Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I talk a lot about fairness on this blog. I have a whole post called Life's Not Fair and I've talked multiple times about the ways in which children, women, minorities, and just about everybody faces unfairness on this Earth. I want you to forget all that. I want you to forget that I had an opinion about fairness before this one. That's what I'm trying to do. This semester I've totally redefined the word fair and I'm trying to incorporate the new definition into my thoughts and actions.

Previously I held fair as a word meaning that everyone has the same opportunities for success.  I mistakenly believed that fairness was a road to equality. That must be wrong, though because all else being equal, it's not. I should have known, as well as anyone can know, that people are born into different circumstances. From biology to sociology people are born with with bad families, bad hearts, or mediocre brains. It's not their fault. It's not equal. I was brought up in a Capitalist culture that taught me fairness of opportunity was the only predictor of wealth and that anyone who tries can succeed. That's simply not true based on wealth discrepancies in our society.

I could write books about fairness (and maybe I will some day), but right now I will settle for thanking my university for just helping me define the word in a way that makes sense. The dictionary definition of being, "free of all obstacles to success" is completely unfair. My new definition is better. It's stolen from special education and reads that, "Every person gets what they need." Just let that soak and stew.

If we all followed this model of fairness then all the people who were sick would receive care and those that are sickest would receive it first. Students in school would get differentiated learning to help meet each of their own personal views. People would receive wages based upon actual standards of living. This doesn't actually sound like a utopia to me. It sounds like a slight modification on the world we know. This definition makes fairness feel achievable by recognizing innate difference and than catering to strengths.

I think the greatest benefit of making fairness into an affair where every person gets what they need is that it reduces so much everyday guilt we all fight. You treat your children differently because one needs you more. It's only fair. You are able to go to college while your friends are not because you need that training for your job. It's only fair. You are alive because you have more to do. It's only fair.

Maybe this is an oversimplification. I'm still working through it. I like it though. It feels better than the incalculable vastness of the other definition. At least with the special education definition of, "every person gets what they need" there is a place to start. Give one person what they need today. Help someone's life be a little more fair. I can do that. I have faith you can too.


Deb Roberts said...

Hmm. So fair does not = equal always.

Brad and Ellen said...

So if I need the definition of fair to be "free of all obstacles to success" are you being unfair to me by your definition and mine?

EmilyOrange said...

Yes Ellen, but that question is so confusing and rhetorical that it approaches unfairness.