"That's not fair!" Preschoolers say it. School children say it. Adults even say it.
In our house, we talk a lot about raising our kids to be independent thinkers who work hard to achieve success. We try to teach them about earning rewards for good decisions and good efforts as well as the notion that poor decision-making leads to negative consequences. We also try to instill in our children that sometimes we do the right thing simply because it's the right thing and not because a reward is being dangled on a string in front of us. We focus on the fact that sometimes the reward is in doing the right thing.
My husband and I both come from large families with a lot of similarities and many more differences. We are often amused by how different the environment was in which we grew up and the irony of the fact that we still ended up together. My parents were always big on "fairness"--we still joke about how my parents would sit up late at night counting out jelly beans in our Easter baskets to make sure there wasn't a fight the next morning between kids. We learned that if one of us had candy, we had better make sure we had enough for everyone before we could enjoy it. None of us had anything unless everyone had it--we were all "even" and it was "fair". At the same time, if one of us chose to use that infamous phrase "It's not fair" the reply would immediately be "Life's not fair, get used to it."
And I think the principles my parents tried to teach were the same that were taught in most families--sharing, equality, concern for others. And while these seem like necessary concepts to embrace, it seems the ideas are often taken out of context, and thus become extreme in nature.
Why is it wrong for one child to have more jelly beans than another on Easter morning? Is it because it creates an appearance of favoritism within a family? Or is it because we have been trained to think that no one is entitled to have anything more than any other? This thinking permeates our families because it permeates our society. Kids are taught that it's not "fair" to have more than someone else, and that we are all entitled to the same things that everyone else has.
At first glance, this seems to convey the right notion--that no person is any better than anyone else. But, does believing that all people are equal really translate into every person being able to have everything that anyone else has, simply because we want it?
We are all individuals from the same mold, but with important unique characteristics. Some of us have brown hair, some blonde, blue eyes or brown, short or tall, fat or thin. We are male and female. But even more importantly than our physical differences, we are each given characteristics and traits tailor-made for us by God. Some of us are gifted with leadership skills, while others demonstrate keen ability to solve problems. An artist with an eye for the most beautiful of scenes, a talented surgeon with a steady hand. Some of us excel in academics, others are more talented in the use of their hands.
In light of these differences, doesn't it seem to make sense that equality is not encompassed in the tangible? Equality doesn't mean being able to attend the same ivy-league college, irrespective of our academic achievements or our ability to afford the financial investment that entails.
While it's nice that each child in my house knew that we didn't need to count our jelly beans because our parents recognized it wasn't "fair" for any of us to have more, wouldn't it have been a better lesson to demonstrate that how many jelly beans we have doesn't translate into how much our parents love us?
Isn't it more true that equality is demonstrated when we treat everyone with respect and genuine love of neighbor? Doesn't equality mean that we all have the same opportunity to make good choices and to work hard to develop our gifts and talents. Wouldn't the lesson be better taught where we recognize the value of the work people do because they are doing the work in the first place? Or if we taught our children that different talents, achievements and choices reap different rewards or consequences. And that as long as one is using the gifts given to him by the One who created us, that there is only one reward that can truly demonstrate the equality we share as people.
Our actions, our accomplishments and our choices can bring us closer or farther away from the One who created us. Whether we get there because we worked hard to become a successful surgeon who is compensated monetarily or because we served hamgurgers at McDonalds with a smile doesn't matter. But, it does matter whether we get there, and we all start with the same "fair" chance.