Do you ever feel like life isn’t fair? Of course you do, because it’s not, but I can show you how you can deal with that world view.First though, definitions and quotations, then the main segment will deal with your perceptions of fairness, and we’ll finish off with a Disgruntled Nugget – a little piece of wisdom you can take with you, or not, I don’t care. Also thx to Audionautix and Partners In Rhyme for the music and sound effects.Support the show
Before we get into this episode, I want to let you know that this is the second-to-last episode for Season 1 of this podcast. Season 2 will launch in January 13, 2022. Life coaching is hard so I need to recharge and get ready for the new season. If you want me to tackle any specific issues in the new season, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to bring them to life, and maybe even make you famous by mentioning you. You can also DM @lifedisgruntled on twitter if you would rather, I’m good with either. Also, go ahead and ask for stickers, I’ll be sending those all December and January. Lastly, I want to thank you all for your time and generosity for a successful Season 1, I really to appreciate you listening to this podcast.
So this episode will focus on justice and fairness and how much of the day-to-day unfairness it’s more about your perceptions of the world than actual injustice. Mainly, we will talk about how someone making more than you isn’t, in and of itself, unfair and, even if it is, punching yourself in the gut because you're angry about it won’t fix a goddamn thing. There’s some subtlety in there, but I’ll speak v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y so that you can follow along. I’m kidding, I speak slow so you can’t tell I’m on my third scotch. Whatever.
To start, the OED defines fairness as “impartial and just treatment or behaviour without favouritism or discrimination.” That’s really broad, as it should be, but it’s important you get the impartial section, we’ll talk about that later. Justice uses similar treatment, but deals specifically with transgressions, usually legally defined but not always, where as fairness is part of our everyday lives. Let’s get some quotations in here for some context.
Our first quotation comes to us from Rick Riordan, an American author known for young adult novels, some featuring a teenager named Percy Jackson who discovers he is a son of the Greek god Poseidon. Rick knows about fairness because he refused an invitation to honour his achievements shortly after Texas banned trans women from using public washrooms by tweeting the simple reply: “If they want to honour me, they could stop this nonsense.” So, yeah, very fairness-minded. His quotation says “Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.” This ties in well with equity and equality, which we’ll get to, you know, later.
The next quotation comes from Svetlana Alexievich a Belarusian investigative journalist, essayist and oral historian and was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her first book, “War's Unwomanly Face”, came out in 1985 and sold more than two million copies, but she is perhaps best known for her an oral history of the Chernobyl disaster titled “Chernobyl Prayer / Voices from Chernobyl”. She said “Death is the fairest thing in the world. No one's ever gotten out of it. The earth takes everyone - the kind, the cruel, the sinners. Aside from that, there's no fairness on earth.” This a an extreme take on fairness, but I wanted to put your petty fairness issues into a larger perspective. You’re welcome.
Finally, we have Friedrich Nietzsche, the well-known 19th Century German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, and writer whose work has made a massive impact on modern philosophy and our collective intellectual cannon. His strong criticisms of Western philosophy and his absolute disregard for the role of Christianity within the work of intellectual and philosophical discourse is well known. He said “In the end we are always rewarded for our good will, our patience, fair-mindedness, and gentleness with what is strange.” Although this may sound out of order, it’s important to note the last part because we tend to judge that which we do not understand as unfair, rather than attempting to understand. Let’s get started.
So there is a huge problem when we talk about fairness, and that problem is that it doesn’t actually exist. At least, not in a specific, tangible sense. Strictly speaking, fairness is a construct that we use to measure everything from punishment for crimes to whether you got the same amount of rocky road ice cream on your cone as your brother. We contextualize how we feel based on a lot of things, but there is no way to actually quantify fairness. How our parents raised us, our culture, our gender, even where we live can all determine how we measure what is fair. So why do we spend so much of our limited mental cycles concerning ourselves with this, and where does it get us. Spoiler alert, oh never mind, you know what’s coming.
As humans, we just need to categorize things to make our lives simpler. Fairness and justice are some of the pigeon holes we use for this because it makes us believe that we have some measure of control of our world. Without this imaginary yardstick, we’d be stuck living in a world that we could not control or predict, and that bad things can happen to anyone, at any time, even if they are “good people”. We would rather believe that we get what we deserve, and everyone else does too. But at its root, this is all based on morality, another cultural construct, and we end up leveraging that to actually decide whether or not you deserve to even be treated fairly, and we’ve used this sledgehammer throughout history.
