There’s an old story that goes like this:  A man visits his doctor, complaining of pain when he raises his right arm.  The doctor, looking inquisitive for a moment, responds with, “So don’t do that.”

But is that fair?

It’s interesting to find that we actively resist what we consider isn’t fair. In fact, it’s something that plays out endless times every day across the globe:

  • If we feel that someone has wronged us, it’s not fair.
  • If we can’t do what other people take for granted, it’s not fair.
  • If we want something that we can’t have but others have in abundance, it’s not fair.

Harold Kushner wrote about unfairness and suffering when his 14 year old son died from progeria (rapid aging). When unfair things happen, we have a right to be angry. It’s perfectly normal to be crushed by the overwhelming results of unfairness. It doesn’t matter if it’s a life threatening illness or if it’s something silly like someone cutting you off while driving: It feels unfair.

The catch is, if the fix is easier than the resulting feelings of anger and disappointment, what are we complaining about?  The concept of fairness assumes one critical belief about the universe:  That life is fair.

But what if it isn’t?

In that case, we have to assume that our expression of anger and frustration are instead signals for us to pay attention to.  If our responses are self destructive, then who is really being unfair?

If our responses are fair, thought, it brings to mind the wise words of Alain De Botton (emphasis mine):

“Though anger seems a pessimistic response to a situation, it is at root a symptom of hope: the hope that the world can be better than it is. The man who shouts every time he loses his house keys is betraying a beautiful but rash faith in a universe in which keys never go astray. The woman who grows furious every time a politician breaks an election promise reveals a precariously utopian belief that elections do not involve deceit. The world shouldn’t eliminate angry responses; but it should help us to be angry for the right reasons, to the right degree, for the right length of time – and as part of a constructive project.”

Now, that understanding would make all the difference. In how we respond to life, whether fair or not.

Photo credit: Pixabay/422737