Life isn’t fair (apparently)

A few weeks ago I was dealing with a problem that I discussed with a couple of people. In the course of conversation, one of these people told me what she’d said to her children when they were growing up:

“Life isn’t fair. Get over it.”

I can see where on face that might seem a bit hard by today’s standards. I don’t mean to suggest she said it for no reason or to be mean; I gathered it was in response to something her kids said, maybe about a perceived injustice in or outside the home. I can further tell you, so far as I know, she launched all of her children, who are now well into adulthood, successfully into the world. I think she was equipping them. Maybe they’d say differently if they could weigh in on the conversation, I don’t know.

The phrase has stuck in my mind. I even feel had I heard something like that as a child, I might have been better for it. I heard LOTS of uncharitable and hard statements but none that truly seemed like a life lesson, which this does. This statement says a lot, though. It’s saying indirectly that life’s unfairness isn’t personal. Further, it’s the active part of the statement that means something extra: Get over it. That implies you – the child – can, that you have power in the situation and aren’t haplessly being knocked about without recourse. That’s how it sounds to me.

I finally figured out today what has been nagging at me about this. I learned very early that things weren’t fair in my family (and not just things that, as an adult, I can write off to the limited perspective of a child). What I couldn’t understand was why I didn’t then grasp and accept that life out in the larger world isn’t fair. Why do I keep railing over injustices? Stewing over mistreatment? Getting upset about the behavior of thoughtless, selfish, or cruel people? What I think now is that the lesson was limited to the house I grew up in; it didn’t translate. It wasn’t a life lesson. I didn’t get life lessons. I learned house lessons. Family lessons. They were environment-specific which is how I took them, not extrapolating to life in general.

Maybe I hoped the larger world would be different, or should have been. Maybe I was still optimistic. I don’t think that’s entirely a terrible idea, believing in fairness. I don’t want to walk around thinking that most people or institutions will do the shitty thing, the unfair thing, given half a chance, and yet, continuing to be surprised or taken aback when something is lousy or unfair is not self-serving. It’s ME that it bothers, not the jackass(es) perpetuating the unfairness. It seems like a very fine balance to achieve and live with on an ongoing basis. I suppose a phrase like “Assume the best, prepare for the worst” might be apropos. Nobody taught me that either, but it feels like high time I teach myself. Anyway, I’m tempted to write the first phrase, “Life isn’t fair. Get over it” and put it up on the wall where I will see it and remember.

7 thoughts on “Life isn’t fair (apparently)

  1. daveb42

    That was “Rule #1” for my wife’s kids: Life is not fair.

    Rule #1 was accompanied by Rule #2: You are responsible for the results of your actions. Both kids, now in their 40s, still remember these two rules.

    Some time ago the younger one said to his Mom, “You know, Mom, there’s a rule #3, too.” “What’s that?” “There’s no free lunch.”

    All three are valuable life lessons.

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  2. battlewagon13

    I sometimes think I’ve done an injustice to my kids because I only taught them house rules and sheltered them from as many idiots as I could. Now that they are in the real world they believe that the world should act exactly like their house. Unfortunately that doesn’t often translate to the truth.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I see what you’re saying. I don’t have kids so I don’t know how I would have handled it. The desire to protect would be so strong and also, who wants to raise jaded, prematurely cynical kids? Still, seeing their reactions (to the “real world”) must be tough to watch.

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  3. vanbytheriver

    If there’s one advantage to being the “quiet” or shy child of a family, it’s that you pay attention, observing things that others might miss, and maybe learning something in the process. We sure had our share of struggles, and those house lessons you mention. Somehow, early on, I realized we were not alone and should be prepared for the ugly when it came. It came. Often.

    But there was a certain optimistic spirit that prevailed. I don’t know where it came from, but I was so glad it did. And I was proud when we emerged as survivors. I honestly grew up believing we could take on just about anything. It seems to have translated to my life, and that of my family, including my own children. I feel blessed for that, Colette. I’m not sure the exact words were ever spoken about the unfairness of life, but we had so many life examples. The message was received. ๐Ÿ’˜

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I think what you’re telling me is that the unfairness or rough circumstances gave your family reason to band together and to take on the “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” mentality. The struggles in my own family were largely (although not entirely) self-generated, not foisted upon us from outside or “nobody’s fault”. Early on I had what would be called today a “strong moral compass” (nobody – or nobody I knew! – talked like that then) and I, like you, was well aware of injustices. My fault or weakness was going out into the world thinking it would be fair. And persisting in that belief.

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply Van.

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