“I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Why don’t things work out for me?”
“Life is not fair.”
You’re a good person. You play by the rules. And yet, you keep having setback after setback. Nothing is going your way.
The reality that life is not fair can be difficult to grasp. You’re generally taught that if you work hard enough — and long enough — you’ll achieve your goals.
Then someone else gets the promotion. Your car is vandalized. And that controlling family member keeps making your life miserable.
That’s when your denials and defense mechanisms crop up. It’s always someone else’s fault — your boss, your spouse or the government.
The bottom line is you want to depend on something concrete. You want some guarantees for your safety, security and well being. Is that too much to ask?
Fairness is subjective
“Life is not fair because ‘fairness’ is a value judgment,” explains psychologist and author Dr. Susanna McMahon. “This means that fairness is subjective. It changes according to who is rating what — and when and why.”
What’s fair to you today may no longer be fair tomorrow — or in different circumstances, McMahon says. You may feel life is unfair when you compare yourself to others. You never know what someone else is going through, though — even though their lives appear perfect on the outside.
For example, the promotion that was given to someone else is not fair to you, although it seems very fair to the person who received it. And you find yourself ruminating about the situation, over and over.
Does everything really happen for a reason?
Then there’s the theory, “Everything happens for a reason,” and that things didn’t go your way because something better is going to come along. Or that there’s a lesson you needed to learn. This can be extremely difficult to see at the time.
When I’ve come up against situations like this, I’ve been known to say, “I wouldn’t have scripted things this way, although this is what I needed to get into action.”
Then again, you may never be able to connect the dots — and to find a rational answer to some of the twists and turns in your life (prolonged illnesses, random violence, senseless deaths, etc.). All the more reason to have a strategy for coping.
When tragedy strikes
Many of you have been saying goodbye to loved ones lately — both humans and fur babies. A friend of mine, John, endured a sudden tragedy two weeks ago when his daughter, Paige, was caught in a riptide. Although she survived initially, her swimming companion did not.
After several excruciating days in the hospital, Paige was pronounced brain dead. And the family had to make the decision to let her go. This tragedy is further magnified by the fact that it goes against natural laws. Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents.
John is an actor and spokesperson — and has decided to dedicate his energies to educational messages about the dangers of riptides and the benefits of organ donation. Although his life has been shattered, he’s comforted somewhat by the fact that Paige — only 17 years old — was an organ donor. And her organs have already helped eight other people.
While this doesn’t diminish his pain, he’s pulled a purpose piece out of the tragedy with his vow that his daughter did not die in vain. And that his efforts may keep others from enduring such a nightmare.
One of the “celebrations of life” I attended recently was that of a colleague, Lane, with whom I worked in government and politics over the years. Lane was diagnosed a while back with a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, multiple system atrophy. His last 18 months were spent in a steady downward spiral as his body systems deteriorated. Talk about life not being fair!
Continuing to ask the “why” question can make you miserable. The big life-and-death issues will never be explained in a way that makes sense. There’s no answer to the “why” question when someone you love is dying.
There are five stages for processing grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, there are no stages to process the question of “why.”
Wondering may never end. Trying to make the world fair is both destructive and self defeating. Plus, it’s just not possible.
Many good-natured people run around trying to fix the unfairness of it all. As if they could.
“Some of these are codependents, some are living martyrs and a few are truly saints,” explains Dr. McMahon. “Codependents and living martyrs tend to be filled with anger, resentment and insecurity. This creates bitterness, unhappiness and unnecessary pain.” And it prevents the possibility of growth — for either party in the equation.
Here are five tips, developed by author and former pastor Samuel Rodenhizer, for coping with the unfairness issue:
- Life is unfair.” It helps.
- Accept — Accepting life’s unfairness doesn’t mean you like it. You just can’t change it. Cue the Serenity Prayer as a reminder of accepting things you cannot change.
- Anticipate — Once you accept life is unfair, you’ll be less shocked and derailed. You might even start to accept that life is unfair because it is.
- Adjust — You’ll be called upon to adjust when you run into these unfair situations. If you don’t, life’s unfairness will get the better of you.
- Adapt — If you fail to adapt to the unfairness of life, it can break you. You can become bitter and disillusioned. Or you can adapt and use it as a springboard for change.
On a much lighter note, my friend Marilee has a standard response to the unfairness question. She’s a teacher. So, whenever her students ask her why life is not fair, she relates it to a familiar event: “Fair’s in August.”