“That’s not fair.”
I've always been a bit wary of the concept of "fairness". It doesn’t really move me. The oft heard complaint of “it's not fair” sounds quite childish. Even as I write this, an image comes to my mind of a kid saying this in a whiny voice, complaining that his parents can’t afford to buy him the trendy shoes that his richer friends have.
Another image quickly pops up to address the whiny kid. An older, more cynical person weather-worn by the harshness of the world that replies, “The world isn’t fair, kid. Stop being so naive.” In my mind this person looks like Woody Harrelson of Adventureland or The Hunger Games.
Sure, I can get behind that. It does in a way reflect one truth of life - that it isn’t fair. Yet
at the same time, I can’t help but think that there’s a better destination post naivety than bitterness and cynicism.
Yes, the world isn’t fair. There is no benevolent force making sure people get what they deserve. “Good” people can end up suffering and “bad” people can end up with all measures of success. People can do bad things and not be punished for it. People can do good things and not get rewarded for it. The world is meaningless.
A side note on our obsession with fairness
“An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.” - Exodus 21:24
This is an affront to our obsession with fairness. We humans find it so hard to deal with this that throughout the ages, in all corners of the earth, we’ve created beliefs of an afterlife where FINALLY people will get what they deserve. Regardless of your own personal belief system or where you grew up, you’ll be familiar with some sort of belief system that teaches this.
The ancient Egyptian tale of Anubis, the God of the dead, who weighs people’s hearts on a scale against the feather of Ma'at, the goddess of order, truth, and righteousness. Tartarus vs Elysium of the ancient Greeks. Karma (at least the simplistic understanding of it). “Heaven” and “Hell” of many belief systems stretching from East Asia to the pagan traditions of the West (as well as medieval Christianity).
(I should note here that I believe that many of the wisest belief systems do NOT actually teach such a message, but in our need for fairness and simple answers we’ve twisted their actual deeper messages.)
Courage beyond cynicism
My personal journey of discovery has been to see that there is something available beyond the cynicism of age and experience. That, to me, is courage and love.
Courage, because it takes courage to step out of the naivety and simplistic ideas of youth. Naivety is comfortable. It’s comfortable to believe that if you do good things you’ll get rewarded for it, and that people will get punished (by “God” or “the Universe”) for doing bad things. It’s easy. It’s a way to make sense of why we should be good. It’s also a good way to control people. Maybe those of you with experience of raising children can relate to this - Santa, anyone?
It’s much more difficult to live in the possibility that the world is not fair. That there is no purpose. No meaning to it all. No invisible hand dictating how the world works. Prepare for an existential crisis.
But the more courageous thing, for me, is the willingness to take a stand for something within that meaninglessness. To create beauty, meaning and love for ourselves, knowing that no-one’s going to reward you for doing so. To be generous, even if you won’t receive anything back. To do good even if you won’t be recognised for it, or even be worse off for it. To live like life is meaningful, even if we know that our lives are, objectively, meaningless in the grand scheme of things. And to love.
Fairness and accepting love
What does it mean, then, to take a stand for love, having moved past naivety, and through and beyond cynicism? For me it means to take the stand that love is real and it's the life giving force in the world. That love is IT. Not in the naive manner of the teenager who claims that “love is enough”, but more that we choose to give it the highest position in our lives despite knowing that everything else does matter hugely and that love is not enough.
And, coming back to fairness, in love there is no fairness. Instead, there is a radical, deep and transformative UN-fairness. One of my big changes in life was to learn to accept the unfair (to my benefit and their loss) love of my parents. I used to feel bad about accepting things and help from them because I’d done nothing to deserve it, especially if it inconvenienced them in any way. I sensed a deep unfairness and it made me uncomfortable. It’s hard to give love but it can be just as hard to accept love.
Love doesn't count. It gives freely. It is not score keeping or grudge holding. Love persists despite unfairness and even strives for greater unfairness. "I don't deserve you," says the lover. So should most children to their parents (I know this doesn’t usually happen). And it's true. None of us deserve love. But yet it's often freely given.
I don't deserve love. Many do not. Maybe some do, I don't know. But all of us are free to receive love. Even the worst of us. Even the best of us.
I hope that you allow yourself to receive it. And that you allow yourself to give it.