“THAT’S NOT FAIR!”
How many times have we heard that cry, parents? If you’ve got more than one kid in the house, you probably hear it (or another version of it) often.
Recently, I sat my kids down and told them that they’re wrong to expect things to be fair.
Before I dug deeper into the reasoning of it, I did little role playing. I asked one of my kids to imagine that he was being hired to work on a farm. He’d have to work all day in the hot sun, and the work would be hard. I asked him what he thought would be a fair price for the whole day’s work. He said $50 (that’s a lot to an 11 year old). Just to be sure, I asked again. “Are you absolutely sure that’s enough? It’s going to be a long day. It’ll be hot and dirty, and you’re going to have to work very hard.” He stuck to his price, and we shook on it.
Then I told the kids that in the late morning, I would be heading out to the marketplace, and while I’m there, I’m going to pick up another worker. I called one of my kids up to represent this person.
Another kid came up to represent the worker I found in the early afternoon, and a third kid represented a worker hired in the late afternoon. A fourth kid came up to illustrate the final worker of the day, who joined the team in the last hour.
When the working day was done, I lined them all up in the order that they had been hired, and I paid the last kid first – the one who had only worked for an hour. I gave him $50. As expected, I heard the outcries from my son who was hired as the first worker. “What? He gets $50? That’s not fair!” I continued to pay each person $50, including the offended son. (FYI – this was all imaginary. They hadn’t really worked, and I wasn’t doling out real money.)
When I paid him, I asked why he thought $50 wasn’t fair. It was the price he had agreed to.
He said it wasn’t fair that he was getting paid the same amount of money as the guy who’d only worked an hour. In fact, he said, he should be paid the most because he worked the longest. I reminded him again that I paid him exactly what he had asked to be paid – the price that he thought was fair for the work.
Then I told him that I wanted to be generous and give more than expected to the other workers. I asked him if he thought I had a right to do what I wanted with my own money. He stuck to the unfair argument.
“You’re right son,” I said, “it is not fair,” but you are wrong to expect fairness.
I took the object lesson from a page in the Bible. Matthew 20 tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, and in it, Jesus tells the grumbling workers that their eye is evil for coveting what was given to the other workers.
You Can’t Expect Fairness, But You Can Expect Justice
Fairness is not a basic human right.
There are many families who are desperate for just one child but can not conceive. I have six children. That’s not fair.
My neighbors have three vehicles, and we have only two. That’s not fair.
Warren Buffet and Bill Gates take turns being the wealthiest man in the world while a middle-aged man lives under the bridge in my town. That’s not fair.
A demand for fairness is a socialist demand — one that seeks a redistribution of wealth. We believe in the virtues of a free market system, but fairness is not a rule of that system.
Although fairness is not a basic right, justice is. Justice says that all humans have unalienable rights endowed by their creator. The Declaration of Independence said that among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In our house, the kids are not allowed to demand fairness, but they are allowed to demand justice. If one kid hurts another, the offended child can expect my husband and I to correct the offender. They can expect the offender to humbly apologize and take action steps toward restitution.
Things won’t always be equal or fair. Sometimes one kid will get more attention or more privileges or more favor. Sometimes one kid will be asked to work harder than the others. Sometimes one kid will have to make more sacrifices than the others, and there’s no guarantee that it will ever completely even out.
But they can always count on our love and devotion to them. They can always count on our willingness to hear them and respect their individuality. They can always count on us to mediate their conflicts to the best of our ability and to make choices for them out of an earnest desire for their greater good.
Our form of justice will never be perfect because we are not perfect, but it will always be our best attempt.
So the next time your kids cry out, “That’s not fair!” You can say, “You’re right. It’s not fair, but in this life we have no right to demand fairness, only justice. And although this is not fair, it’s still just.”