A Doctrine of Fairness

How many times have you heard someone scream, “Hey!  That’s not fair!” ?  Fairness it seems is something each of us wants for ourselves,  sometimes at the expense of others.  I’ve struggled with the fuliginous concept of fairness for nearly a week.  I’ve struggled so much so in fact that I’ve had a hard time writing any blog posts.  Is that fair?

I’ve experienced my fair share of injustice over my lifetime.  I could, as the saying goes, write a book!  And consequently AM pulling my story together at the urgings of friends and fans.  I’ll get my fair share of comfort from naming names and documenting episodes!  Will anyone end up in jail?  Banned from the country clubs? On unemployment?  Probably not.  Fairness is rarely retroactive.

I recently  listened to several accomplished business women share how unfairly they’d been treated by bullies and snollygosters.  I shared my own tale of being hoodwinked by a few local pettifoggers and moneychangers who managed to pilfer my son’s uniform trust for minors account, his college education fund.  A child was robbed of what was rightfully and lawfully his!   Turns out the types of individuals who can pull that off are fair game for discussion about who’s going to heaven and, more importantly, who’ll likely end up in hell!  Now THAT’S fair!

My anxiety over how to fund my son’s remaining college expenses lead me to wonder about who gets ahead in life and who doesn’t?  What makes life fair?  Is it education?  Is it the name and prestige of the university you attend?  Is it academic scores, rank, difficulty of classes, ability to retain and apply knowledge?  Is it knowing the right people?  Is it fair to bestow awards on  a less accomplished person because of their gender or racial status?   What if the person who really can discover the cure for cancer is sidelined because a political group wants to be fair and give someone they deem “culturally disadvantaged” a place in a class or school?  How many years longer will women die of breast cancer because the person who could find the cure didn’t get the opportunity?  How is that fair?

I recall my 12-year-old daughter recently winning her first Age Group Winner swimming trophy.  She won it in a challenging meet against many of the best swimmers in our region.  I loved the attitude of her coach, Matt Vogel, an Olympic gold medalist, as he expressed that the award was an honor because she improved her times AND beat the other qualified swimmers.  He wanted to teach her that an award for overall accomplishment only had meaning if it reflected true merit.  Where’s the glory in being the best of the worst that showed up that day?  If we fabricate awards to fuel our kids’ self-esteem yet the award means nothing in the larger context, is that fair to the child? 

I love George Bernard Shaw’s comment, “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”  I met with a business owner and client of ours, Ben Nagel,  recently who shared with me the synopsis of his life story:  Young guy fell in love, had a baby with his sweetheart, got married, missed out on college, chose to learn tool and die making because, “I wasn’t going to be a doctor but I had to take whatever I was going to do just as seriously.”   So he watched, he learned and he…picked up books.  Accounting books.  “I opened them up and saw they were really just algebraic equations”.  So he learned those equations while he was learning to program machines.  He studied everything he saw.  As he wrote reports for the folks he worked for he’d ask, “What’s so important about that report?  Why do you need to know those numbers?”  And then he’d read more books.  Eventually – the guy’s not even 40 yet – he buys a few businesses and runs his own manufacturing companies.  “I have no college,” he says with a huge, attractive smile.  His philosophy is that college is really about reading books.  And no one can stop you from doing that.  He recently returned from a couples ski weekend over Valentine’s weekend.  I can’t think of anything more fair than that!

One last  thought, Krysti Hughett is a 6-year inflammatory breast cancer survivor!  She was misdiagnosed by her doctor for two years before she got the help she needed.  She had a six-year-old little girl.  Was any of that fair?  She knew one thing.  She wanted to see her daughter grow up so she read books, met people, attended seminars, talked with doctors, became her own special advocate.  Sometimes her friends call her Dr. Hughett.  She has one primary patient.  Herself!  But she works tirelessly to help other women understand how they can learn to help themselves with this disease.  She returned a call to me recently with an apology for not being more prompt.  Seems she’d had brain surgery to remove a tumor a few days earlier when  I’d called and she wasn’t able to get back to me before this day.  I was speechless.  We cried together and laughed together as we talked about our stories and our doctors.  Though our diagnoses are different there’s a fair bit of commonality in our journey.

So what’s fair?  To listen to people whine and complain and blame people or situations or society for their inability to launch?  Is it right that kind people get cheated?  Is it fair that children get mishandled and taken advantage of by those in powerful positions?  Is it fair that teenagers make careless decisions in the heat of passion?  Is it fair that young mothers get hit with serious cancers?  No.  I think it’s fair to say that as long as we’re human there will be unfairness.  But it’s a huge mistake to believe that we are limited to our circumstances.  Each of us has 24 hours in a day.  How will you use yours today?