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"That’s Not Fair,…."

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

the typical response, “Life is not fair, get used to it?”

When our children assert that we are being unfair, that is the reflexive answer we give them. In fact, when that old saying was directed at us when we were children, we promised ourselves that we would never make the same mistake. Of course, what happens when we are parents? We almost automatically repeat the same thing. Yet, whether that maxim is true or not, it incites us to riot when we adults are confronted with it. Can anyone say anything worse that, “Life is not fair, get used to it?”

The “life is not fair” cry stems from many things but one of the biggest is the concept of equality, not only in America but in life generally. In reality, equality does not really exist because we are born into different circumstances and with a set of varying talents and liabilities. Some of are born into incredible wealth while others poverty stricken. Some are brilliant and will have successful careers. Others have limited intellectual abilities, especially if mental retardation exists. In fact, its not fair when I get a traffic ticket for speeding while other cars around me are also speeding but they escape. Its not fair…and it isn’t.

Of course, the sentiment about the lack of fairness of life has more than a small amount of self pity attached to it. When I got my speeding ticket, driving from New Mexico to Colorado, I felt like a victim. Yes, me, the therapist. All the self pitying thoughts arose in me, like a volcano: “Look at what a victim I am. The others didn’t get a ticket. Why are they always picking on me.” I realized that I was indulging myself in the victim role when, in actuality, I was not. When we got home I paid the ticket and had no points on my drivers license because we were out of state.

So, why are we so offended by,”life is not fair, get used to it?” It seems to me that this maxim delivers a large dose of criticism. For example, “get used to it, you big baby,” or, “you haven’t suffered as much as I have but someday you will see.” I am very sure there are plenty of other negatives connected when that saying is hurled at us.

However, I think the worst part of it and the most hurtful part of it is that the individual, be it parents, friends, colleagues or anyone, is showing a total lack of empathy when we are hurting. Its the ,”get used to it,” part of it that is most offensive. It teaches nothing, is helpful in no way, and is really very insensitive.

Even in dealing with a child who is in the throes of unfairness, there are positive ways in which a parent can deliver the message that life, inevitably, carries frustrations because there are limited supplies of everything.

The next time someone you know, be it child or adult, complains about the unfairness of life, show some empathy. Adults know that life is not fair. When they say it they are just stating they are hurting about something.

When you feel like life is unfair, examine what you have. Just like me, when I thought about it, getting that traffic was not so bad, after all.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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