In my play with my grandchildren, sometimes things get dicey. A toy is suddenly disputed, with both of them claiming ownership, and when I, as the arbiter, make a decision about the ultimate winner, the loser inevitably cries out, “That’s not fair!” My usual snappy retort, “Life’s not fair”, does little to remedy the situation and pouting, or worse, ensues. It is one of our earliest lessons – what is fair, for which we develop ways to cope with matters when the scales of ‘fair’ tip against us. I doubt any of us really masters the skill of accepting the unfair in life, but if we didn’t on some level, chaos would reign, not just at home, but in the world at large.
When I think about the idea of ‘fair’, the premise can be applied to so many scenarios. For example, when we choose a line at the grocery checkout and the person in front of us requires a price check, or forgets something and runs back to the aisle to retrieve the item, we watch as the surrounding lines move seamlessly. Now, that’s not fair, but it is reality. Sitting at a traffic light, the driver of the car in front of us is not paying attention, and by the time they realize the light has changed, enough time has passed that he clears the intersection but we are once again hostage to the red light. That’s pretty unfair but getting angry is not productive since in thirty seconds, the situation is history. When a co-worker, who appears to work less hard or with as much commitment as we do, is promoted, we think to ourselves, “that’s not fair”. While the candidate may have had different credentials or skills, we view the travesty from our perspective and believe that we are somehow wronged. Our sense of ‘fair’ is piqued frequently every day in minor and major ways, with one thing always certain-humans bristle at being wronged.
Today I pondered the more important “fair” – the one that involves life and death. I just finished reading an article online about a young woman who has battled cancer for the past ten years. The decision was made to seek comfort care, or hospice, until the end of her life, which is eminent. In one of his tributes to her, her husband posted a letter he wrote in which he made a reference to the situation as not being fair. I agree that, while being robbed of old age and life experiences, is extremely sad, I question the premise there being a ‘fairness’ when it involves on our fates. When we begin this journey, projections as to our potential, our futures, our long lives, are made. No one ever thinks that there will be complications and that the road may not be straight or long. Like any beginning, hope drives our joy and aspirations. When the journey takes an unexpected turn, the cry of “unfairness” rises from our thoughts and lips. Is it really unfair or is it our fate?
I am not above claiming a keen sense of ‘fair’; but the older I get, the less it matters. The things that I let get under my skin about being wronged at the hand of ‘fair’ are fewer, with the more mundane becoming inconsequential. And in truth, is ‘fair’ in the eye of the observer, or the person who is dealt the fate? Finding peace in our lives gives rise to an acceptance of ‘fair’ as being the situation in which we find ourselves. We, as observers, might assess ‘fairness’ in any scenario; nonetheless, ‘fair’ is a personal judgment, owned in full by the one to whom the cards are dealt; and as in a card game, chance and fate go hand in hand, making our sense of ‘fair’ a complication of what is truly the product of a grander scheme. Fate mocks the idea of ‘fair’ in the conventional sense and, in many ways, preempts and defies it, while becoming the essence and mystery of life, in all of its wonder, beyond our comprehension and control.