Saturday, May 9, 2015

What Is This Thing Called "Fair?"

Not everyone receiving the same thing, but what each needs
"That's not fair!" "He's/she's not fair!"  As an educator, I hear this lament a lot and I am sure if you are like me, you have heard it as well and perhaps even have thought it yourself. In fact, what prompted this post was a student who came to me complaining that his being admonished for playing around in class was unfair, since some of his classmates were also playing around. He felt it was unfair of his teacher to correct him and was more concerned about the others who did not get caught doing the wrong thing, which was playing in a class that they were not supposed to have been playing in. I listened as he emotionally plead his case as to why he should not have been chastised and have been able to keep on doing the wrong thing simply because the others were not chastised. Now, mind you, the others had not been seen/caught, and he had. For that moment, the others had gotten away with their wrongdoing and he had not; so therefore, he felt that it was "not fair" that he had to be spoken to. Not fair that he had to receive consequences.

I listened quietly until he was through and then I responded with a paraphrase from the first line in the book The Road Less Traveled by M.Scott Peck, M.D. where he opens with these three words. "Life is Difficult." Dr. Peck goes on to say in the first paragraph:

"This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult -- once we truly understand and accept it -- then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."

I explained this concept to my student inserting the word "fair" where Dr. Peck used the word "difficult." In other words, I shared with the young man, that life is not fair and once he learned to accept that, the fact that life is not fair no longer matters and that he would stop looking for it to be. With all of that said, it caused me to reflect upon this notion of fair;what it is and what it is not because I believe once we get a better understanding of what fair is and what fair is not, it will no longer matter and we will be able to move on.

The best definition for fair that I have learned during my travels says:
"Fair isn't about everybody getting the same thing.....fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be successful." 
Hence the young man's and probably most of our source of confusion and frustration. He felt that since he was being chastised, that either all of his comrades should have also been chastised or none of them should have been chastised, meaning everyone should have gotten the same thing. He didn't realize that the teacher was giving him what he needed to be successful and that maybe the others may have received some other consequence if they were indeed caught. I further shared with the young man that if his little buddies that he was playing with did not get caught this time, that if they were to continue that behavior, it would just be a matter of time before their consequences would catch up with them. In short, I shared with him that maybe this was his time to get caught and the next time if the same scenario arose, it might be one of this friends who would be admonished instead of him.

Just like that sixth grader, many of us adults bemoan the same thing. We often say "that's not fair" just like the young man in this story. We bewail it to our employers, our co-workers, our spouses, our children, to law enforcement, our parents and even to God.......'THAT'S NOT FAIR!" usually followed by "Why me?"

As Dr. Peck would suggest and I agree with, if we were to understand that life is not meant to be fair, the better off we would all be. If we were to truly understand the definition above, we would be better parents, children, employees, citizens, students, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, supervisors, etc. etc.etc. In my opinion, the definition says it best when it articulates the difference between everyone getting the same thing and everyone getting what they need. There is a difference. I'll leave you with that, as that difference is something to critically think about. Let us transcend this notion of fair.

You are invited to join me live each Saturday at 6:00 a.m. EDT on and locally in northern NJ on WP88.7 FM, follow me on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and @readingcircle01. "Like" my Facebook page 'Reading Circle' and visit my website

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