The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made. —Groucho Marx
I could be very frank with you and say that life isn’t fair. Ever. I could end this article here and go back to bed, which sounds so very tempting. But to do that would be missing the entire point this morning. You already know life isn’t fair. You feel how unfair life is everytime the car doesn’t start, or someone else gets the girl, or the baby throws up on you just as you’re about to walk out the door. You don’t need me to tell you that life isn’t fair. What I want you to hear this morning is that nothing to do with fairness, the good, the bad, or the indifferent, is personal. The universe is not picking on you.
From the earliest point in our lives, we look for fairness. If we see a child with a lollipop, we want a lollipop. If one of our classmates has new shoes, we think we deserve new shoes as well. Someone gets paid a given amount for a certain job, we think it’s only fair that everyone be paid the same amount for the same job. This concept of what is fair seems to be universal. Even monkeys understand equal pay for equal work. We want everything in our lives to be fair, or so we say.
The fact is, if you’re living in the United States, Canada, or most of Western Europe, the scales are already tipped in your favor. Those little inconveniences you consider unfair are little more than a minor balancing of the universal measure of right and wrong, and chances are you’re still coming out much better than the vast majority of people. Consider some of the following comparisons:
- Americans spend less on food than any other country.
- When it comes to taxes, Americans pay less than most developed nations, coming in more than 25% below the average.
- Someone at the poverty line in America is still in the top 14% of global wealth distribution.
- The United States is a mere 4.5% of the global population, but we produce 30% of its total GDP.
- Compared to the rest of the world, Americans are all the 1%.
Why? What’s fair isn’t a personal thing. Shit happens on a universal basis. There’s no cosmic calculator that is keeping tabs on the number of good things you get versus the bad. There’s no mystical figure in the sky or below the earth who is waiting to reward you for being nice, or punish you for being a total bitch. Instead, what we consider to be fairness has more to do with where on the planet you were born, whether your parents were (comparatively) rich, and whether you had the opportunity to go to school. If you had those things, life is likely to be overly fair to you. If you were born with those factors against you, life is more likely to feel like the bottom of a global shithole.
Whether you want to admit it or not, if you were born in the US, regardless of any other factor, life for you is more fair than 85% of the rest of the world. Here’s another list:
- While you complain about slow internet speeds or lack of wifi in a given location, 60% of the world still has no internet service at all.
- When you complain about the long wait times at the doctor’s office, consider that 27% of the world’s population has no access to modern healthcare at all.
- If you are tempted to complain about your job, remember that over 200 million people around the world have no job and few prospects for ever getting one.
- Before you gripe about the assembly instructions being in more than one language, know that 750 million people in the world can’t read at all.
- As you’re complaining about the slow service at that restaurant, over 795 million people will go hungry today. Most of those will go hungry tomorrow as well.
Are any of those statistics in any way fair? What is fair about children in one part of the world sleeping soundly at night while those in a different region huddle together in fear as they listen to bombs falling around them? What is fair about women in Africa walking multiple miles each day to collect water when all you do is turn a tap and then complain because you don’t like the way it tastes?
In the past week, I’ve heard people complain that they didn’t think it fair that someone was prettier, someone had bigger boobs, someone had a better spouse, someone had a better job, someone had a bigger house. Each one of those people specifically said they didn’t think their current condition was fair.
I don’t think the real problem is one of fairness at all. Life isn’t treating you mean, the universe doesn’t have a target attached to your forehead. You’re just greedy, and perhaps lacking in perspective. Your desire for more blocks your ability to see just how much you already have.
Life is treating you just fine. So not every little detail goes your way. So someone else gets the promotion at work. So Brad Pitt will still be hotter than me even when he’s 98.
You’re alive. That’s fair.