I have this image of a little girl who doesn’t get the toy she wants and complains with tears streaming down her innocent cheeks.  “It’s not fair!!!” In her world, fairness is about her getting what all the other kids got……. But did they? All of them?…… What’s fair is always relative.  

Growing up in a seriously male-dominated society, the word ‘fairness’ often came up in my thoughts or rather, the lack thereof.  Girls were sent to do chores while the boys were allowed to play and laze around. When a woman keeps giving birth to girls and fails to produce a boy, it is too her fault. She is to blame. Huh? Go figure!  Girls and women were told not to “provoke”. If men lost their cool and abused their women, it was always the woman’s fault. If girls are getting stares from men, the girls are at fault.  So, yes, growing up, I was acutely aware of the word ‘fairness’.  

I remember standing in line for a bus ticket once and a man cut in line a few people ahead of me. When this happens, the “cut” is always in front of a woman since the woman won’t dare to challenge the man.   I, being who I am, called him out. “Hey, sir, this is a line-up and you might consider going to the back of the line.”  He was visibly indignant at being called out by a woman. “How dare you?!”  He muttered, “Unlucky me being called out by a woman.”  But the funny thing is that his predicament was caused by none other than himself, yet the fault was the woman’s. In his mind, it wasn’t fair. He refused to budge because as a man, he’d lose face. He couldn’t do that. Soon he was served by the ticket seller who was also a woman and didn’t dare to challenge him. My sense of ‘fairness’ took root early and deeply.  

Justice was also lacking a lot in the early decades of Korea’s democracy. I was acutely aware whenever it lacked. Earlier in our lives, I noticed that Håkan had a much more relaxed attitude about fairness and justice.  He never got as agitated about it as I might.  Later I concluded that his lived experience wasn’t full of injustices or unfairnesses like mine had been.   

I too have gradually relaxed a little bit more. After all, I chose to live in a society with better equity and equality.  

So it has been a while since I questioned what’s fair.  Is it fair that I have cancer?  Cancer isn’t visible in my life most days but the symptoms of the chemotherapy side effects are. The other day I caught my mind complaining “It’s not fair.” It startled me and scared me. The assumption was an interesting one: it is as if someone or something deliberately chose ME to harm.    

Here is the thing. Life isn’t meant to be fair. I’m not saying it from a place of defeat. Rather, it’s recognition that our happiness and fulfillment are more available when we move away from the notion. Fairness is a product of comparison and often comparisons lead us to unhappiness and lack of fulfillment.  

Why didn’t I get promoted (when others who have been with the company shorter than I have were promoted)?   

I work so hard, yet I have very little wealth to show for it (when others have so much more with less effort).    

Why did I get diagnosed with cancer (when tons and tons of people with lesser healthy lifestyles are free of it)?   

What if we remove the comparison (in parathesis) above and replace them with honest and reflective questions instead?  

Why didn’t I get promoted? What do I need to do differently in order to be promoted next time? Am I in the right place for my own growth?  

Why do I have so little wealth to show for all my hard work? I work many hours but am I working productively? Am I seeking the right advice in order to advance my wealth efficiently?  

Why do I have cancer? Statistically, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime in North America.  So why not me?   Instead, I can be glad that the other 7 women in North America are saved from my bad luck. I think of 7 women I love and care about.  

Life presents all sorts of situations, fair or not. And it’s rarely perfect. If we can move beyond the comparisons and embrace both the beauty and imperfection of life, we create the opportunity to live victoriously in both.  

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