“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is bitter, say thank you and grow.” – Shauna Niequist
“Life is unfair, just deal with it.”
How many times have you or someone else blurted this statement? Depending on what was going on in your life at that point, those words either hit home or disheartened you.
I began pondering over this statement after witnessing a heated debate between friends one night. A couple of them were passionate about their side of the argument that life was indeed unfair and that we’re all merely pawns being moved around by powerful external forces on the chessboard of life.
While I didn’t rebuke their reasoning straightaway, a big part of me sensed that there was some degree of fallacy in their argument. During those moments, when the two opposing sides of my posse of intellectuals battled, I decided to temporarily shelf the issue so that I could reflect on it later.
Following that day, the seeds of curiosity that were planted in my mind sprouted with numerous questions such as: Why do some people have it easier than others? Why are some lucky folks born into wealth while others into abject poverty? Why do people contract fatal illnesses or die tragically, while others live long and healthy lives? Does the randomness of these occurrences imply that life is unfair?
When we’re steeped in physical reality, where we can only observe the surface of things, it will be evident that life is governed by scientific laws and principles. For example, the principle of the food chain determines the hunters and who gets hunted. Or the cycle of life that guarantees that every entity that exists goes through a the process of birth, aging and death.
Even within our own society, we have created political and economic infrastructures that could deeply impact our fates. A capitalist society breeds a distinct hierarchy of the rich, middle-class and the poor, and a potential inequality in the distribution of wealth. A corrupt government is capable of misusing power to take away our rights and create policies that make our lives tougher and inconvenient.
When we look at things from this vantage point, life can certainly seem unfair, cold and impersonal. It can be a hard reality to swallow as we try to make sense of our reality and we reflect on why certain things panned out the way they did, by connecting the dots in our past.
Like anything else in life, there are other perspectives when it comes to evaluating the fairness of life, which are largely based on spiritual and religious ideologies. The most well-known, esoteric concept is the idea of karma. Karma, which has its roots in Buddhist and Hindu traditions, states that the sum of a person’s actions in their current or past lives is the main deciding factor when it comes to their destiny.
In other words, the circumstances that you find yourself in right now is a result of your actions and the decisions that you’ve made in the past of your current life as well as your past lives. A person who did good deeds and accumulated good karma along the way will be rewarded, whereas a person who has a past of hurting or harming others will eventually face negative consequences for their conduct.
If you’re someone who does not believe in past lives, you would find it hard to buy into the idea of karma. But I believe that you can benefit from partial acceptance of karma as it pertains to your current life. Karma is nothing but a more exotic term for the law of cause and effect, which states that you get back exactly what you put out into the world. The simplicity of this law makes it more believable.
At the end of the day, there is no definite answer as to whether life is fair or not because it ultimately boils down to our attitude and the perspective that we choose. Our attitude is based on our personal disposition and the accumulation of experiences that we’ve been through, which have colored the lens through which we view the world.
Our aim should be to develop the healthiest and most constructive approach towards living, which allows us to make the most out of our time on Earth. We need to adopt the right mindset to maintain our inner balance whenever it seems like things aren’t going our way.
We need a wellspring of hope when we encounter injustice and ruminate over all the hardships and inequalities that exist in the world.
Whether you believe that our fates are a result of cold and impersonal cosmic laws or you believe that we live in a compassionately-driven universe that maintains the scales of justice, these steps will help you develop a practical yet a feel-good and empowering POV on life’s fairness:
1. Question your views on fairness: Fairness is relative to our frame of reference, which is heavily based on our thinking and what we’ve been through in life. Our idea of fairness is derived from our opinion of how things should work and our self-interest versus the reality of how things actually are. While we’re free to have our own take on things, it would greatly benefit us to set our expectations with a neutral and balanced approach versus feelings of entitlement. Remember that there’s no right or wrong way in most matters, so be open to seeing situations from different angles to obtain a well-rounded perspective.
2. See everything as a learning opportunity: Life can seem especially unfair when you’re not winning in life. It’s easy to dwell on your misfortune when you didn’t get the job or partner or deal that you so wanted. It’s during times of failure and when unexpected challenges are thrust upon us that we may feel like a victim and feel sorry for ourselves. But it’s precisely during our darkest hours when we need to be conscious of our reactions to our circumstances. Instead of being bitter and tempted to throw in the towel, you can rise above the situation by taking a big picture perspective.
As Tony Robbins said, “Life is not happening to you, life is happening for you.” The things that we consider to be misfortunes could actually work out in our favor in the long-run. We can increase the chances of turning things in our favor when we learn from our experiences and consider it to be part of your personal evolution and growth.
3. Be proactive: By learning from our experiences, we’ll obtain valuable knowledge to change our situation. We can take hold of the reigns of our life so that we can steer it towards a more favorable direction. This means that instead of getting bogged down in the unfairness of what’s occurring in your life, you become accountable and proactive about making changes to the aspects of your situation that are within your control. Remember that the world rewards the efforts of only those who’re willing to prove themselves by taking action that produce results.
There are countless stories of pioneers who, to most people, may seem like they were dealt a bad hand in life. Maybe they had physical or mental disabilities or they lacked of good education or they grew up in impoverished neighborhoods. But instead of complaining about life being unfair to them, they choose to overcome the odds and make their mark on the world. They are a testament to the truth that all of us, no matter what our backgrounds, have the capacity to change our lives if we choose to do so and make deep and lasting changes in both our life and the lives of others.
4. Focus on helping others: If you’re bothered by racial inequalities, world hunger or other injustices in the world, try to figure out a way to be part of the solution to these problems. When we’re hung up on our judgments about fairness, we get stuck in an ego-centered state, focused on meeting our own need to be right. The best way to step out of a “the-world-revolves-around-me” mindset, which breeds fear and grandiosity, is to shift your focus towards helping others. When we choose to contribute instead of complain, we infuse our lives with love and compassion. Choose the causes that are the closest to your heart and channel your passion towards making positive changes and restoring fairness in your sphere.
5. Practice gratitude: While it’s important to address the vital issues, we should watch out for not becoming overly critical about all the cracks that we see in the walls around us. If you ever find yourself slipping into a state of despondency and fear, pause and redirect your focus towards what is right and what is working. The best way to make this shift is by being appreciative of all the things that you’re grateful for in your life. Gratitude is a powerful force that can instantly extinguish any feelings of resentment and replace them with joy. Cultivate a daily practice of listing down a few things that you’re grateful for in a gratitude journal, while allowing the feelings of gratitude to permeate every fiber of your being.
The next time you find yourself disturbed or frustrated with your reality, remind yourself that the power to transform things already resides deep within you. Like an alchemist, you have the means to transmute any perceived unfairness and become a catalyst for positive change.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you believe that life isn’t fair? Why or why not?
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