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.

The Rules

Your ego knows the rules. It knows how to dress you, it knows how to dance, how to sing, and even knows how to eat and how to sleep. And this alignment between you and these external limits is defined by fear. Your ego knows that if you step out of line you run the risk of embarrassment and embarrassment feels a lot like being shunned and that’s an ancient way to get people in line. If we lose the support of those around us we are in trouble indeed.

Various cultures have various rules and that can include anything from how they greet each other, what language they use to share ideas, or even what tools they use or don’t use to eat. You can be perfectly in line with Ethiopian culture and still potentially offend a person who’s been taught to value British culture, and yet beneath those rules those two people could potentially be very respectful best friends.

1031-relax-and-succeed-everything-you-wantBut how do you be best friends when one of you speaks Dutch while the other only speaks Inuktitut? The two souls could get along, but we have these ego-suits our cultures make us wear. And yet we see how thin those suits are, because as soon as the two people learn to communicate they literally build their own hybrid culture where they just ignore the details of their external cultures.

Some very famous friendships have achieved some amazing things in this way, including Tenzin Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest, or the closeness shared between the 14th Dalai Lama and Heinrich Harrer. Some servants become close friends to their masters and vice versa. So the rules aren’t an issue, the rules are just loose agreements that we can break, we just don’t due to fear.

The people who do break these invisible rules are progressively called, open, eclectic, eccentric, strange, weird and even dangerous, but often times the only thing they’re doing is functioning outside of the rules society silently likes to teach each child. We like patterns and our culture is a set of patterns. Anyone outside of that is an outsider to us.

1031-relax-and-succeed-become-friends-with-peopleThis means that you have the ability to be friends with virtually anyone, which is great, but let’s focus on you. Because your ego doesn’t discuss much except these rules and your speculations about breaking them or maintaining them. Your ego is an expert on the rules, so when it’s talking to you it’s always from the rule-based, fear-based perspective. If you’re going to a party dressed like an actual clown your friend will actually try to talk you out of it and they might even desert you that night in a desire to avoid any reflected social shame you face.

Since your ego is little more than a rule expert, then the only reason for it to talk is for it to try to balance your natural drives with the rules, which is why your ego is primarily critical. The best thing to do is do what Norgay and Hillary did and just forge ahead together, but that’s only two people. Trying to get more people than to be free gets near impossible.

If you want to be a true individual living a truly spiritual life, you must surrender the rules and trade it for the Tao. You want the flow of a compassionate existence more than you want laws and protection. One is human, one is a thought-based idea. One is you behaving, the other is you feeling empathetic and compassionate.

Of off this is why you get upset if you spill food on your shirt at lunch. Imagine that: an adult having their day ruined by some mayonnaise on their shirt. Does that sound like a developed soul? No, that sounds like an ego trying to be liked by being in-line to the point where you’ll feel like everyone’s judging your stain, and if they’re following the rules they will. But so what?

What we’re talking about is just a framework in our head and the words are creations by our heads, for our heads. We certainly shouldn’t be using those words to punish ourselves. If you truly understood what was happening you wouldn’t need any rules for you to feel shame or regret. Those are nature’s way of keeping us cooperating in a way that’s good for all of us and those feelings don’t require words and they do permit for much more freedom.

Forget those words. Forget replaying some insult from 10 years ago. Stop listing all of the things that might go wrong. Stop looking for reasons you or others are out of line with the rules. None of this is hard. It’s not the start of something difficult, it’s the stopping of something difficult. Do not use your thoughts to weaken yourself. Those are only words taught to you by your culture. They cannot hurt you unless you believe them.

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.

Woman School

Today let’s imagine Woman School. We’ll be in the same house as when the Boy learned to become the Man. Input comes through a screen and some speakers. All the parts of the brain and body are present and ready to learn. The Brain at the front of the class narrates for the other body parts.

941 Relax and Succeed - She took the leapBrain: Okay everyone, ready? Remember, we’ll be spending most of our time with and we’ll get most of our guidance from The Mother, so watch her closely. She’s making breakfast on a weekend. We didn’t sleep well, sorry guys.

Memory: Sorry. I babbled a bit last night.

Imagination: Yeah, I wasn’t exactly quiet either, sorry.

Brain: Okay I think everyone’s been served. She has a list she’s written out. See that Hand? You give lists to him.

Hand: Got it.

Eyes: Oh oh. I don’t think he wanted a list. He does not look happy.

