Have you ever heard a child complain, “That’s not fair”? I have, and I have a simple response. I usually have the child repeat two or three times after me, “Life is not fair.” I have done this enough times that my nieces start to object as soon as I say, “Now repeat after me…”
Is life fair? I guess that depends on what you mean by “fair.” Is it fair that my hair started falling out when I was 17? Is it fair that I am not taller than my older brother? Is it fair that I don’t have Orlando Bloom’s good looks and hefty bank account? Is it fair that both my parents are alive, while my wife’s father died while she was a child? Is it fair that I was born an American and not an Armenian? Is it fair that I have wants far exceeding my ability to supply them? In each and every one of these cases, it is quite clear that life is not fair. But who promised you that life would, should, or even could be fair?
We begin this life with a mixed bag of blessings and drawbacks, and life itself has a decided randomness about it. Why did the rock chip my car’s windshield today and not another one? Why did I catch a cold when my wife did not? Is God punishing me with this cold because of my sins? This last is not a new question. While it is possible to blame God for every misfortune that comes our way as a punishment for our sins, is this right? The ninth chapter of John describes a miracle where Jesus healed a man blind from birth. His disciples asked whether the blind man or his parents had sinned to cause this curse. Jesus replied that the blindness was not due to anyone’s sin; it had happened so that Jesus could heal him and thus manifest the works of God.
Since I am talking about religion, let me share what I once learned about why bad things happen to good people. To shrink a few hours of discussion down to a few words, there are four causes of our misfortunes in life:
- God — In the example above, God placed the blindness on the man so the cure could manifest His works.
- Satan — The Biblical book of Job recounts how Satan heaped misfortunes on Job to prove the man’s goodness was only due to his blessings and that once they were taken away, Job would curse God.
- Other people — Since people are free to choose to do good or evil, one person’s evil actions may result in the suffering of others.
- Basic randomness of life — The rock may chip my windshield just because I happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.
So why do we even care about fairness? One of my nieces is greatly offended whenever she considers life to be unfair. Normally this happens when she is told to clean up her mess, and like a typical seven-year-old, she responds as if this request were some outrageous affront to her dignity. It is understandable that she thinks fairness means getting what she wants when she wants it, because she is only seven. But an adult displaying this kind of childish attitude is no longer cute.
Liberals today are overly fixated on fairness. They use the strong arm of government policies, laws and courts to force the round peg of fairness into the square hole of life. People cry that it is not fair for seniors to pay so much for their prescriptions, so laws are passed making you and me pay for their drugs. Environmentalists cry that it is not fair for us to pay so much less for gas than Europe does, so they try to get our gas prices raised to Europe’s level. Why not fight for Europe to drop their prices? People are dismayed that some people earn more money than others and demand a fair living wage, so the minimum wage is increased, with the result that the very people who most needed help often end up losing their jobs.
One of the difficulties of achieving fairness is defining when fairness should occur. Should we have equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? Consider it this way: making sure everyone starts off a race at the same time and at the same mark is equality of opportunity, while making sure everyone reaches the finish line at the same time is equality of outcome. Our society has agreed to take some basic steps to promote equality of opportunity. We have fought to end institutionalized racism, we fund public schools to make sure everyone has a basic education, and we have welfare to make sure that people have basic shelter and food. But there is a problem with obsessing over bringing everyone up to a common beginning point: we are not all the same. We believe in equality of opportunity in a race, so we give each runner the same distance to run and make sure each one starts at the same time. But regardless of these steps, it is still unlikely that the outcome will be the same for all runners unless we are all clones. No matter how well you line me up equally and start me off simultaneously with Olympian long-distance runner Kip Lagat from Kenya, I will never beat him. I will not even come close. He has abilities that I do not possess, and these inequally-distributed natural abilities prevent us from ever truly having equality of opportunity.
Since it is very difficult to make sure that everyone starts out equally in life, some people advocate equality of outcome. This is why some schools are starting not to keep score in competitive games. That way they can call everyone winners, conveniently ignoring the very meaning of the word. Kurt Vonnegut wrote about equality of outcome taken to extremes in the short story “Harrison Bergeron.” In this future society, Handicapper General was a Federal position with the responsibility to make sure people with superior abilities were handicapped in some way to make life more “fair.” A very talented ballet dancer might need shackles and weights to keep her from jumping higher than anyone else. Intelligent people were given headsets to distract them from thinking too clearly.
A world that strives for equality of outcome is ultimately a world that strives for mediocrity. I would rather encourage people to excel to the best of their abilities. When we allow people to achieve and succeed as best they can, everyone stands to benefit. Getting out of the way and letting people do their best is what’s important, not attempting to force the round peg of fairness into the square hole of life.
Life is not fair. Learn it. Live it. Love it.