The World Owes You Nothing

A reader emails, “I have friends who are in relationships and have no qualms about cheating. If I even had a partner, I’d be respectful of him and would never lie. It just doesn’t seem right that they get to cheat and still have somebody to come home to, and I’m all alone. Life isn’t fair!”

Your first mistake is assuming that these cheaters have more than they really do. Those who lie in their personal relationships are faking those relationships. They’re shallow and superficial, and will eventually crash and burn because lies almost always come out. Until that happens, they have to fake it — day in, and day out. THIS is what you envy?

You seem to spend a lot of time being negative, and therefore less attractive to a potential partner. And, by the way, why are you friends with cheaters anyway? No wonder you feel that life is unfair. Until you find more positive friends, get a pet, stay home and read a good book.

Many emotional problems are created by the pervading sense that “life isn’t fair.” Some psychotherapists maintain that this notion is a “cognitive distortion.” John M. Grohol, Psy.D., says, “Cognitive distortions are at the core of what many cognitive-behavioral and other kinds of therapists try and help a person learn to change…. By learning to correctly identify this … a person can then answer the negative thinking back, and refute it. The negative thinking will slowly diminish over time and be replaced by more rational, balanced thinking.”

The world is divided into two camps. The first whines that life isn’t fair. The other replies, “That’s right. Life isn’t fair. Get used to it!” Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of either camp. To me, it makes no sense to say that life is or isn’t fair. “Life” is just things as they are, and, as an inanimate object, it’s neither fair nor unfair. It simply … IS. People are fair or unfair, not life, and much of their resentment towards “life” is actually resentment toward others for “making” them do what they don’t want to do – when they didn’t have to do it in the first place!

Nobody is entitled to your time, and you are not entitled to theirs. If someone pays you for your time, then they are entitled because you gave your consent. But nobody is entitled “just because.” Somebody’s desires do not automatically impose a duty on you. A failure to understand this is a problem among human beings today, and could very well be one of the major causes of war and crime, not to mention most mental disturbances. For example, “I’m depressed.” “Why?” “Because nobody loves me.” “What’s the evidence that nobody loves you?” “When I feel down, there’s nobody there for me.” This is not a productive way to think, and amounts to nothing more than, “Because I want something, I should have it. If I don’t have it, then I’m unloved or unwanted.” Sorry. Not so.

A lot of this stems from “emotional passivity”; the idea that something or someone should be caring for you and your life. This attitude is a recipe for disaster. Cognitive therapists such as Dr. Grohal refer to it as the “fallacy of fairness.” In other words, we feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. People who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation, judging its “fairness,” will often feel negative because of it.

It all goes back to ownership of your life. You either accept that responsibility or you don’t. If you don’t, life will certainly be harder than it has to be. But if you challenge that line of thinking, you can, in fact, change the way you feel. So before you decide that life isn’t fair, remember the words of Mark Twain: “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”


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