March 16, 2017

"Come on, that's not fair!" My teacher was unmoved. She'd heard this teary eyed refrain on the playground many times before. I argued my case to no avail. Some jerk tackled me - for no apparent reason - and got a free pass. I was punished because the teacher saw me shove him in the aftermath.

Despite the underlying complexities, we develop a sense of fairness very young. Some have suggested it is innate. I often wonder if certain parenting techniques bolster a child's awareness of what is fair. Growing up in a Christian home, whenever we'd witness bad behavior persist without consequence, my parents assured us, that path ends in a lake of fire and brimstone. (OKā€¦that's a slight exaggeration. Their position softened over time but my formative years definitely overlapped with peak zealotry.)

In my twenties I turned to justice; fair's older brother. I wanted to be a lawyer to ensure everyone got what they deserved (until I learned that's not what lawyers do). I settled for hoping a cop was perched just ahead waiting to catch that reckless speeder.

Fairness seems useful in the formation of rules which support a stable society. However, we tend to apply the fairness test to all aspects of life. This quickly descends into wanting bad things to happen to bad people. This vengeful mindset is culturally re-enforced -- especially in TV and movies. We very nearly cheer this ugly side of fairness instead of recognizing it as red flag.

While perspective and empathy can blunt the potency of this flavor of fair, these attributes often develop much later in life. I've been told how lucky I was to be born in the United States innumerable times but only recently has it begun to resonate. I grew up believing criminals deserved to be punished because they were bad people. Equipped with empathy, I have come to realize that it is their action which demands the consequence - the people are separate. The people are in need of help.

I spent the first half of my life focused on fairness. I think that's more than enough.

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