“That’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair.”
“But I want it!”
This conversation is on repeat in the Blair household. Our son is currently training for his career in law using this method of argument. It’s not working very well, he never gets what he wants. We try to explain why this method is flawed, but alas, in his black and white world he cannot comprehend why fairness does not define circumstances. I remember this argument with my parents. I remember the very low tolerance for my pouting and the irritation with the insistence of my argument. I understand the annoyance now. It really is annoying. But I haven’t outgrown this argument. I still use it, just now it’s an argument with myself. I’ve matured enough to at least recognize that this argument is no longer socially acceptable. As an adult I know that life is not fair, right?
Wrong. Most times, I don’t know. I only seem to remember that life isn’t fair when my friend gets a new car and I’m driving a beater or when someone else finds the perfect job and I’m still performing circus acts to get potential employers to notice me. Or the most common reminder… when I’m wearing the same dress I wear to every cocktail party and my friend is in a stunning new dress that makes everyone in the room turn. Yep. Life is not fair. And if we want to get incredibly honest, I actually recall a moment sitting on the side of my bed sobbing because I had nothing cute to wear to an event. Choking through my tears, I turn to my husband and say, “it’s not fair.” Embarrassing, I know.
I remember when we were trying to get pregnant and after both miscarriages the number of “it’s not fair” thoughts I had. Well, maybe not the number, there were far too many to count. But I remember how hard it was to be happy for my friends when they got pregnant so easily and I was wondering why my body didn’t want to work. Life didn’t feel very fair. I cried a lot. I felt angry and entitled to have a fair life.
Yes, upon reflection I can see that wanting life to be fair is a childish endeavor. By shouting to God, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” I’m not going to convince him to give me the toy anymore than my son will convince me. (I would be a constantly annoyed if I were God, can you imagine the number of “it’s not fair” he hears?) But it seems to be my default response.
So now is where I should emphasis the point that life isn’t fair. And we need to be happy with the path God takes us on and give an explanation about how those miscarriages were a blessing because without them I wouldn’t have this amazing child. And yes, that is all true. But that’s not where I am.
I read an article in the New York Times today about a child who lost his parents to genocide in Rwanda. At six years old he was scrounging the dump and trying to survive. He and many other children were homeless and without a family. They were the “forgotten” children. But someone stumbled upon him. An American running an organization took him off the streets and got him into school. The child was incredibly intelligent and driven. He excelled and eventually won a full scholarship to Harvard University. From a dump to Harvard.
I grew up in middle-class suburbia and I never even considered Harvard. Harvard was for people who lived a far more “fair” life than me. Community college was for people like me.
Our fixation on this idea that life needs to be fair cripples us. We lose all perspective. This idea forces us to focus on only those with lives that we deem “fair.” So naturally we focus on the people with the best things happening to them. And when the best things only happen to them and not us, “it’s not fair.” But the irony of it all is that there is someone out there looking at us saying, “it’s not fair” about us.
I live in a country with freedom, wealth, and endless opportunities. I was born to a middle-class white family and with that received a high level of privilege. I never went hungry or without clothing. I learned to read and write at six years old. I was taught to articulate ideas verbally and in written form. I had the freedom to decide who I was and what my place might be in this world. I was free to question, challenge, and debate authority. I could walk away if I disagreed with someone.
It’s not fair. I did nothing to deserve any of that.
It’s not fair. I won the lottery in my birth.
It’s not fair. Another woman with darker skin was born another place. She was hungry and without clothing. She never learned to read or write. She could never articulate her ideas. She was never allowed to choose who she was or where her place is in this world might have been. She could never question, challenge, or debate authority. She could never walk away.
It’s not fair.