How many times did we hear that growing up? I can still hear my mother admonishing me to accept this as fact every time something in my universe went awry – whenever an event unfolded that held no apparent remedy, or no other explanation that would fit over the long term, except that one. Even now, and hopefully much wiser and circumspect about life’s twists and turns, I still cringe at these words whenever I hear them. There’s still a part of my brain unwilling to accept this mantra as a universal truth over which I – we – have no control. More often than not, the thought that comes to mind is: “Life may not be fair, but people should be.” Because let’s face it: Barring random accidents or illness, when something unfair happens to us, it usually involves other people who have hurt us in some way.
I guess part of my reaction to the notion that life isn’t fair stems from my own strong sense of fair play and justice. On some idyllic level, I believe that many, if not most, of life’s unfair events can be prevented or remedied; few things get me more fired up than stories of people being treated unfairly. In the workplace. In relationships. Yet at the same time, I know we can’t control how others treat us, and that people have different perceptions of what “fair” means. If everyone could agree on that one concept alone, what a different world we would inhabit! I’m forced to acknowledge – albeit reluctantly – that even in cases of being wronged, the idea that life is not fair, fits. It can even bring a certain peace to the equation.
And so, with each unfair event life hands me, I’m still learning to reframe. Redefine. That my father died when I was nine? An early lesson on the fragility of life. The friends who betray me? Continuing Ed to choose friends more wisely. The jobs lost through layoff or other circumstances? Opportunities to learn, grow, and be a better boss and person. Unfortunate random occurrences that defy rational explanation? Resilience and a sense of humor.
Could it be, then, that the most unfair – and even cruel – of life’s events and circumstances hold more promise and opportunity than we dare to believe? Is life therefore fair – perhaps more than fair – even when it isn’t? What do you think?