Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim
It’s Just Not Fair! — Who Makes All Claims In Life?
—Osho, Returning To The Source (1976, p. 226)
Yes, God is fair. I’m actually glad I got leprosy.
If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have come to know God.
Reflect upon a telling story about fairness:
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Exactly Equal [or Two Russian Bears Consult A Fox]
Two Russian bears in the woods came across a wheel of cheese. Breaking it in half, each wanted the bigger half. They went to a fox to help arbitrate who would get the bigger half. The fox studied the situation carefully and pronounced that it would only be fair if the halves were the very same size. The bears agreed to the fox’s thought. So the fox took a bite out of the bigger half to make them equal. Yet in doing this, now the other half was bigger. So the fox took a bite out of the other half to make them the same size. It went back and forth like this for a long time until the two pieces of cheese were absolutely identical. The two pieces of cheese were now exactly equal, but they were now only one-tenth the size of the original halves. The fox gave the two identical pieces of cheese to the Russian bears. The bears were very happy, ate the cheese, and went on their way.
Moral: Look what happens when you hand your life over to the fictive ego. You have your ego’s version of your life instead of your life, which is not very satisfying, except for the ego which does not even exist. Do we need to follow it like a puppy dog? Who makes all claims in life? Let’s find out….
Our ego-mind is happy to arbitrate all disputes between other ego-minds. The fox appropriates and commandeers the majority of property in the dispute, such that the fox alone appears to win while all others lose. Was fairness, justice or equality served? Did fairness, justice or equality even show up, not as a bone of contention, but as a process and an outcome? Of course not! Was the dispute really about the wheel of cheese at all? Or was it about our mind’s attachment to fairness, justice and equality at all costs? Is it about projecting our fear that another will be unfair and wanting to prevent the other party from taking advantage of us? How many families operate by aiming to be exactly fair? Did yours?
We’ve all heard the child’s wail, “It’s just not fair!!” Look in the dictionary and find the word “fair” used as a moral standard means good, just, honest, impartial, unprejudiced and according to the rules. Comedian Richard Pryor in the early 1970’s told a joke that hit very close to home in relating how people of color land in jails and interact with police and the criminal justice system: “You’re looking for justice, that’s just what you’ll find-just us!” Pryor saw race relations in America as anything but fair. As the opening quote points out, God is “fair” in any situation once we truly understand, even if most of us simply do not see the bigger, compassionate, healing opportunity. Who hasn’t felt the strong tug of anger, even rage, over some perceived wrong or loss in life that was seen as unfair and unjust? It’s almost as if you and I “think” that the world owes us, and we are deserving, and it’s only fitting for life to “work out” pretty fair, just and equitable. What does the world and life know of our claim? In fact, who actually makes this claim?? Hardly our True Self since it has no attachments, dwells in the space of Presence and wonder, and finds anything and everything utterly fascinating. So what’s left you ask? Well, if ‘who you truly are’ is indifferent over things being fair, just and equitable or not, then who besides our imaginary ego-minds could be activated? Is it wise to follow its misguided reactive insanity?
Oftentimes when someone blows a fuse over perceiving some situation as unfair, unjust and inequitable, the circumstances seem to have piled up on this person, who can often become emotionally flooded or overwhelmed, sometimes with becoming quite animated, irate and hysterical. Take the instance of having a car repaired and each time it is “fixed” something else breaks down, like first having the carburetor tuned up, then needing a master seal replaced and then finding out you require a rebuilt engine! Or after having a medical surgery to repair a torn rotator cup in your right shoulder, you developed a duodenal (stomach) hernia, and afterwards your gall bladder needs to be removed! Or you have “one of those days” in which by middle afternoon you have missed your ride, scrapped your arm drawing blood, tore your clothing, got a speeding ticket, received a threatening email or phone message from your boss, and had a fight with your spouse or partner over the phone! It would be understandable to scream, “It’s just not fair! Life is not just! I shouldn’t be having so many difficulties!!”
