Sitting here next to the Christmas tree the light is beginning to fade and there is a wonderful orange sunset falling down behind the church. It’s quiet and warm and, if the fancy takes me, I could have a mince pie with my cup of tea. The day didn’t start quite so well with a visit to the dentist to repair a broken tooth, and driving there I was thinking of my childhood dentist, who was an absolute bastard, and blaming her for the years I avoided dentists for fear of more of the same pain and disdain. It didn’t seem fair that I had such a brute to take care of my childhood teeth, but there it is.
Reaching a break in my list of tasks I found myself idly scrolling through Facebook after posting my incredulity at hearing Bridget Jones named on the “Woman’s Hour Power List 2016”, a collection of the most influential female role models of the past seventy years. Was it really impossible to come up with someone more deserving than her? Oh, and she doesn’t exist either, which struck me as at least moderately important. A list of “the best” anything can’t ever really be fair can it? It’s only based on individual opinion anyway so how can it be a balanced and equitable view?
Between the videos of guinea pigs eating brussels sprouts and pictures of Christmas trees in various states of undress there is a post about the crisis in Aleppo and a comment from a friend which conveys a feeling of hopelessness, helplessness and anger which I imagine most decent human beings share. None of what those caught up in what the UN have called “a complete meltdown of humanity” can be described as fair, but still it continues.
In the bath earlier this week, my favourite place from which to enjoy the radio, I listened to “The Global Philosopher” in which Michael Sandel posed the question “Do those on top deserve their success?” A debate ensued about fairness, and once again I couldn’t shake the thought, “It doesn’t exist does it? So why do we crave it so?” Moreover, if it really is so elusive, what’s the implication of us chasing fairness so doggedly?
Maybe instead of bemoaning the lack of fairness we need to first accept it and then understand what a perpetual state of inequality means to us, and what we might do to mitigate its worst implications. Perhaps too, we would do well to notice the difference between what we are able to change and that which we cannot.
When my children’s rabbit was eaten by a fox just before Christmas a couple of years ago it felt unfair. I didn’t want them to feel the pain of losing such a cherished pet, but my railing at the neighbourhood foxes had little impact. Death is the epitome of unfairness, and we are largely powerless in its frightful gaze.
So, in the face of unfairness we can concentrate on all that isn’t fair or we can choose to acknowledge that which has worked in our favour. We can wail at everything outside of our control or we can set about influencing that which is. Finding that line and observing it is often tricky.
Life is full of disappointment, pain, persecution, repression, suppression and abuse, but surely we recognise that we have the power to make a difference despite it all? We may not be able to create equality but we have immense power in either perpetuating it or rejecting it. Change does not happen because organisations, or even nations make change, it only happens sustainably one person at a time. Counterbalancing unfairness piece by piece, slowing and methodically through our actions, words and attitudes is enough. Why? Because it simply has to be.
As much as life is full of unfairness our definition of fairness is myopic. Most of us are at least partially influenced in our thinking by the extent to which things turn out the way we want them to. So it is clear that your fairness might be my unfairness and vice versa. Much better then to adopt a strategy of accepting reality and focusing attention on being the best possible person you can be, whatever that means, regardless of whether things are fair or not. We mostly know what is “right”, what is positive, constructive, collaborative. Fairness might be a myth, but goodness is not and it’s arguably more valuable, and definitely more realistic.
Like love, it is not in the receiving of fair treatment that we get the most powerful feeling of balance and proportion. It is in the fairness we offer to others, the way that we treat those in our lives which is the most potent counterbalance to the inevitable absence of equality. If you can accept that, then unfairness is more easily equaled by the power of our response to it.