I often find myself sitting in the stack of books at my local library, searching to make sense of a topic or an experience. The wisdom of Super Why, a PBS favorite of my kids, is that you can find the answer in a book. So, I found myself hunkered down, cross-legged, reading through the small business management section of the library. Tucked in the corner was the key to my understanding the corporate world. The chapter was aptly titled, “Forget Fair” or some version on the same theme. My reaction to these words is still palpable and I was rather surprised that this concept made sense to surviving in what felt like an alien environment. I experienced the wake up call that allowed me to think differently, personally and professionally. Forget Fair?!
As long as we see what has come to pass as being unfair, we’ll be a prisoner of what might have been. ~Mark Nepo, the Book of Awakening
What I recognized by reading this chapter on office politics was that I was operating with the belief that life had to be fair. On some level, my entire worldview was (and still is at times) focused on the justice of things. Cheating is bad, lying is wrong, and bullying is unacceptable. These things all happen though and life can be rather unfair.
Rather than focus on the unfairness of life, I found that I had more energy to focus on my response to these moments. You may ask, what’s the difference? Well, say for example, I learn that someone stole from another individual in my workplace. I could join with the shock and speculation. ‘This would never have happened five years ago.” Or, “That’s what you get for hiring Gen X.” Perhaps, I could speculate about who stole what and from whom.
Whether its juicy gossip or creative problem solving, the energy this speculation takes requires a lot of time and increasing amounts of energy. What begins as scintillation or righteous indignation, can become overwhelming and fruitless as it becomes habit. The reality is stealing happens. As long as we see what has come to pass as being unfair, we’ll be a prisoner of what might have been.
We teach our children about the world in terms of ‘good versus bad’, ‘right versus wrong’ and of course, ‘fair versus unfair’. Wrap it all up in a superhero or action adventure storyline, and you have both a product line and a fixed worldview. My kids are constantly making sense of their world from a place of what’s fair and unfair. Washing the dishes are unfair, because I didn’t make them dirty. Extra ice cream, fair because I did extra reading. Let’s not start on all the various ways things are fair or not fair at school.
In many ways I want to protect the innocence my children bring to the debate about fairness. At the same time, I want to protect their internal world with the notion of acceptance. Sometimes things happen and the most important thing you can do is pick the best way to respond. When my son experiences bullying, we offer him lots of support. We also work as hard to move him from questioning why this happens to questioning what he can do. It’s painful either way, but teaching him how to respond prepares him for the other realities in life. As he learns these lessons, I am similarly reinforced in the many ways I can challenge how life is unfair with what then am I able to do about it. And of course…the wisdom to know the difference.