Thoughts on Fairness


I’m up in Seattle for the weekend. Sadly though it’s for a memorial service for someone who was one of my best friends in high school and college. It feels unjust, unfair, and just plain wrong to be up here for that reason. My friend would be turning 33 today and it was a tragic unfolding that lead to his death and I’d rather not go into the details for the sake of protecting him and his family. The idea of what “fairness” means has been on my mind a lot lately as a result of everything that has happened in and around me these past couple years. It has also been a huge part of the public discourse for a while now, so it’s hard to avoid thinking about what fairness means. So I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on what it means to “be fair” if that’s okay with you.

“It’s not fair” has come out of Amy’s lips a lot throughout the Cancer journey and I agree with her because I know what she means by it. She is not saying anything about justice or equality, she is basically just saying that the situation we’re in sucks and is hard. “Fair” is a word that means something to each individual that says it and I believe it takes a real maturity to use the word in the way that it is meant to be used. An obvious example of the misuse of the word is when a child doesn’t get what they want and they say “that’s not fair” and then immediately throw a tantrum. What the child is getting at though is a “feeling” of injustice and that right there is what creates the friction in conversations about fairness. Fairness is really just a feeling like happiness, sadness, anger etc. I’m not someone who can ever bash feelings because I am a definite “feeler”. What I think the problem with discussing fairness (or at least what creates the friction) is that feelings can only belong to the individual who feels them and that makes it nearly impossible to really discuss something objectively.

In politics you have one side that uses the word to emphasize the importance of creating opportunities for all individuals and the recognition that we all start life with advantages and disadvantages and some individuals have far more disadvantages than the majority of us because of multiple reasons. They also believe that certain individuals with a fair amount of advantages are rigging the system to their benefit which ends up throwing everything out of balance. When they’re using the word fairness they believe that it is a way to take steps to recalibrate the system back to a way that we will all eventually benefit from. The other side feels that by focusing on what the opposing side believes to be “fairness” you are actually not being “fair” to anyone because you are not creating incentives to move beyond those disadvantages and instead weighing down the “freedoms” (another subjective word) that grant all of us the opportunities for “fairness” in the first place. Again, I believe when discussing ideologies, everyone is really just debating feelings which will always become a futile effort.

I’m starting to believe that a mature understanding of fairness is understanding that there is no such thing as fairness. Fairness, like happiness and sadness is a subjective feeling that is defined by you when you say it. The only time I will use the word now is when I’m communicating with someone that understands what I’m trying to say when I use it (like when Amy says “it’s not fair” to me). I’d like to see the word disappear from public debate because I see it as a great deterrent in effective communication. There are better words that we can use that are not so subjective.

A way to sum up my thoughts on fairness is with an encounter I had with my 6 year old nephew the other night. My brother and I were trying to help wind him down to bed and the deal we made with him was that we would read him a story before he had to go to sleep. There were still toys out around the living room that needed to be cleaned up and put away. We told my nephew that we would not read him the story until he cleaned up everything. He asked why he had to clean up the toys and my brother said that it would be a great way to make his mommy happy. My nephew responded with “Why should I do it for Mommy? How ’bout I’ll clean them up if you read me another story.” My brother responded with, “We’re a family who loves each other unconditionally so that’s not how we do things.” My nephew responded back,”I love conditionally because it’s more fair. I do something for Mommy and you do something for me.” I said to my Nephew, “You’ll understand some day why it’s better to love unconditionally.” I realized in that moment that LOVE (which is only unconditional) proves that there is no such thing as fairness. There is no “you do this for me and I’ll do that for you” in love. There is no need for equal opportunity in love. There is no injustice in love. Love is not just a feeling that can be defined subjectively. Love just “is” and the feeling of fairness can only be truly understood within the context of love and it’s only in that context that it can be used and understood maturely.

Being at the memorial service yesterday was a great lesson in fairness for me. I loved my friend and he was loved by all of us that were there. It’s not fair that he’s not here anymore and it’s definitely not fair the way he died and only those that loved him or love me can know what I mean by that.

Speaking of fairness, I have my next MRI on Wednesday March 6 at 9 AM. Even though it’s super unfair that I have to do this for the rest of my life, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and prayers for a Clear Scan!!!

Miss you Tristan!