Any parent who has more than one kid, or any teacher or coach or anyone who works with kids, has heard a kid exclaim in anger, “That’s not fair!”
With our crew, we have tried hard to not make everything even. Now, to clarify, in the grand scheme of things, we do attempt to treat them fairly and equally. But that’s the thing: fair does not mean even.
“Fair” is one of those words that has been hijacked in our current culture. I remember first hearing about the Fairness Doctrine, which basically states that if a radio station gives an hour of airtime to someone promoting one view, they must give equal airtime to someone promoting the opposite view. We have all heard of the Christian bakers and florists who have been sued for providing services to some weddings but not others. “That’s not fair,” they cry. Well, really it is fair. It’s their radio station, their business. They can serve whomever they wish, and refuse to serve for whatever reason seems right to them. It won’t always make us feel good, but it’s fair. And when you own a business, you can make the same choices. The word “fair” has been twisted around just like the word “tolerance.” Tolerance no longer means “I’ll allow you your own beliefs even though I disagree.” Now it means, “I must say your beliefs are just as right as my beliefs.” Fair used to mean “just.” And now it seems to mean “even.” What you do for one, you must do for all.
We don’t give one kid a present for another kid’s birthday. We don’t give all the rest of the kids a trophy when one girl wins a competition. That would be ludicrous. But that’s what our society does. It’s actually just to have winners and losers, but we hand out medals to everyone, and call it fair.
One of my daughters in particular has really been struggling with this lately. If I’ve heard “That’s not fair!” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “It’s not fair that she gets to stay up later.” “It’s not fair that she was invited to a sleepover and I wasn’t.” “It’s not fair that she’s playing outside and I have to do math.” Well, she’s older so she has a later bedtime, her friend had a sleepover and yours didn’t, and she finished her schoolwork faster than you so she has free time. None of this is even, but that doesn’t make it unfair.
Our typical answer when kids cry, “That’s not fair!” is usually to say, “Well, life’s not fair and the sooner you learn that, the better.” Lately, however, I’ve been wondering if that’s always the best answer. It’s true that there are plenty of unfair things in life. When a criminal walks free, that’s unfair. When someone is treated differently simply based on the color of their skin or their accent, that’s unfair. When justice is thwarted because of pressure from big-money special interest groups, that’s unfair.
But I’m starting to realize that much of the time, when we cry, “That’s not fair,” we would be more accurate to say “That’s not even.”
What I’m trying to teach my kids is that actually, it’s not fair to make everything even. The same little daughter who is stuck on unfairness right now happened to come in first at every one of her gymnastics meets this year, earning the right to stand at the very top of the podium. One day, right after her last meet, she was complaining over something bring unfair, and I got exasperated. “Would you have liked it if they had said, “Elisabeth got the highest score but we want it to be fair for everyone, so really everyone gets first place.” She looked indignant. “No!” Finally the light started to dawn.
She cries foul because she wants what someone else has, without even realizing that it would be unfair to the other person. The whole transgender bathroom issue falls squarely in this category. The one transgender student in a school cries foul because he/she wants what everyone else has–completely blinded to the fact that to grant that desire would be unfair to everyone else. The fairness culture is willing to throw away valid concerns and cautions of the vast majority for the desires of one or two. That’s not fair.
And we can’t talk about fairness without asking the obvious question: do we really want to go there? Isn’t every breath we take unfair? Look at all the grace and blessing and good in your life. Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t it the very definition of grace that it’s undeserved? Isn’t it the very definition of mercy that it’s withholding what you really deserve? In a sense it’s unfair that we’re even living. But God is just, so He can’t be unfair. How then can this be?
Christ is the answer. Christ got what we deserved when the Father turned His face away. Christ gives us what we don’t deserve when He offers us His spotless record. Christ made it fair. Fair–not even.
When we are tempted to cry “Unfair,” let’s remember Christ. When our kids cry “Unfair,” let’s point them to Christ. When society cries “Unfair,” let’s show them Christ.
And practically speaking, let’s make sure our kids know the difference between fair and even. If one child earns a privilege or wins an award or celebrates a milestone, we should feel no pressure to create the same special-ness for the rest of our kids. Teach them to rejoice with those who rejoice and that it’s ok for something to not be about them. And when they label “unfair” something that’s completely fair but is uneven, let’s give them a vocabulary lesson.