A friend of mine, in response to a conversation we were having about the injustices of life, asked me the question, “Who said life was going to be fair, or that it was even meant to be fair?!” Her question was a good one. It reminded me of something I was taught as a youngster: Life is not fair. It’s a bummer, but it’s absolutely true. Ironically, recognizing this sobering fact can be a very liberating insight.
One of the mistakes many of us make is that we feel sorry for ourselves, or for others, thinking that life should be fair, or someday it will be. It’s not and it won’t. When we make this mistake we tend to spend a lot of time wallowing and/or complaining about what’s wrong with life. We commiserate with others, discussing the injustices of life. “it is not fair”, we complain, not realizing that, perhaps, it was never intended to be.
One of the nice things about surrendering to the fact that life isn’t fair is that it keeps us from feeling sorry for ourselves by encouraging us to do the very best we can with what we have. We know it’s not “life’ job” to make everything perfect, it’s our own challenge. Surrendering to this fact also keeps us from feeling sorry for others because we are reminded that everyone is dealt a different hand, and everyone has unique strength and challenges. This insight helped me to deal with the problems of rising children, the difficult decisions I’ve had to make about who to help and who I can’t help, as well as with my own personal struggles during those times that I have felt victimized or unfairly treated. It almost always wakes up to reality and puts me back on track.
The fact that life is not fair does not mean we shouldn’t do everything in our power to improve our own lives or the world as a whole. To the contrary, it suggests that we should. When we don’t recognize or admit that life is not fair, we tend to feel pity for others and for ourselves. Pity, of course, is a self-defeating emotion that does nothing for anyone, except to make everyone feel worse than they already do. When we do recognize that life is not fair, however, we feel compassion for others and for ourselves. And compassion is a heartfelt emotion that delivers loving-kindness to everyone it touches. The next time you find yourself thinking about the injustices of the world, try reminding yourself of this very basic fact. You may be surprised that it can nudge you out of self-pity and into helpful action.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson