Monday, December 17, 2012

Let Us Be Fair

I, like just about everyone else on this planet, have at times bemoaned that life isn't fair.  To which I've been told, "life isn't fair."

And you can do either of two things with that statement, you can shrug your shoulders and say, "Yeah, I guess not.  Too bad."  Or you can rise up in righteous indignation and try to take on every case, and shoulder the burdens of every injustice.  I think one is exhausting in its absolute apathy, and one is exhausting in its entirety.

When I was in school, studying to be an elementary school teacher, I had a class where we discussed the "fair" issue.  My teacher made a point that I will never forget.  He said we had to stop thinking about "fairness" as a substitute word for "equal".  Fair could not mean equal, he taught us, but we had to look at it as "giving to a person what they need."  To illustrate, if I were to think of "fair" as making sure that every person got the same thing, then if I were giving Hallie (4 yrs old) a bike for Christmas, I would then get a bike for Hanna (2 yrs old) and a bike for Heather (9 mos old).  Which seems sort of ridiculous, doesn't it?  But let's say I started my Christmas shopping with Heather, and I got her stacking cups.  Ooooh, stacking cups!  So now I have to buy stacking cups for Hanna, and a set for Hallie.  My four year old is going to think Santa hates her.

If one of my children loves chocolate, and the other hates chocolate, it would not be "fair" to give all of my children chocolate in their stockings.  It would make more sense, and be more fair to the child who hates chocolate, if I only gave chocolates to the one who likes that, and I gave, say, Skittles or Swedish Fish or Reeses Pieces or all three to the other child.  Now that seems fair.

Now I know that it is a much larger world than just my children and their presents and stockings on Christmas morning.  I know that out in that big world there are people with real inequalities, and real injustices.  But I still hold to my definition of fair.  And I believe that it is the responsibility of every person on this earth to look around, and to not say, "Let's give every person the exact same equal thing, because that would be fair."  Because on a grander scale, chocolate and stacking cups aren't going to work for every person.  And even if they did work, it would not be what every person wants, or needs.  I believe it is our responsibility to look around and say, "What do you need?"  and then do the best we can in getting that person what they need, or better yet helping them get it for themselves.

An angry cynic might say that this solution is too small, that you can't possibly discover the wants and needs of every person who has wants and needs, and so the task becomes impossible.  When you look at it like that, it really is impossible.  But if you make this truly personal, and looked at a person face to face, talking to them, getting to know them, loving them, then the game changes.  If every one of us looked at the one person next to us,  and did for that person, and they in turn did what they could for the person next to them, and so on and so on, and if every person in the world did that, things would really start to happen.  You know what they say, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Look around.  Who can you do for today?

Merry Christmas.


  1. I tend to think of "fair" and "equal" as the same thing, but upon further investigation, you are right. They are very different. As are people...very different. So why would you treat everyone "equal" when we are all so different? You put it in simple terms but the message is dead on no matter the issue or circumstance. I have always like the idea of "paying it forward." Someone helps you. You help someone else. They (hopefully) help someone else in an attempt to make all of us better and this place a better place to live in.

  2. You are so wise....but my burning question is "Who does not like chocolate?"

    Love, MOMROSE

  3. I was actually thinking along these same lines the other day, because of all of the feminist talk there has been on facebook with some of my friends. And I was thinking about how some people use "equal" with "exactly the same," but I didn't really agree. And all the words have multiple definitions, but I definitely consider my husband and I to be equals, and yet we are quite different. Well, we have a lot of similarities, too, but we differ in pretty significant ways: what we do all day, what our interests are, what makes us happy, what we don't like, what we wear, etc. But we have the same goals of commitment to each other, doing our best by our children, and striving forward to the next life. So I'v never felt inferior to Jeff (except for certain things like basketball skills or changing a tire), but just because he is better at some things and I am better at other things, to me, doesn't mean that we aren't equal.

    Anyway. I just thought it was interesting that this weekend, I've been pondering "equal" and "same" while you've been pondering "fair" and "equal." Aren't definitions and connotations just lovely?

  4. Some of my friends have been having a discussion on facebook, and one of them just posted this, which I thought was pretty fitting to part of this post: "Equal does not mean the same. To show a comparison, in math (5+2)=(3+4). The numbers equal each other, but they are not the same. Our role in Heavenly Father's eyes is equal to the role of men, but that doesn't mean we do the same things."

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  6. I like to think of Life's fairness in terms of the pursuit of happiness.

    Striving for meekness enables positive learning and to become changed by experiences and realize joy in ones life.

    The sight of happiness thriving in poverty and among those otherwise challenged, is a witness to the fairness of this life, at least for those who have learned what is valuable :)

  7. I agree, and here is another example. "Do unto others as they would have done unto them, not what you want done to you." When my husband is sick he wants to have me take care of him, bring him tissues, food, sit by him, etc. As much as possible I try to do that. When I am sick I want to be left alone. And things work MUCH better when he does that. That is fair, but NOT the same.