No. It's not fair


A New Unity Sunday Gathering


We gather together today in mutual support
We gather with hearts that yearn to open one to another
We gather with recognition of our responsibility in a deeply imperfect world
And we gather to celebrate together all that brings joy and beauty into our lives
Wherever we are in this life
Whatever fate has thrown our way
May our coming together bring a light of mutual understand
The warmth of compassion
And an unquenchable flame of hope



Banksy, from Cut It Out

The human race is the most stupid and unfair kind of race. A lot of the runners don't even get decent sneakers or clean drinking water.
Some runners are born with a massive head start, every possible help along the way and still the referees seem to be on their side.
It's not surprising a lot of people have given up competing altogether and gone to sit in the grandstand, eat junk and shout abuse.
What the human race needs is a lot more streakers.


From Stephen Fry

Certainly the most destructive vice if you like, that a person can have. More than pride, which is supposedly the number one of the cardinal sins - is self pity. Self pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive. It is, to slightly paraphrase what Wilde said about hatred, and I think actually hatred's a subset of self pity and not the other way around - ' It destroys everything around it, except itself '.

Self pity will destroy relationships, it'll destroy anything that's good, it will fulfill all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself. And it's so simple to imagine that one is hard done by, and that things are unfair, and that one is underappreciated, and that if only one had had a chance at this, only one had had a chance at that, things would have gone better, you would be happier if only this, that one is unlucky. All those things. And some of them may well even be true. But, to pity oneself as a result of them is to do oneself an enormous disservice.

Message, by Andy Pakula


Do you know that - except for the rare genetic change - every single one of a particular kind of bacteria or virus is identical. They are created equal. There is no E. coli bacterium that has to be confronted by being less attractive than another - and since there’s no romance among bacteria that’s probably not going to be a huge issue in any case.

There is no influenza virus particle who despairs about being shorter or less witty than another. 

And no strep aureus bacterium is born with more wealth or better educational opportunities than another. 

If we were part of the Star Wars clone armies, there would be something like this for us. We would start out identical - on a completely level playing field physically.

I titled this talk “No - it’s not fair.”

We are not bacteria or viruses or identical human clones. We do have tremendous differences amongst us that are totally out of our control. Physically, some are stronger, healthier, or more attractive according to societal norms. We vary in intelligences of many kinds, so that some of us learn more quickly, form better relationships, can draw or paint better, have greater musical talents, or have a better way with words. This is not in the least bit fair.

And there’s lots more unfairness that affects us beyond our innate gifts. The situation we are born into changes the prospects of our lives. If our parents are affluent and well-connected, we are more likely to be well-educated, well-paid and healthy than those without such advantages. If the culture we live in looks down upon people with our skin colour or other aspects of our physicality, our opportunities again can be severely limited.

No - It’s not fair.

Some people are able - because of their various innate, birthright, and learned abilities - to gain control over others. They may disadvantage others and even mistreat others for the benefit of someone or something else. 

No - It’s not fair.

There’s a very unemotional way to understand “No - It’s not fair.” It’s a fact that life is not fair. Some people may very unsympathetically tell us “life’s not fair” when we start to complain. As in, get over it, pull your socks up, grow up…  They’re technically correct. We have no right to expect to have exactly the same strengths or power as everyone else. 

But this coldness betrays the pain we feel when unfairness catches up with us. Unfairness is galling. It causes anxiety. It causes depression and despair. It can be excruciating.

To a great extent, I’ve been far toward the privileged side of the unfairness spectrum. I was born healthy, white, and intelligent to affluent parents in an affluent country. These attributes - which I did nothing to earn or deserve - led me to gain a great education and to enjoy excellent employment opportunities.

Nonetheless, even at the privileged side of the unfairness continuum, I have faced my share of unfairness. And being treated unfairly - recognising that you lack the advantages or power that someone else has - hurts. Being treated unfairly has stung me like a whip.

There was the time I left one company for a much better job at another one where a friend of mine was CEO. I didn’t know, however, that one of the other senior staff members was a woman he was having an affair with. She took a strong dislike to me. There was conflict. And before I knew what was happening, I was fired.

How could a friend do that to me? How could he do something that could so damage my career. How could he hurt me that badly?

It’s not fair. It’s so unfair!

There have been many more times and, I’m sorry to say that I still experience unfairnesses toward me and it still hurts me deeply.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve had huge advantages.

Banksy talks about the human race as a foot race and he highlights the utter unfairness of that race. There are, he says, too many runners given shoddy or no equipment, forced to start far back, and then watch as the race officials grant ever greater advantages to the best-off.
I suggest there are two broad categories of runners in this race: Those who have had enough advantages to have a chance to win and those who recognise from the outset that they are so far behind that they come to feel there is no point in trying.  

These, latter runners, Banksy says, give up and go “...sit in the grandstand, eat junk and shout abuse.” After all, if you are convinced that your disadvantages will prevent you from ending even in the middle of the entrants, why bother running at all? And why not give in to the temptation to trip up the more advantaged other runners if you can?

Stephen Fry talks about the self-pity that unfairness can engender. This self-pity among frontrunners is a luxury. I could feel it because I knew I had a good chance of succeeding. I could be blamed for feeling it because that self-pity would lessen my drive, reduce my motivation to get back in the race and run hard. I had a chance - self-pity would be a way of squandering those advantages.

For those at the back of the race, who could deny the right to feel hopeless? It is well earned and for one at the front of the race to criticise those at the back for self-pity would be to display immense ignorance about the realities of the competition - a competition that some are sure to lose before they even approach the race course. For many reasons, the frontrunners rarely get an unvarnished view of those who - shoeless and miles back - enter the race without any real chance.

Yes, life is unfair. And that unfairness affects us all to differing extents. For  some, it may somewhat lessen our front-runner status but still leave us very surely in the race.
For others - for those in the back - it means there is almost no chance from the start.

We know that those who started the race with the perfect gear and got a mile or two head start owe something to those who began at the back. None of us can be truly happy in a society with so much unfairness. Even if those at the front insulate and isolate themselves, they will never be fully able to block the impact of those in the grandstands hurling abuse and perhaps worse.

For those of us at the front, let us use the sting of unfairness we feel from time to time as a prod to remember those whose pain is continual. Let that sting prompt us to look with open eyes at the situation of those who begin at the back of the field. Let our lesser pain give us understanding of the worse suffering. Let that understanding and compassion lead us to work for a more just world.

And we who gather here today have a special responsibility to one another. We have set the intention to make this community an exception to the worst ways of the world. We have resolved to speak directly, to act with respect, to assume good intent, to listen deeply, and to strive to understand. We have committed to openness - to vulnerability - to trust. We have, as Banksy hinted, committed to removing some of our kit and do a bet of streaking.
All of these are good and healthy practices, and yet they are hard. They don’t come naturally.

We may be quick to feel the sting of unfairness and may react with anger. We may be quick to bring the worst ways of the world and it power structures along with us here and we may too easily ignore the special situations of those at the back of the pack.

Let us rededicate ourselves to creating here a microcosm of the world we want to see. Let us here resist the temptation to act or react without compassion and care. Let us use whatever power we hold for the creation of a way of being that elevates all of us. Let us be the people we want the world to become.