A Lesson In Fairness

Picture by mashabuba

Beyond what you believe

Fairness is important to me and even as a young child, it was a strong value. I appreciate this value because it encourages my awareness of injustice. However, I also see it as a double-edged sword, and here’s why.

Taking action against injustice brings about change in the world. People see an injustice, join together to change it and oftentimes succeed. On the other hand, sometimes taking action can have undesirable consequences.

There are times when things are unfair, but you can’t always change the situation, at least not right way. For a person with a strong value of fairness, this can cause internal conflict.

Here’s an example: In my last year of college, the program head did something that was grossly unfair to most of the graduating students. When we met with her about this problem, she told us that the policy would not be changed and if we persisted, we might not graduate.

I was furious. How dare this woman subject us to an unfair policy and have the audacity to squash our rights to object to it. After the others left, I stayed to argue the point and was almost booted out of the program. The policy was never changed.

It wasn’t that I was wrong. I just didn’t have the power to override this decision and the consequences were major for me and my fellow students. I started to fight without thinking about what might happen.

Be prepared when taking action

If fairness is a strong value for you, what can you do when faced with something that feels unfair?

I suggest that before you leap into battle with your sword raised, make sure you’re prepared. Take time to assess your feelings about the situation by considering the following:

Is this worth going to battle over? Those of us with a high degree of fairness often leap before we think. Any injustice seems worth a fight, but is it? I think it might be wise to look at the situation and ask what makes it worth taking action.

Let me give you another example. I believe it’s unfair when drivers do not yield where two lanes merge into one. Instead, these people increase their speed and force their way into traffic without regard for the other drivers. This is both unsafe and illegal.

I immediately want to do something about what I see as an injustice. However, if I stop and consider the situation, I realize I can choose how I respond. I can decide whether or not this is a battle I want to fight. It’s important to make a conscious decision about fighting an injustice.

Be prepared for the consequences. If you decide an injustice is worth taking action, consider the consequences.

What could happen if you do take action?
Who will oppose you and are you willing to fight them?
Is the action dangerous to you or others?

Being aware of the consequences will help you make an informed decision. Using my “yield” example again, if I react with anger, I could cause an accident.

I might be legally right, but I could injure myself and other drivers. Taking action against injustice has consequences that deserve respect.

Consider all your options before you take action. Not all injustices require war – sometimes diplomacy is the best strategy. Before acting, consider other, less abrupt actions to put a stop to the injustice.

Again using the driving example, other options might be seeking police assistance, writing a letter to the local newspaper, or joining a group with similar concerns to lobby against aggressive driving. Knowing your options may prevent the need for a fight and still end the injustice.

Life isn’t always fair

There’s a lot of power to enforcing your belief in fairness. It enables people to do heroic things, like the man who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square in China. He’s famous now as the Tank Man. We all think of the amazing courage he showed by taking that action. Then again, what would the story have been if the tank had not stopped?

There’s a reason for the saying “Life isn’t fair.” Learning how to deal effectively with unfairness without fighting, may show more courage than rushing to fight:~)

What about you?

How do you deal with injustice in your life?

Have you ever gotten into trouble for fighting an injustice? If so, what happened?

What recommendations would give readers about handling unfair situations or an injustice?