On Life’s Fairness

I read a tweet the other day: Do you deserve happiness?

This concept of deserving things is a pretty dangerous path to walk. It encourages flawed logic. My personal favourite example of this are these so-called “nice” guys who are incredibly bitter and think that because they’re “nice” they’re entitled to female attention.

First of all, “nice” as you are, you evidently think you’re owed my attention, without doing anything to earn it. Second, when you have a chip on you shoulder that big, and I’m not going to believe you when you tell me how nice you are.

But I digress.

The concept of deserving this or that implies a certain fundamental fairness about life. It’s the kind of idea that looks good on the surface, but when you take it to its logical conclusion it all breaks down.

  • What did you do to deserve being born in a civilized Western country with universal education and access to health care?
  • Who deserves a tumor in the spine? Who deserves a miscarriage? Who deserves to lose a loved one?

Religions are born around this topic. Hindus developed a caste system due to the belief that something one had done in a previous life had warranted the station you had been born into in this one. Christianity uses the example of Job to teach that God is testing your faith. Do you deserve eternal life?

I hate this thinking because it leads to uncharitable thoughts: People with liver disease must have drunk too much or done drugs. People who are unemployed were too lazy or merely too mediocre to keep. Women who get abortions are promiscuous and must be made to understand the consequences of their actions.

It leads to judgement.

Listen, you didn’t do anything to deserve most of your life. It was lucky that you were born here, that you found people to help you, that you got the opportunities you did. In many cases, early ‘successes’ made you feel more confident, and deserving of more successes, and it became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

By the same token, some people were not so lucky. I am always so moved by reading this account of inner city kids, too old to be put in foster care, left to survive however they could. Or read about this man, born to prisoners in a North Korean work camp. Read about the horrible rules he learned ruled his universe— every person for himself.

Most interesting are the people who did get a bad hand dealt to them, but somewhere along the line still got the idea that their circumstances weren’t personal.

Because if you don’t deserve misfortune, you also don’t deserve good fortune.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t aim for it.

It’s true that the harder you work, the luckier you get. It’s also true that seeing yourself as lucky improves your luck. But throw out that concept of “being deserving” because it’s nothing but quicksand. If you allow yourself to believe your good fortune, you will allow yourself to believe you deserve your bad fortune.

Both rob you of agency.

And agency is the key here. If you can wrap your head around the vastness of the machinery of the universe, and how utterly indifferent it is to your individual life, and then you resolve to make your way in this world that has no rhyme or reason, you will be able to greet people with the grace of your humanity, as people at the mercy of the same cosmic dice game you are in.

The more philosophical, the better you are. I love the story about the wise farmer who refuses to characterize any particular turn of events as good or bad, in spite of prevailing opinion. I tend to see anything that happens to me as good. Not because they are good or they feel good, but because I’m pretty sure I can find an opportunity in any circumstance. And that mindset is part of what makes me so damn lucky!

It’s one of those unified dichotomies I love so much: You must acknowledge that life is essentially random and uncontrollable, but never give up the conviction that you have agency and you can turn any circumstance to your advantage.

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3 thoughts on “On Life’s Fairness”

  1. I love that story about the farmer too.Well said all around… I think Marshall Rosenberg ties this concept of deserving to not connecting directly with our wants and needs. Or something like that. I’m deep in the NVC book right now, and this seems like it fits right in.

    1. For those ‘out there’ who haven’t a clue what you’re talking about ~ “Non-Violent Communication”, yes? I haven’t read it either, but I love the broad concepts, as digested in several places that I have seen. (Yes, Shanna, I’m stepping away from the computer, now! 😉  )

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