The Myth of Fairness…

If you ask a group of people what their first memory related to something being fair or unfair is, 9 times out of 10 it is a memory from a time they felt slighted. One child in their class got more candy than they did or a sibling got something that another child did not get. Very seldom is the first notion of what is fair and unfair related to them being aware that they received more than another person did. When we don’t get what someone else gets we feel slighted, but somehow we are able to feel fine about receiving more than another person did. We have been taught, particularly in American culture that everyone should be treated fairly. Now, please hear me out. I do believe in treating people fairly and I appreciate being treated fairly. I am simply trying to encourage some thought around our assumptions related to fairness in the world. Years ago, in a professional development group I first found myself confronted with the idea of “white male privilege.” As many young white males do, I pushed back on this notion. My response to my supervisor was this: “When I left home, I had two changes of clothes and forty dollars in my pocket. I joined the military and went off to boot camp. Through my time in the service, I worked for everything I had including my college degrees. There is no one out there who doesn’t have the same option to join the service that I did.” The supervisor, who happened to be African American responded: “Well, who taught you or gave you the work ethic you have?” “My father” I answered. “What if you had grown up without a father to teach you that work ethic?” “It doesn’t matter, every individual still has the same opportunity to do what I did.” We continued to go back and forth on the subject for several minutes. At that point, I was defensive and felt the need to prove my point out of my own discomfort. He then asked me a question that I will never forget. “Mike, I have just one more question for you…I want you to ponder it and answer it honestly…How would your work as a hospital chaplain be different if your skin was black instead of white?” At that moment, I knew he was right. His question had cut through my unconscious bias. I had nowhere to go but to face this unpleasant truth. The myth of fairness that I had chosen to approach the world with was rapidly crumbling. The world is not fair. Life’s tragedies have reinforced that for me. In my career I have watched amazing, kind, and compassionate people develop cancer and die. People that I consider to be way better people than myself have had their life extinguished by some accident or other uncontrollable factors. Life is not fair. That does not mean, however, that we should not strive for fairness. However, we must strive for fairness in our actions as much as our words. We mustn’t simply gripe when we didn’t get what everyone else got. We must also be aware when the scale tips in our favor and we receive something that another may not have received. To blindly accept the notion that life is fair is to accept a faulty notion that sets one up for failure. On some level, we must accept the broken nature of our world and our social system, but do so while also striving for change. I recognize that as a healthy, white, straight, educated, American male that I am afforded privileges in society that I, in no way, shape, or form earned. I have received things that others have not in the world. The ideal of fairness compels me to use what I have to help others who may be less fortunate or be struggling. Ultimately, fairness is about seeing others in ourselves and seeing ourselves in others. This is the essence of what Jesus said when he told us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” The natural outcome of following this principle leads to fairness. So tell me, what have you done lately to love your neighbor as yourself?-

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