Brain: She’s tired of him not being happy with any lists.

Mouth: To talk to a future husband like that I’ll need some help from the diaphragm. She got a bit stern there.

Memory: Meet unhappiness with increased pressure. Got it.

Ears: Oh oh. He’s yelling.

Eyes: He’s mad. He’s coming toward her.

Self (silently): I enjoy my connection to others and prefer that those connections continue.

941 Relax and Succeed - Children learn moreEars: Hear that Mouth? She starts to offer apologies.

Eyelids: She’s starting to flutter in case he swings.

Eyes: I’m scared for her.

Legs: Should we go over and help?

Brain: NO!

Head: That did not work out well for me last time.

Ears: Those are terrible names he’s calling her.

Memory: We hear them a lot. I’ve already got them down as ‘normal.’

Nerves: Yeah it’s been a while since we’ve reacted to harsh names.

Ears: That feels weird to me.

Eyes: If my hair ever gets grabbed like that I’ll need some tears ready.

Brain: I’m confused. Why doesn’t her fight or flight chemistry come on? Ours is.

Self (silently): I enjoy my connection to others and prefer that those connections continue.

941 Relax and Succeed - People have a hard timeHeart: I don’t think anyone taught her to love her own heart enough to know she deserves to be defended.

Brain: That’s crazy! Why not!?

Ears: We have overheard her say a lot of negative things about herself.

Memory: Yeah we have a lot of those stored and we do hear her replaying them a lot to herself.

Eyes: Thank goodness he’s letting go!! He’s storming away!

Legs: Let’s get over there and comfort her.

Arms: I agree. It’s time for a hug.

Self (silently): I enjoy my connection to others and prefer that those connections continue.

Eyes: Why did we have to see that?

Nerves: Yeah. Sorry guys. I got overloaded. It’s gonna take me a day or two to fully settle down so let’s keep things calm. That’s hard on me.

Memory: Do I really want to just store this?

941 Relax and Succeed - Learning is a giftHeart: It feels wrong.

Legs: She’s headed to the bathroom to cry again.

Eyes: If you’re this sad apparently it’s important to see yourself in a mirror.

Brain: I wonder what she’s thinking?

Ears: Sounds like she might be replaying those words; the mean ones.

Brain: Why? Ouch! Those would hurt. Why would she hurt herself because he lost control and hurt her?

Ears: Mouth, why are we saying we’re fat when she looks fine?

Mouth: I don’t know. Memory’s just supposed to write it down.

Memory: Brain, can’t you get her to pick some other thoughts? I don’t want to record those.

Brain: I agree. I’m okay with meditating around a lot of things away but this is not something that should be meditated away. This is a guy a woman should not be around.

Memory: So are we saying we’re not going to do what the Mother did?

941 Relax and Succeed - Parents can only give good adviceBrain: I don’t know when when it’s so obvious but she must not feel worthy. I think that’s why she thinks his behaviour is in alignment with who she is when it doesn’t feel right to any of us.

Self (silently): I enjoy my connection to others and prefer that those connections continue.

Memory: If it doesn’t feel good why are we storing it for future use?

Brain: I don’t know. I’m designed to copy everything.

Memory: But we all get a say. And it’s mostly Face and Arms and Back that get the punishment. What do they think we should do?

Face and Arms and Back: We’re not interested in being hurt like that.

Brain: Okay fine, but then what do we do?

Legs: I don’t think it’s a good idea but she can stay if she wants to. But if most of us still feel worthy we could just leave if it was us.

Brain: I suppose it’s true. We could just decide and leave if it was us.

Face: I know I’d appreciate that.

Brain: Okay, we’ll stay and help her as much as we can but we do not want to copy the parts about men. On those we’ll do the opposite. Sound good?

Heart: Yes. I’d rather be alone that put up with what she’s putting up with. We’re worth more than that.

941 Relax and Succeed - The most difficult thingBrain: Got that everyone? So we have some tolerance for when people are struggling but from now on there’s certain things we won’t put up with. We’re worth more than that. Everyone comfortable with respecting ourselves?

Legs: So we’d walk out if it was us?

Brain: Let’s still do our best to protect The Mother.

Face: Isn’t it up to her to do that?

Brain: I suppose you’re right.

Face: Let’s hope she does.

Brain: Okay. Everyone’s in? We’d leave if it was us?

The Body: Yes!

Brain: That does feel like a good answer.

Ears: Indeed. That sounds like love.

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.