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Blog Post: It’s not fair!

“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.”

“I know, Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”

―Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

Think back to when you were eight years old, and all you wanted was that $3 plastic wonder you just found in the toy aisle. You’re a good kid; you follow the rules, do your homework, hardly ever sass your mom, but when you show her this magnificent marvel of toyland, she says no. So, you take the walk of shame back to where you found it to put it up. But when you get there, a kid from your class is looking at the same toy. He’s not like you. He’s a slacker, always last to finish work, doesn’t follow the rules–in other words, the exact opposite of you. His mom caves quickly and gives him the thumbs up on the toy YOU wanted, the toy you DESERVED. And when you tell your mom this, she gives you the age old, “Life’s not fair,”  followed quickly by “you better get used to it”.

I always hated when an adult told me that–as though being told that injustice exists should somehow excuse it and make it completely acceptable. That little statement used to have the exact opposite effect on my child’s mind and make me more determined to make things equal, which usually ended in my utter disappointment with the whole world.

As an adult, I’d like to say I’ve accepted the lack of justice in my world and learned to somehow grow from the unfairness of life. I’d also like to say I weigh 120 pounds and have no gray hair, but that isn’t true either! Nothing gets to me faster than injustice. Maybe it’s all those years of trying to make things right, make sense of the senseless. Maybe it’s the anger and resentment inequality creates in the heart of humankind. Maybe it’s just how dang mad I get when someone gets something for nothing while the rest of us wallow in the mire of hard work and effort! Whatever the reason, I’ve never been able to, in the words of Elsa, “Let it go.” And I’ve often wondered why I should have to. I mean, wrong is wrong, and right is right. Why should we be okay with a situation just because life’s not fair? Why should we shake our heads at the unfairness and with a shoulder shrug, move on?

I’m an educator. I’ve worked with kids for over twenty years, and possibly nowhere in the world is injustice more noticeable than in that setting. I like to think I help alleviate those instances, but come on, you remember junior high. You’ve left behind the cocoon of elementary school and been thrown head-first into what feels like the most injustice-laden world ever, a place unfortunately often defined by the haves and have nots or the popular and the forgotten. The disparagement becomes so obvious it’s painful even for those of us not technically part of the crowd, the well-intentioned observers who try to balance the scales for that fifty minutes we have you in our rooms. But what the kids don’t realize is that the injustice doesn’t stop at the lockers.

Adults see it every day in the workplace. You work your tail off–late nights, early mornings, get there so early you have to turn on the lights in the hallway or stay so late the janitor shuts OFF the lights on you. And you look around at the dark rooms of those people who walk out, empty-handed mind you, as soon as it’s quittin’ time. Then at the end of the year (or quarter, or whatever you have at your job), your diligence is lumped in with their laziness so that no matter how hard you work, you still can’t make up for their ineptitude, but somehow they keep sliding by while we pretend they aren’t the cause of the problem. And you’re supposed to fall back on “life’s not fair, deal with it”? Cue the blood pressure spike.

I’ve seen this so many times that I should be used to it, but I just can’t accept that unfairness is okay. Last spring, I posted an informal survey on social media, asking whether or not people speak out against unfairness, and the overwhelming answer was it depends on the situation. But should it? Should it depend on the situation if right is right? Shouldn’t we who uphold justice ALWAYS speak up for fairness? Will it do any good? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least I can sleep at night knowing I tried.

While I may still tell my own kids that life’s not fair, I will no longer tell them to get used to it. I will, instead, ask them what they intend to do about it.