To illustrate, let’s look at a book titled “Culture and Psychology” written Worthy, Lavigne and Romero. They talk at length about the Just World Hypothesis that posits we get what we deserve and we deserve what we get. The problem is that our belief systems are wrapped up in our specific social and moral fabric. Why is that a problem? The authors go on to state that “someone who violates social, cultural, religious norms can be viewed as immoral, which can initiate sanctions as well as violence. Once an individual or group is found less human or immoral, treating them differently is seen as justified, ethical and natural.” So the problem is that fairness may change, just based on how you are perceived by your society or social peers. Immigrants in any country today can attest to how easy it is to be perceived this way. So a bit scarier than how much fucking rocky road you got at lunch. But there’s more.
We further have to look at how we are comparing ourselves to others to make perceptions of fair treatment. And how do we do that? We compare them to ourselves, which in most cases, is the single defining element of comparison. A paper written by David Chan from Singapore Management University titled “Perceptions of Fairness” deals specifically with this. Here it states “Fairness perception is rooted in social comparison. Specifically, when we react to a situation, we take into account not only our own situation but also the situations of others whom we use as references to compare ourselves with.” He goes on to say that these perceptions are what he refers to as “contagious” in that we spread our perceptions, and especially our negative feelings, to those around us, and that brings potential widespread and lasting negative effects of unfairness perceptions. All you have to do is look around the political sphere today to see how easily and quickly these perceptions spread, even for something as innocuous as kneeling during a national anthem or wearing a swan dress to the the Oscars. Seriously, Björk, you’re Icelandic, it could at least have been a snow goose. Whatever.
So, now you know that fairness is not a thing, but you still feel like you need to compete with others for everything, or stay invested in court cases that don’t effect you, but you just need to know that people get the punishment you think they deserve. Will this ever make you happy. Well, the long answer is no, it absolutely fucking will not make you happy. But I have some ideas that can help you break down your illusions of fairness, so let’s talk a bit.
Firstly, and yes this is a hierarchical structure Paul, you need to find a way to understand how believing in fairness, or unfairness, will never help you achieve your goals. If you are always judging yourself on what you think you deserve in relation to what others are getting, you will always feel unsatisfied. Live your life. Don’t worry if someone you work with got a raise and you didn’t. Be happy for them, move on, and live your best life. If the roles were reversed would you deny yourself the raise or would you believe you deserve it? That’s rhetorical, of course. But just don’t consume your precious mental space with shit that is unchangeable and irreversible.
After that, realize that there are things you can control, and things you can’t. Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter in an article published on Psychology today says “the reality is, you have no control over what someone else does or doesn't do. And if you have no control over it, it is a complete waste of good energy to ruminate over it.” She continues to say “The only thing you have control over is how you respond.” She’s right and we’ve talked about this before. So stop worrying about the things you can’t control, and accelerate the positive aspects of your life that you have all the control over.
And, finally, you can always exemplify that best version of yourself that you use to compare yourself with others. That awesome person who lives inside you, who wants to help others be better, who tries to stand up for those who are struggling, who give of themselves to make the world a better place. I know you’re gagging at this syrupy sweet bullshit, but at it’s root you know these things, in some form, exist in you. If you want to be treated fairly more often than not, be that person. Everyday, even when you slide through a snow-covered red light in your IROC with summer tires and terrify your passenger, Wendy. Just be the best version of you and some version of fairness will usually follow.
Okay, so that's it for this episode. As always, I'll leave you with a Disgruntled nugget in a second, but first I want to thank you for listening. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, I’m on all the major platforms platforms, and please visit www.disgruntledlifecoach.ca for all my podcasts – yadda, yadda, w-w-w yadda. Please also follow me on twitter @lifedisgruntled, there's a link on my website – DM me if you want some stickers, I’m not even kidding right now. Also, if you like what you've heard today, tell your friends. If you think this is ridiculous, still, tell your friends, I mean how hard is that.
Victor Hugo once said “Being good is easy, what is difficult is being just.” But decades later, environmental writer Michael Pollan critiqued that by saying "I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not." More recently, greedy, syphilitic, billionaire, miser Bill Gates curtly said "Life is not fair; get used to it." So you must choose between good and fair, unless you're both, but being fair is more important unless you're a billionaire dick in which case you're never good, or fair, or something, I don't know, whatever...
Again, thanks for listening, and thanks also to Audionautix and Partners in Rhyme for music and sound FX, thanks again to Neatnik for visuals, and thanks for your patience - see you in two weeks, or not, whatever...