On Fairness

Tough. Life’s not fair.” -Dave Magness

The axiom “familiarity breeds contempt” might very well trace its origins to an exhausted philosophically-minded traveller on a family vacation. As the initial excitement of the annual summer family road trip wore off, my sisters and I became fiercely territorial in our assigned domains in the family mini-van. An unwritten, yet unequivocal, pact existed in each of our minds as to the division of the square footage in the back of the van: parental territory, personal territory, neighboring territories, and a thin and controversial demilitarized zone crucial to my little sister’s exit from the vehicle. Conflicts unfailingly arose.

As the violence and volume of backseat conflict surpassed the acceptable threshold, my father would shout over the melee and quiet the chaos enough to hand down his almighty Judgement. Rare were the times that both parties felt equally vindicated after Judgement.

“But, Daaad, that’s not fair,” the short-changed party would protest.

“Tough. Life’s not fair,” the always-ready reply.

My father’s formidable size and unquestioned role as final Law-Giver combined with the unassailable logic of his rebuttal often ceased all further discussion on the topic, but every so often, one of us would muster the courage to fire back, “Well, it should be!”

“Well, it isn’t.”


Years passed; many times over, I saw the truth in my father’s words, though the sting of the lesson never subsided. Life simply is not fair. Your feelings on the matter count for nothing. This truth holds the sanctity of a Universal Law, like the Law of Gravity.

The Law of Gravity does not require my belief or acceptance for my life to be governed by it. My feelings or emotions towards Gravity hold no water against the proven science, and the same applies for the Law of Fairness.

I may wish and wish with all my heart that life was fair. I may feel extremely hurt that life isn’t fair. I may petition my boss, the government, or God, or society with the impossible mission, “make life fair!” Cry and rave against the Law of Fairness any way I try, the Law still governs my life.

Among the countless lessons I learned from my father, the Law of Fairness is the most important thing he ever taught me. Once I acknowledge it and accept it, I free myself to live my life in spite of it.

When life deals me a hand I subjectively deem “unfair”, I see a vision of my father’s eyes looking in the rearview mirror of that 2000 Honda Odyssey and hear his same no-nonsense tone, “Tough, life isn’t fair.”

The acknowledgement and the acceptance of that fact empowers me to move beyond the times when “Unfairness” stands in my way. An untimely injury, an unlucky break at the worst possible moment, an unfavorable ruling among peers: all represent specific times in my life when the Law of Fairness confronted me.

Without acknowledging and accepting the Law, I reach a phenomena I’ve never learned or considered. It takes the wind from my sails, the strength from my legs, the blood from my heart. I quit. My unpreparedness or my unwillingness to accept the Law now make it a death-blow–an insurmountable obstacle.

Acknowledging that while life sometimes works “not fair” against me and that–just as often–it works “not fair” for me and accepting this as truth grants that second wind, that resetting of the feet, that re-ignition of the heart stronger than before the challenge.

Next time you find yourself confronted with Unfairness, repeat to yourself, “Life’s not fair,” and move on.

Gravity still governs your every movement and always will, but by training and effort, I decrease gravity’s hold on me. I run faster, I jump higher, I lift heavier burdens, never forgetting that Gravity still exists–it just holds less power over me.

The Law of Fairness, no matter how we rave against it, holds the same infallible power. Acknowledge it, remember it, and through eternal, relentless effort, make it unfair in your favor.

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