Life’s not fair — get over it

Published 9:19 pm Thursday, December 6, 2012

By Steven Kirkpatrick

One bright sunny day when I was 10 years old, my father got up and went to work and never came back.

He just walked out – without saying goodbye – to start a new life, leaving my mother with six young children and no income. To make matters worse, he actually adopted two unrelated children and raised them in comfort, while my mother, siblings and I struggled day to day and lived in near poverty for years.

Email newsletter signup

Yes, I was angry – how could life be so unfair?

It didn’t take me long to realize that anger is a burden we place on ourselves, and no matter what you say or do, life will never be fair. It can’t be, never was and never will be.

When I learned to accept this fact instead of trying to fight it, my whole outlook changed. Life suddenly became a whole lot easier. I felt much more in control of my destiny, my career accelerated, and my relationships improved, including the relationship I have with myself. I started to like the guy I saw in the mirror each morning.

Fairness can also be very subjective, especially in politics. “Fairness” to the lazy and greedy might feel more like tyranny to a hardworking and successful entrepreneur. Liberal politicians think that high earners should pay half their income to the government in taxes, while low-income earners pay no income tax at all, and can even get paid a tax credit.

Is it “fair” for one political party to force their version of “fairness” upon those who disagree with it? Fairness is not about getting something for nothing, just because someone else has what you want.

As a society, we are witnessing an unfortunate cultural tendency to confuse “fair” with “equal.” A classic example of this is with unionized schoolteachers, where officials object to higher pay for better teachers, because it isn’t “fair” to lower-performing teachers.

If you work hard and make every effort to be the best you can be as a teacher, you get the same raise as an incompetent malcontent who loathes children and trivializes learning. That sounds more like greed than fairness to me.

A sickly person might think it’s unfair that others are healthy, and a homely girl might think it’s unfair that she’ll never be the homecoming queen. So what? Fairness has nothing to do with equality of results, only of opportunity, and it is never a function of what someone else (be it a person, a business, or the government) gives to you.

True “fairness” is based on the absence of bias or prejudice, and it’s about following the rules of the game, be it football, basketball or the games of love and life.

But prejudice is part of human nature. It will never disappear; the best we can do is recognize the fallibilities of being human, and to try to live a life of honesty and integrity.

Not all prejudice is necessarily negative; I happen to have a prejudice in favor of military personnel, including veterans and reservists, as well as devout Christians. This doesn’t mean I don’t like Jews or non-veterans. It’s just that I find that I have a lot of shared values with some people and like to associate with them.

Creating a world where everything is “fair” is akin to creating a secular utopia. It intoxicates the political classes that pursue this illusory goal, while defrauding those who submit to the notion that fairness is something that mankind, with our limitless fallibility, can somehow create on this earth.

Steven S. Kirkpatrick lives in Chuckatuck. He is a consultant and advisor to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Email him at