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.

Decision-making Simplified

If you’re looking to live a peaceful life then a principled life provides the greatest levels of consistency and the most positive results overall. Yes, statistically the principled life can mean prices can be high, but the reward is the calm equanimity of a life with a peace of mind. So how do these principles work?

654 Relax and Succeed - How you do anythingKeep in mind, this isn’t me reading a dictionary to you. This is my definition based on my understanding of how the human mind is wired up. A principle is like a conceptual limit. Anything outside of it would exist outside your definition of yourself. So if you don’t believe in murder, then imagining yourself killing someone would be highly unpleasant because the thought would conflict directly with your principles.

If you claimed to hold the principles stated above, then killing someone for money would be to sell your character. Because that deal means you’ll be forced to function outside the framework of the principles you claimed to have. As soon as you’re outside that line you’re behaviour lacks character and you are a wild card for the rest of the world and for yourself. A great deal of energy is expended in being this way because each experience becomes strictly an emotional outcome rather than the larger philosophical growth opportunity it could be. Because if we take enough of those growth opportunities and we add them together we eventually end up at wisdom. So if you’re operating from a basis of principles you can climb quite high in life. But if you’re only using your daily opinion then 20 years of experience gets turned into the same year re-done 20 times.

654 Relax and Succeed - The more you love your decisionsThe reason wisdom is important is because our mood—our thought chemistry—can drastically impact how we’ll react to any given circumstance. Something that seemed reasonable 10 minutes ago can suddenly seem horrifying, or insane and the opposite’s true too. So we can’t be making decisions based only on how we feel, especially during a pique of emotion. Even the Dalai Lama will admit to having a temper. So we need something to filter out the kinds of errors we’ll make when we’re overly emotional: enter principles.

These are like pre-decided conceptual ideas. If you claim to value human life then you are in principle against murder. That means that when you get asked whether or not the government should be able to use the death penalty you know the answer must be no because yes would exist outside of your principles. Likewise, if you value human dignity then you would in principle want people to be treated with respect. And that would mean you that you absolutely would not take advantage of a date who was under any kind of influence. To the contrary you would protect them.

You can’t buy character. You pay for character. If you believe people should be treated equally, then character dictates that if you work for a CEO that lays off a bunch of low level employees and then he applies their salaries to the bottom line to boost executive bonuses, then you have to quit or figure out what charity you’re going to give that money to. Because spending it would be to allow one group to take advantage over another, and if you truly believe in everyone being treated equally then you know the 654 Relax and Succeed - The ultimate measure of a manmoney was obtained through unprincipled means and you have to find some reasonable way to get yourself back on-side with your principles.

If this sounds expensive sometimes it really is. But do not underestimate how much easier it makes life. Because when you see tortured people trying to make the “right” decision in some tense or difficult situation, you can just calmly look at it and know what the mathematics of your principles would dictate and your answer would be spit out by your pre-determined belief structure, rather than your current brain chemistry. That often leads to much better long term outcomes, and the nature of it means that you’ll do less actual thinking than the people who are trying to feel what the right thing to do is, rather than calculate it based on their carefully chosen principles.

Take the pressure off yourself. Set your principles and then live by them. You’ll be surprised at how good you feel when you pay a price to live up to them. It’s only then that you realize that most of the heroes in the movies and books and shows of your life have all been the one who exercised strong principles—even if you didn’t always agree with their values. But in the end, the closest thing anyone can consistently be is the decisions that emerge from their character. Their thoughts will change, their cells will change, but only by experience and by choice will their decision-making change.

Figure out where your lines in the sand are. What are your absolutes? Build yourself a framework of principles and then spend some time living with them. They’re trickier than you first realize if you’re serious about it. But after you fall into the habit they make a wonderful decision-making tool.

Here’s to easier decisions that are more in alignment with our values and which should therefore create more peace of mind and the opportunity to more deeply enjoy the very act of living. I wish you the very best.

peace, s