IT'S NOT FAIR!

How many times have you heard children say this – in that special whingy whiney voice reserved for such occasions and possibly with a foot stamp or face pull to add emphasis to the words. But hey – life and living isn’t a case of fair v unfair, though some adults continue to work on this premise.

GOOD OLD BRITISH VALUES

Maybe this is a result of the good old (old fashioned?) British values of fair play which have filtered through from the sports fields to many other aspects of life. It is still retained on the fields of endeavour, though I feel that these days is very much guided by the crowd’s very partisan reception of any refereeing decisions at places such as football matches.  The ‘we wos robbed’ syndrome. How good to blame a biased ref rather than their team’s poor performance – and their own bias! As for fair play by the players themselves, I admit to wanting to run onto the pitch and wag the old teacher’s finger at those who are diving or over-reacting in order to gain an advantage or get the opposition ‘in the naughty book’.

WHAT ABOUT LIFE AWAY FROM SPORT?

A recent YouGov poll from April 2017 shows that only 25% of people in Britain feel that life is fair, whilst 59% believe it isn’t and 16% were undecided. Surprisingly for me, in the USA, 38% showed as believing that life is fair. Interestingly, however, a greater percentage of Brits apparently responded that life ‘should’ be fair.  Whatever that statement means. Does it mean that we would prefer life for those who do not share the same level of living as us to be better? Or is it reflecting that good old British ability to moan about unfairness, just as we moan about the weather? 

The poll also shows figures with reference to political party voted for...  I wonder if this has changed following the recent election. But, as I am leaning on an open door with this and will not be drawn on party politics, I will swiftly move away from that door before I have a Del Boy moment.  

I have worked with many clients who bemoan the unfairness of their situation, even though they had taken few, if any, active steps towards resolving this perceived injustice. In quite a few cases, the complaints of unfairness were closely tied in with envy, though they were often unwilling to recognise this. It wasn’t fair that friends/family had bigger, newer cars whilst they, who worked hard, struggled with an older model. It wasn’t fair that so and so went on expensive holidays whilst they didn’t. On the flip side, a common factor was  that they went on to compare and put down the achievements of others – seemingly putting themselves on a sliding fairness/envy scale. It very much reminded me of the old Two Ronnies sketch about knowing our place! I wonder if our old class system has anything to do with current fair/unfair considerations? Another open door which I will leave you to ponder at your leisure.

One of the problems is that what can begin with a feeling of unfairness about possessions can, and does, move on to a cascade of other feelings and emotions. Those of feeling a lesser person, a bitter person, an unhappy person etc. As I have said before, such negative feelings then very readily translate through to physical symptoms. The mind-body links go into full swing – all triggered by a feeling of unfairness over a ‘thing’.

They relate possession of ‘things’ to being a decent person or to having worked hard, whilst, in fact, life pays scant regard to such things. Sadly, the financial rewards which can result in an ability to buy the bigger, better, newer, more glitzy things in life do not always appear to depend on actual ability. You only have to compare the salary of the afore mentioned footballers and such as supermodels, actors with those of scientific researchers, doctors and (especially) nurses working within the NHS. In fact, there is no comparison, but you could argue that the above depends on your definition of ability.  So from this stand-point, I guess life isn’t fair if we set our thoughts purely on things and having them and compare ourselves with Joe Bloggs and what he has. Envy is such a negative way of being.

HOW DO WE JUDGE FAIRNESS?

Maybe fair would be if you compared like with like, but this rarely happens, as there are differences of priority and also of need.  We rarely know, or fully understand the paddling that goes on under the water in the lives of others.

Maybe, just maybe, if we held a mirror up to ourselves rather than trying to pass off the blame for how we are feeling onto the person with the things, then we would begin to realise that the problem is squarely in our court. Therefore, even though we may not want to admit it, within our control. This is something that, as a therapist, can happen in client sessions. I hold up that metaphorical mirror to encourage clients to recognise things in themselves that they do not or cannot see.

Do you accept yourself for just who and what you are, not what you have? If you were to die tomorrow, people would not remember you for the size of your television, the make or age of your car! No.Things are transitory as is the superficial happiness linked to them. Things get older, they no longer give you that lift.  I feel, that if you have gone through the process of having to save for something, probably to go without during this process, to wait until you can actually afford to buy it, that the pleasure then lasts somewhat longer than if the gratification is instant – either through Mr American Express or the Bank of Mum and Dad’s support.