What is most remarkable is that the upset, anger and disgust is more about the unfairness, injustice and lack of equitability of these escalating unwanted circumstances than the events themselves. Again, it’s almost like we’ve made an unspoken, implicit or tacit agreement with God, the world and the universe for everything to work out, for there to be some natural or inherent form of justice, for some Clint Eastwood type character in celestial heaven to make it all come out right and good. Of course, nothing in the universe, including our lives, works like this. Are all such claims egotistical? Are these “concepts” real? Does fairness, justice and equality exist in the world, or did you and I and society make them up, assume they’re real, appoint them as the way things ought to be, and then be disappointed, upset and harshly project this onto others when our expectations do not happen in the empirical world?
Does chance and chance events know anything of fairness? Do bacteria, viruses and diseases?
Do defeating and destructive “run-ins”, sometimes called accidents and coincidences, know anything of justice and equality? How about when your immediate supervisor, their boss and the big boss overlook your fine work, years of service and loyalty by going outside the organization to hire a new department head? Does the windy inclement weather know anything about the fine new suit or outfit you just bought and want to wear tonight? What becomes remarkably evident is that what reality brings us moment by moment is simply what reality brings us, nothing more and nothing less, and don’t require our critique or making some claim. Events, situations and circumstances have nothing at all to do with our concepts, wants, attachments, assumptions and expectations. “What is” is just what is.
Consider the possibility that all concepts without exception, including fairness, justice and equitability, are originated and invented by our minds or egos. Given that all conceptualizations have no actually reality and are only words being used to point or stand for something, how much longer do you want to invest your life in what is not real? It is only our ego-minds that make the claim for life to turn out fair, just and equitable. Such personal claims, and particularly claims for our life to be perfectly fair, just and equitable, must surely lead to ruin, unrelenting upsets, unsolvable dramas, skepticism, cynicism, bitterness and, for some, “injustice collecting.” Does any good come from traveling on this road? Does this road lead anywhere you want to go?
Only in our ego-minds do claims for fairness, justice, and equality as well as claims against unfairness, injustice and inequality arise. All claims are egotistical. What does reality, “what is,” and the universe know of any of these claims? What positive difference do any of them make with anyone? Are not all such claims our minds dream up simply it expecting, signing up and making another responsible for our lives working out a certain preferred way, and certainly not working out an unwanted way? If this isn’t a guarantee for pain, disappointment, frustration, injustice collecting, resentment, taking insult and outrage, misery and suffering, then this one knows not! An alternative is a deep, profound, acceptance of life as it actually shows up in this moment, instead of how our past conditioning carried by our minds would have it be so. Further, a brighter, healthier and more enjoyable option is to embrace what is, without complain, fault or blame, since surely reality is precisely what is so in this moment.
It would seem that for the non-existent, imaginary ego or mind, the critical issue it endlessly upsets itself, and is happy to have you follow and be dragged along, is how do “I” tolerate and bear unfairness, injustice and inequality in this life, at work and in couple, family and friend relationships? As all the illusory mind dreams and makes up, the issue is not really the issue at all. The so-called issue of tolerating and bearing unfairness the ego-mind conjures up already assumes that unfairness is wrong, shouldn’t be, and is a cross, burden and weight to carry throughout life. Deconstruct this belief and find out for yourself that it has no truth-value and only leads to chronic unhappiness, bitterness and an attitude of narcissistic entitlement, none of which is workable, appealing or very pretty.
The real question with perceived unfairness, injustice and inequality is seeing through and outgrowing the ego and its distorted lenses, including dropping the claim of thinking you are entitled, worthy and deserving of something different than exactly what you have and experience in this moment. When you think, and then have matching feelings, that you are special, significant and important, you doom yourself to unrelenting frustration when life doesn’t meet these expectations in your life experience, whether it is in the form of rewards you think you deserve, the job position you desire or the quality of relationships you think you deserve. Another possibility is cultivating the humility, all-embracing compassion and loving-friendliness to claim nothing! Without a shred of self-consciousness, and bringing an alert and conscious open-awareness, it is available to be a spacious clean slate claiming nothing for some fictive sense of self, and everything swings open wide. Needing nothing from life, life now freely offers every good thing imaginable and beyond. With no impediment, life simply flows.
