There seems to be a lot of talk these days about what is fair, and what is not.
Some of the 99% seem to believe life has treated them unfairly, and some of the 1% percent feel life hasn’t treated them fairly enough.
My questions are these: What is fair? Is life fair? Should life be fair?
I’ll frame the debate, and you decide…
We clearly have no choice about how we come into this world, we have little choice early in life, but as we grow older choices abound. I have long believed that while we have no control over the beginning of our life, the overwhelming majority of us have the ability to influence the outcomes we attain in life.
Fair is a state of mind, and most often, an unhealthy state of mind.
In business, in politics, and in life, most of us are beneficiaries of the outcomes we have contributed to.
Our position in life cannot, or at least should not, be blamed on our parents, our teachers, our pastors, our government, or our society – it’s largely based on the choices we make, and the attitudes we adopt.
People have overcome poverty, drug addiction, incarceration, abuse, divorce, mental illness, victimization, and virtually every challenge known to man. Life is full of examples of the uneducated, the mentally and physically challenged, people born into war-torn impoverished backgrounds, who could have complained about life being unfair, but who instead chose a different path – they chose to overcome the odds and to leave the world better than they found it. Regardless of the challenges they faced, they had the character to choose contribution over complaint.
I don’t dispute that challenges exist. I don’t even dispute that many have an uphill battle due to the severity of the challenges they face. What I vehemently dispute is attempting to regulate, adjudicate, or legislate fairness somehow solves the world’s problems.
Mandates don’t create fairness, but people’s desire and determination can work around or overcome most life challenges.
It doesn’t matter whether you are born with a silver spoon, plastic spoon, or no spoon at all.
It’s not the circumstances by which you come into this world, but what you make of them once you arrive that matter.
From a leadership perspective, it’s a leader’s obligation to do the right thing, regardless of whether or not it’s perceived as the fair thing.
Fair blends the norm, and in doing so, it limits, inhibits, stifles, and restricts, all under the guise of balance and equality.
I believe fair only exists as a rationalization or justification.
The following 11 points came from a commencement speech widely attributed to Bill Gates entitled Rules for Life. While many dispute it was proffered by Bill Gates or not, I tend to agree with the hypothesis:
Rule 1: Life is not fair — get used to it!
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president of a company unless you earn it.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your parents had a different word for burger flipping — they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you are. So, before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.
Here’s the thing – we all face challenges, and life treats us all unfairly.
We all make regrettable choices, and we all suffer from things thrust upon us due to little if any fault of our own. The greatest adversity life can throw at you simply affords you an opportunity to make changes, improve, and get better.
Fair is not an objective term – it is a matter of perspective filtered by a subjective assessment. My subjective assessment is that fair is an entitlement concept manufactured to appease those who somehow feel slighted.
However, you try to justify the efforts to make it so doesn’t ever change the hard promise that…
Life isn’t fair.
No, life’s not fair.
And in a cruel twist, our wish to see it as fair keeps us from making it so.