HOW WE SPIN THE IDEA OF FAIRNESS

We often, largely unknowingly, put a spin on fairness; as by applying the not fair label to possessions of others, we are in a way being critical of ourselves – as WE haven’t got the same or better. We are judging ourselves by the standards of others and very much finding ourselves to be wanting, though still consciously believing that it is simply down to unfairness! Self-criticism is frequently at the root of such a negative way of thinking – so much better to be more accepting of not only others and all that they have, have done, and ‘are’, but of ourselves and our lot too. We are then able to begin the process of being far less judgemental of ourselves (as well as of others!) and to take on the mantle of being self-compassionate.  However, it doesn’t mean that we cease to strive to expand our horizons, to learn, to develop our skills. Such growth is positive and makes us develop as a person, a holistic human being nt reliant on things.

Self-compassion is far from self-pity, a ‘me - me’ or ‘why me?’ attitude or selfishness. It is about accepting what and how you feel and moving on past this, beginning to re-wire the brain for positivity rather than negativity. Learning not to focus and ruminate on negativity, neither trying to ignore it and sweep it under the carpet. Simple acceptance of a negative feeling, enabling it to cease being an acorn intent on converting to a huge, all enveloping oak tree. And, oh boy, is this ever a better, happier, more fulfilling way of being. One in which you can let go of those grudges and envies and be – dare I say it – so much happier, seeing improvements in both mental and physical well-being.

To achieve this, it is important to become much more self-aware. Spot when you are slipping off into the ‘not fair’ way of thinking and draw back from it. That way of thinking that is so negative and ultimately harmful to you. It takes practice, but if you have begun any behaviour, so too, you have within you the ability to stop that behaviour. Self-compassion is very much at the heart of learning to live in a mindful way and both have so much going for them!

I enjoy reading the work of Dr Rick Hanson (do have a look at his TED talks)– and like one of his quotes particularly – he tells us ‘Our brain is Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.’ Our natural default setting is to recall the 1 out of 10 things that was bad, whilst forgetting about the 9 good things. (I mentioned this in a previous blog - DOES THE WAY THAT YOU THINK LET YOU DOWN?). By focusing on the perceived unfairness of a situation, that Velcro is being put to good use and the mind is becoming a jumble of negativity.

CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN, YOU HAVE CONTROL

If your consideration of unfairness resides in things such as the fact that it’s raining when you had planned an event – there is nothing you can do about it other than getting out the mac and brolly and maybe moving eating the BBQ inside.  OK, the poor old cook may get wet, but the vagaries of the British weather rules – OK!!

Life itself is about as fair as this weather, so there is no point in ranting and railing about it. However, here, changes can be made. Change what you are doing, or more importantly how you think of things and ruminate around the negative allowing it to become a big black cloud that you carry around with you even on the sunniest of days. It is in your hands.  Stop putting those blobs of grey cotton wool or those big blue splodges on the weather map of your life – and remember that these blobs and splodges affect not only our ‘weather’ but also that of those who are near and dear to us.

BACK TO THE BEGINNING

So why the picture at the beginning of this post?

In the post war years, as a child, my mum, I am sure along with many, many others used to tell me to think of all of the starving children in Africa and to finish my meal. I dutifully scraped my plate, whilst wondering how on earth it was helping ‘others’ so far away, but knowing that I had not received a satisfactory reply to such wonderings in the past. It has led me to never waste food – leftovers being accumulated to make soup, and scrapings going to feed the worms in my wormery or the composters to nourish my garden.

It has also led me to consider others. So what of those ‘others’, such as the child in the picture, well, it reminds me to wonder what this child would think of as being fair. Maybe not having to pick through the trash thrown away by others. Working through mountains of smelly debris in searing heat. Searching out things to sell, things to use and often things to eat. Having a comfy bed, being able to have the opportunity to learn may be on their wish list of what may be fair in the eyes of this child, though probably down that list after a regular meal each day. Fair versus unfair does come into play in such life changing situations.

Such thoughts stop me focusing on the fact that there is not likely to be a holiday this year and I certainly will not be replacing the car that I have had (not from new) for 10 years. I could bemoan the unfairness of this compared with others that I know but how on earth would that benefit me or anyone? Not a jot! I have a comfortable home, am sufficiently healthy to be capable of maintaining this home, I have food aplenty.  I focus on this and am grateful as part of my journey of living mindfully.

Sadly, acknowledging things for which we are grateful – surely the opposite of a consideration of fair/unfair - seems to have become a somewhat outdated way of thinking, of feeling, but that is a topic for another day. If I can help with any information about therapy, either face to face or distance, please do get in touch via this web site.  Thank you.

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