This is one of my very favourite quotes …
But wait, I listen to you say, definitely fairness is a wonderful thing, a value that we can all subscribe to?! Well, yes. And no. Like you, I love to be fair, and possibly also like you, I feel I've let myself and others down if I do not live up to my values of fairness.
But have you seen that there are other persons who at times behave in a way that we do not find fair? And what about our external conditions? They occasionally seem to have a rather shaky concept of what will be fair for us. And as for microbes, they simply don't appear to get it at all!
Now hang on a bit, you may be saying, surely these self-development articles are supposed to be positive and tell us that everything is possible if only we have the right attitude? Well yes. And there are times when we should see where the obstacles are and make a sensible decision as to whether to blast into, or walk round those difficulties.
In truth, it is accurately the near-universal attraction of the thought of fairness that makes it so problematic (and therefore perhaps one of those obstacles that are best to walk round). It is, at least in our world, a very emotionally stimulated idea, and we are encouraged to see much more of our experience through a “fairness filter”. Since this is really an “unfairness filter” - we're instructed to look for, and feel larger or lesser degrees of outrage at, unfairness, rather than rejoice at all the fairness in our world - it is a upsetting burden to bear, particularly when we have let ourselves be influenced that we're on the receiving (read: victim) end.
What I like about Ajahn Sumedho's remark is that it accepts that we just cannot anticipate the type of fairness that we have been encouraged (very unhelpfully) to suppose is our entitlement, not because we do not deserve it, not because anyone has done anything wrong, but because we live in a world where fairness, as we commonly understand it, cannot be guaranteed. What a relief to realize that what used to look like a problem turns out just to be the normal everyday state of affairs! Nothing to get disappointed about, just another bit of life's ever-changing scenery.
An additional problem with the word “fair”, naturally, is that it can be utilised as a handy shorthand for “I want”. Isn't it surprising how usually both sides in a conflict genuinely believe that their notion is “fair” and their rival's isn't? But possibly that is a subject for another article!
So when fairness is an ideal I'll always strive for within myself, I choose to let go of the futile expectation of fairness from others, or from the wider Universe. As that letting go has enabled me to wipe away a lot of tears.
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