Life’s unfairness

“Life’s unfairness is not irrevocable; we can help balance the scale for others, if not always for ourselves.”

-Hubert Humphrey, U.S. Senator, vice present under Lyndon B. Johnson 1964-68

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

My book club friends make fun of me because I’m apt to mention how unfair life is when the plot of the novel doesn’t agree with my ideas of how life should be. It’s even more unfair when we’re reading non-fiction, because fact is fact, and the real stories of real lives are unfair at many points in a lifetime. The really unfair ones make my blood boil; I am positive that unfairness boosts my blood pressure.

Even though I taught my kids to play fair, I now believe that it was probably a disservice because eventually they both learned that when the other kid wasn’t taught it, they came home to me with — “It’s not fair, Mom.”

I couldn’t do anything about it except in some manner tell them to take the high road.
When I begin to tell my book buddies about confessing to my dad I wanted to be a truck driver and he said only boys could be truck drivers, they all groan. They’ve heard it more than once, and they know life isn’t fair, and so what? They were brought up to be fair, they learned others weren’t, they stayed fair. And it doesn’t bug them.

The French expression for this is c’est la vie, which means that’s life.

The difference between them and me is that unfairness bugs me. It makes me nuts when life is not fair; and part of it is that I then am a 9-year-old whining that it’s not fair that I can’t drive a truck, play Little League or stay up as late as my best friend.

But I don’t care; if life is unfair, I have to say, “That’s not fair.” The saver for me is this – there remain many ways that life can be made fairer than it is.

It might not be fair that I wasn’t born rich, like our president. And it may not be fair that he was born here rather than in Syria. But if we can’t change the big things like where we’re born and who our parents are, we can at least operate on the small things – like sharing, caring and paying attention to what needs to be done to help one another. If it’s just a “Hi!” or a smile or opening the door for someone…those things are not hard.

I know it sounds simplistic, and I know we live in a cynical age, and I know that Vladimir Putin or Harvey Weinstein would not be fair to me, just as my own president isn’t being fair to me in regard to my clean air and water. But because life is tough, when we are fair, life is less tough for somebody. And if they, whoever they are, aren’t fair, well too bad for them. No one likes them anyway.

So, lesson for the day that I received first at home and then with Mrs. Mable in kindergarten: “Be fair.” If you witness someone being unfair to another, tell them. When what you want and don’t get is something like truck-driving school, this does not mean that life is unfair; it is when you are treated unfairly because you’re a person of color, a poor person, a street person, a member of the LGBTQ community, a Muslim, a Jew, a child, a female. If you’re treated badly because you are one of these people, that’s unfair.

Remember Humphrey saying we can balance the scale for others, and do something about it.

In all unfairness, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, notice, speak up; things change.


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