“You can’t do that! It’s not fair! I never get a fair shake!” How many times have we heard (or said) these things? When one is especially frustrated about the timing of events or the pile-up of ordinary stressors, it’s hard to believe that life is fair.
People who allow themselves to feel that life isn’t fair tend to think like victims. When I say victim, I don’t mean that somebody actually did something wrong to you. In that case, you truly are a victim. (I’m reminded of that great Mary Chapin Carpenter song, “Sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug.”) But there’s a difference between allowing yourself to feel like a victim when appropriate, and feeling that way all the time.
A person who wallows in his or her perceived victimhood will stop engaging in life; developing a sense of futility, hopelessness and, on top of it all, anger. Anger at … what, or whom, exactly? Anger at life. It makes no sense.
The question, “Is life fair?” assumes that “life” is a living being, who, like a person, can choose to be just or unjust. Of course this assumption is ridiculous. Life, in and of itself, is neither fair nor unfair. Only PEOPLE can be fair or unfair. Fairness presupposes a set of concepts about justice, grounded in more fundamental ideas about the nature of man and reality. Philosophers have debated these ideas for centuries. But no matter how you define fairness, these qualities are something only a human being — with the ability to make decisions — can practice. Life possesses no consciousness. It simply … is.
The act of living does not guarantee fairness or unfairness. That guarantee, as far as it goes, depends on the use of your mind, your ideas, and the choices made by others around you. Those who expect life to be fair will feel betrayed and disappointed. Those who grasp the concepts of fairness by looking to their own minds and demand the same of others will feel something much more positive.
Think of all the frustrations in daily life! There’s traffic, weather, cars that won’t start, inconsiderate people, unruly computers and not-quite-so-smart phones. Are these symptomatic of life not being fair, or are they nothing more than problems in need of solutions? Therein lies the difference between depression and a healthy mental attitude: Emotionally healthy people tend to look at problems as nothing more than things that need to be solved. To them, the universe is no mystery. They don’t expect to have all the answers, but they do expect answers to be possible, and they’re not sidetracked by cries of unfairness or life being “out to get them.”
It all boils down to not taking things personally. Nobody is out to get us. Events that are annoying or deeply upsetting are simply what they are. These frustrations are just the particular challenges with which we need to deal — today, this month or this year. We have a choice: We can either take these things personally; reacting with anger that wears us down mentally and physically, or we can work on finding solutions, coping techniques or whatever’s required to put it behind us.
Sometimes the words we use affect how we look at things. When I talk with people in counseling, I try to express things as “challenges” rather than problems. This sends a subtle message that solutions do exist and that we can usually find them. It also implies that life is not a vale of tears through which we are to trudge and suffer, but rather a series of challenges and constructive conquests.
Don’t misread this as advocating that we just “get over it.” We all have to cope with what comes our way. But if there’s anything we need to get over, it’s the mistaken idea that life can choose to treat us one way or another. It’s not a healthy way to think, and the resulting sense of victimhood and chronic anger just isn’t worth it.
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