleThose are the lies about being nice, taking turns, being fair, responsible, ethical–it doesn’t matter: still lies. Every kid finds their own version of those things, because like everyone’s principles for life, it includes a lot of real-life exceptions that need to be added to the parent’s rules in order to maintain the order the parent claimed existed. They need to add those exceptions because they need ways to figure out how to handle when someone else doesn’t match the behaviours they were taught were correct.

How this translates is that the kid/person tries to be nice to everyone they can, but if someone isn’t nice to them then the deal their parents said would exist is obviously not in operation. If that’s the case then the kid will no longer feel like they have to be nice either. The other person was mean first. After all, you have to be fair.

If we make fair important then it’s okay if you have to forego a responsibility to get your revenge, because you’re making sure that fair thing gets resolved. Then later you and your friends and family can discuss how unethical the other person was. And therein we circle the squares of our family subcultures.

1041-op-relax-and-succeed-human-kind-be-bothWhat got sold to the kid was a code of conduct. The parents defined both good and successful behaviour and the kid was told to live by both. But they’re instantly stressed because before they can even get to Grade One they’re learning that people don’t do what they’re supposed to do. People live based off how they feel. And the best way to keep them feeling good is actually to allow the idea of reciprocity develop.

Reciprocity was what we were attempting to codify and when we created the behaviour codes that shape our societies. But using the word fairness for reciprocity was a terrible idea. To say societies aim for those ideals is fine, but if we teach kids to expect fairness and suggest to them that something is wrong when things aren’t fair, that’s literally teaching them how to be unhappy the rest of their lives because their view of how they want the world to work will never line up with how it is.

Fairness is the quality of making a judgment without any kind of human, personal, or emotional content. Even when robots do that it makes us upset because it’s not taking into account the desire for reciprocity. The word is actually derived from the idea of beauty or attractiveness, so it’s a shallow, ego-based word.

1041-op-relax-and-succeed-if-someone-is-too-tiredReciprocity on the other hand has its origins in French, extending from a term meaning, to move backwards and forwards. Give and take. That still leaves room for people to give too little and take too much, but fairness doesn’t. Fairness is egotistical and rigid. It wants to live in all moments equally, whereas reciprocity is happy with just flexing to fit the moment where it’s needed.

Don’t tell little Jennifer that another kid is a bad kid because they teased your her, because little Jennifer’s going to do that some day too and then she’ll feel like a bad person. Explain that just like she does, some kids have very bad days before they get to school and those kids have a lot of pain in them that will come out during the day. Then little Jennifer can be taught to be compassionate to the unreasonable people because that’s what will make them more reasonable, not a demand that they be fair when they already feel they are down. We don’t save the world by keeping the happy people happy, we need to get the sad people happy.

It’s natural to want to protect a kid. But think about protecting the adult they’ll be too. Because teaching them to try to bend the world to the shape you claimed it was is a life of hell. But learning to manage the world as it really is can lead to a heavenly life, even if it’s spent dealing with plenty of unfairness.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

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