The “Life is Not Fair” Debate
I hear over and over people declare persons who expect life to be fair are at very best naive. The problem with this statement is it lacks any context whatsoever because the concept of fairness is not defined, as such remains ambiguous and subject to insinuations or interpretation of the reader.
What exactly is fairness? Or better still, what exactly cannot be construed as contravention of fairness?
It is not contradiction of fairness for descendants of the Ford, Rockefeller, Bush etc. dynasties to start off with a wealth or status advantage in life. This is the lottery aspect of life of earth.
It is not contradiction of fairness for a person to be born in a third world country within which choices of professions typically are limited due to lack of an expansive economy and lagging of economic development.
It is not contradiction of fairness for a child to be born with deficiencies because while having the means to do so, a mother refused to take care of herself during course of her pregnancy. Health care in the United States remains much of a mess. Ante-natal programs, however, are one area within which the United States historically has excelled. Pregnant women have access to all of the nourishment they need to have healthy babies. Unless things have changed in recent times, I know this from past experience.
It is not contradiction of fairness for an established company to crush aspirations of a new entrant into its industry. This is what the established company owes to its shareholders, employees and other stakeholders whose livelihoods are tied to fortunes of the established company.
I have joked around somewhere that if I had been born in the United States, I could have played Tennis professionally prior to earning a PhD in Finance; or I could have been a professional race car driver prior to pursuit of degree earning opportunities. The fact of the matter, however, is while I am now resident in the United States, I was born in Nigeria. Opportunity to live in America arrived too late for pursuit of either of the stated opportunities to have been possible. But am I to then conclude that “Life is Not Fair?” Clearly Not!
A Life is Not Fair conclusion in light of such circumstance reveals unwillingness to grapple with objective reality, an attempt at fairy land living; an attempt at excusing of inaction or unwillingness to exert effort at what remains possible regardless.
So what did I do?
I earned the PhD in Business & Management with concentration in Finance from a top 50 Business School subsequent to a one year preparatory stint at the Economics Growth Center at Yale University. All of these education fully funded via Fellowships (Yale University) or Graduate Assistantships (RH Smith School of Business, UMD College Park).
Not bad for a guy not born in the United States.
But then I first scored practically all A’s leaving High School, graduated with First Class Honors in that toughest of subjects, Mathematics from a reputable Mathematics program in my native country Nigeria, distinguished myself in the workplace for three years, and scored high in both TOEFL and GRE tests. I had prepared myself for the opportunity that presented itself to live in the United States.
So what are contradictions of fairness?
It is contradiction of fairness for people who pay the price stipulated by society itself to become something that is valued in that society to be deprived of opportunities for which they have paid the price.
If we encourage a society that places artificial roadblocks on the path to self actualization of people that already have paid the price stipulated not by themselves but by society, we create a society that violates conditions of fairness necessary for harmonious coexistence.
Education, achievements, and character are typical milestones set by society as benchmarks for access to different professions or opportunities. When people satisfy these benchmarks or milestones, yet do not have access to relevant opportunities, this is contravention of demand for fairness in interactions within society.
If people pay prices stipulated by society, yet are artificially denied access to relevant opportunities, this is contravention of demand for fairness in societal interactions.
Many or most implosions that occur within context of societal interactions — fight for independence of United States of America inclusive — arise out of perceptions of lack of fairness or injustice. In the case of the United States, at least in part, taxes levied by the United Kingdom became so high, farmers saw themselves simply as working for the English Monarchy. There was a sense of unfairness or injustice, resulting in demand for independence.
Every legitimate march for independence or freedom derives its legitimacy from perceptions of unfairness or injustice in matters that have nothing to do with advantages of birth or circumstances.
In summary, while life cannot reasonably be expected to be fair in so far as circumstances of birth are concerned, it must be the case that we seek to build a society within which people are rewarded for doing the right things and for doing the right things well.
In this respect, we must reasonably expect life to be fair. We must endeavor to be part of the mechanism for ensuring fairness in society.
If we demand fairness for ourselves, with fairness as characterized, we must confer no less on our neighbors, fellow citizens, or fellow residents.