F is for Fair
F is for Fair
“It’s not fair!”
Can you recall when you first began to use that phrase? I place mine somewhere around age 8. The awareness that life was unfair was my version of getting kicked out of my own Garden of Eden, my own loss of innocence. I’m sure there were many losses in my life prior to age 8, but this clear and righteous articulation is one of the great truths of human experience and marked a coming of age for me.
I remember a story I heard years ago about a child who comes home from Sunday School with a drawing. His mother was used to this as they often drew pictures of Bible stories, but she couldn’t figure this one out as it showed a big car with two people in the back seat as someone drives them through a massive gate. When asked about this the child said, “Oh, that is the Angel of the Lord driving Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.” I have often had the fantasy that the dialogue in the back seat of that vehicle included various versions of, “It’s not fair!”, along with a lot of mutual recrimination as to whose fault the whole thing was, but that’s another story.
Now, many years later I have a question for the 8 year old me: “What did you expect?” In hindsight I suppose it was simply that if one knew and played by the rules there would be a predictable and acceptable outcome. I think this is when I discovered the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: There is suffering. Not liking this fact I did what Jack Kornfield describes as “going to war with the way things are.” I kept trying to storm the gates of Eden. In the process I conveniently forgot the part of the story where God puts an angel with a flaming sword at the gate to prevent such delusional and ineffective regressions.
I then spent a number of years wandering in the Wilderness of Entitlement. Somehow this suffering thing was a mistake that would be corrected any minute now. I even printed up T-shirts that said on the front: “Don’t they know who I am?”; and on the back: “Who do they think they are?” I sold a lot of tee-shirts, but only to other wanderers. Slowly, but surely exhaustion set in and I began to consider another option: maybe I could accept things “the way they are”. I would get a glimpse of something I didn’t quite have a name for and I liked it, but then the required vulnerability and hard work required seemed to be too much. So, it was put on the T-shirt and try to make the same efforts have a different outcome. Have you seen this movie?
This cycle repeated itself more times than I care to remember, but then one day I saw clearly certain consistent themes in my wanderings. There was a difference between reacting and responding. Basically, reacting is a version of my 8 year old: “It’s not fair.” And responding is a based on not taking things personally. When I reacted to the elements of my life I usually didn’t like the outcome. And, when I was somehow able to respond to them there was a kind of peace. I realized that the key to this difference was whether or not I was willing to accept responsibility for my internal and external experience. There was, and is, still suffering. What I’ve come to appreciate is that there is a kind of fairness to life, I’m just using a different kind of measurement. I notice that sometimes I get more than my fair share, and sometimes I get less – whatever that means on any given Tuesday. The difference is that the more I notice and respect these realities the less demanding I am about getting more, and the more I was able to be present with the hard stuff. I wear the T-shirt a lot less often now.
Coming soon: G is for Germ