“It isn’t FAIR!”

We hear that (and if we’re honest we admit that we think that) all the time. But when we think it, we dismiss the thought because it generally has little utility to what ever situation we find ourselves in.

Fair isn’t something that exists in the natural world. It’s a construct we make for ourselves. We use it to teach children how to get along with others. Fair is a way of distributing things- whether cookies or work, in a way that allows us to get on with our lives.

We start with equal as “fair” because kids can easily see that “her piece is bigger than mine!”. Next, we can move onto unequal fairness by giving equal burdens to both adults and children. They do recognize that adults can carry more than they can.

Parents (and others who care for children) have observed that “it isn’t fair!” means “someone else has something I want”. It doesn’t apply to something that only you have or something you don’t want. Wanting something isn’t the same as needing. It’s like admiring, and like imagining joy or comfort that something can bring, whether it’s a toy, or insurance coverage.

It’s often pointed out that there are enough resources for everyone in the world to live comfortably, but that they are not distributed that way. Even if the Rich gave up some of their yachts, third homes, and unused investment income and everyone in the world had enough food to be healthy, safe and clean housing, and medical care, someone would always have less that someone else, and be able to imagine that they’d feel better if they had as much as the other.

If all the worlds resources were divided equally, it wouldn’t take long before they were unequally distributed again because some people wouldn’t want them, some would, and some would be willing to take more, and feel justified that they could use it better. We don’t want equal, we want what we want. I have no use for sports equipment, and many people have no use for the books I have gathered. We don’t want the same things, and that’s fine.

But we can aspire to “fairness”. We can try not to give too great a burden to the weak, and to give back when someone has helped us. We can attempt to maximize the comfort and joy that the things we give can do. After considering fairness for sixty-some years. That’s the best I have been able to come up with.


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