Of course, life is not so much unfair, unjust or inequitable; life is simply life and knows nothing of these claims. So, consider that as a human being you can hold the values of fairness, justice and equitability, no matter how ego-driven and contrived they are. You are welcome to create what apparent fairness, justice and equitability you can, fully knowing that such a vision can at best be most daunting, challenging and nearly impossible to attain almost all the time. As author Theodore I. Rubin, M.D. declares in his 1975 book Compassion and Self-Hate, you surely do not have to use justice as a possible base for self-hate; rather you can take a more compassionate perspective exuding loving-friendliness.
Since any discussion of the subject of fairness and justice tends to evoke strong reactive feelings, being positional and animation of the fictive ego self, I’ve always tempered it with a greeting card and a cartoon. The greeting card is one a client sent me years ago. It shows a large cat looking sincere and blasé saying, “Sometimes, Life can seem unfair, life can seem hard, life can seem unrewarding, but there’s a good reason for that.” When you open the card, it says, “Life is unfair, hard and unrewarding.” I added an asterisk and the word “Sometimes” along with, “Garbage happens…and joy happens too!”
The cartoon I share is a classic Calvin and Hobbes three-frame strip that depicts Calvin challenging his father about his bedtime in saying, “Why can’t I stay up late? You guys can! IT’S NOT FAIR!” Calvin’s droll father answers, “The world isn’t fair, Calvin.” Calvin sulks away saying, “I know, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” The intriguing part is that we do know life isn’t fair, and we don’t want to acknowledge it! Given our brain’s and mind’s strong negativity bias, it is no wonder that when anything doesn’t seem to go our way, we jump to the conclusion that life is once again being unfair to us. Talk about taking things personally! Human egos have inherent, conditioned radar to spot whenever life does not conform to our wishes and expectations, thus perceiving life as not being in our favor. Almost nobody wants to hear, “Life is unfair.” In fact, the American voting electorate did not re-elect President Jimmy Carter who declared this.
It may come as a bit of a surprise that life regularly is unfair in our favor, and most of us, most of the time, simply do not recognize it. In fact, when life is unfair in our favor, our ego-minds are quite happy to get swollen with pride and take full credit. That I missed hitting another car when traffic abruptly slowed down is because I have so many years of experience driving, my razor-sharp reaction time, how bright I was to purchase a car with a superb braking system, and so on. Wonderful rationalizations and excuses all, and not even close to the straight-up truth. While each may have played some role, the car run-in or accident that did not occur is an everyday example of life being unfair in our favor. It happens all the time. Consider these common illustrations: you are the last person who gets tickets to a favorite music event, or you just catch a flight by minutes, or you find a parking spot in a crowded location immediately, or you miss a flying piece of metal by inches, and on and on and on. Each is simply life being unfair in your favor.
The least we can do is to simply acknowledge that life is as likely to be unfair NOT in your favor as it is to be unfair IN your favor. This view gives life balance as it really shows up, releases energy and animosity on the whole issue, and welcomes the lovely space of true equanimity in any set of circumstances, a “live and let live” attitude. Who knew? Can you imagine seeing through the hocus-pocus ego-mind and all it’s past conditioning, expectations and making others responsible, and naturally outgrow its made-up agendas and attachments, expectations and complaints, to completely efface and humble yourself to not claim anything? Can you imagine issues of fairness, justice and equality being “non-issues”? What a life this can be right here and now, without the ego-mind’s polarities of fair and unfair, justice and injustice, equitable and inequitable. Take either end of a polarity, and pull the linchpin on all arguments, battles and wars. Count this one out. Existence simply is as it is… and that’s what it is!
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