“No fair,” cries my son when he thinks his sister got a bigger piece of candy. “No fair,” he cries when I tell him he can’t go outside and play until he cleans his room. I politely remind him that sometimes, life isn’t fair.
We see this often with children, but we don’t recognize it in ourselves as adults. How many times have you ever thought to yourself: Why me? Why not me? Or, What did I do to deserve this? You might have felt that tinge of anger when you witnessed another person get promoted at work or in the gym when you are sure you have put in more time and effort.
The idea of fairness was shot down millennia ago. According to Ecclesiastes 9:11, the supposed wisest man in history, King Solomon wrote:
Again, I observed this on the earth: the race is not always won by the swiftest, the battle is not always won by the strongest; prosperity does not always belong to those who are the wisest, wealth does not always belong to those who are the most discerning, nor does success always come to those with the most knowledge–for time and chance may overcome them all.
The course of humanity is full of instances where fairness is a figment of our imagination. One nation enslaves another because it can. One man does little to garner wealth while others work themselves ragged only to die of starvation. It can drive you crazy if you try to look at every instance of unfairness across the span of our existence.
What Can We Do About Unfairness?
Instead of crying about it, we could focus on ourselves. I recently told a friend about my bad habit of looking at other people’s lawns and thinking about how much greener their grass always seems to be. It is something I need to break and get busy tending my own lawn. The issue is much deeper than turf-level. I do this with everything.
Almost as if to reprimand me for looking, Epictetus said in his Discourses, “am I to cry over the events of fortune, saying, ‘oh, but my nose is runny.’ Fool! What are your hands for? Are they not to wipe your own nose? You could ask the gods why there are runny noses in the world. But how much better is it to wipe your nose and quit complaining?” (paraphrased).
That’s an old analogy simply saying quit crying and do what you can to improve the situation. Life’s not fair. It never was and never will be.
I will leave you with a scene from one of my favorite films, Shawshank Redemption. While Red and Andy are discussing pipe dreams, Red thinks Andy should give up his idea of breaking out of prison, a place where he was framed and placed against his will (the perfect scenario of unfairness). Andy chooses to take life by the reins. He tells Red, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”
Wipe your nose. Live your life. It’s the only one you get.
A version of this article was originally posted on my personal blog, http://www.thephilosophicalfighter.com. You can find me on Instagram @thephilosophicalfighter.
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