Life isn’t fair
On a rainy afternoon three years ago, my elder son and I were in a car accident. He was driving. My son was unhurt as was the other driver, but I sustained minor injuries and the car was totaled.
I was without regular employment at the time, and therefore without disability insurance of any sort.
I will sum up that day and its aftermath as “difficult.” My injuries never fully healed. The emotional, logistical, and financial consequences persist, though somewhat less so.
At the time of the accident, I was just beginning to get back up on my feet after divorce. It had already taken several years, but we were getting there. I was getting there.
Timing is everything, right?
Fair? Just Life.
Accidents happen. We fight back fear. Awareness crystallizes our lessons, and though my fear persists, my clarity is the reward.
How close we came to tragedy. How fragile and precious life is.
Eventually, there was another car to drive and both my son and I had to get back behind a wheel. When you’re knocked down, you must get up, period.
There are days I’m angry, still. In part because the father of my children could have stepped in to help, even in the most minor ways, and didn’t. I’m angry on the days when my arm aches badly. I didn’t have the money for adequate care; I imagine I’ll be living with those consequences for a long time to come.
Yet every day, I remember to be grateful that my child was unhurt, that I’m still here to love him, and that I’m finishing the job of raising both my sons.
While my stalwart young man was not at fault, the accident was deemed his fault, largely because of his age and status as a learner’s permit driver. (The other car was speeding, its lights were off in fog and rain, and there was no way to see him coming as we made a turn.)
Life isn’t fair.
Life isn’t fair: We, the children
When we are children, we learn the hard way that life isn’t fair. The lessons may come in major form: illness, death, poverty, abuse. The lessons may come in minor form: the bully who goes unpunished, the cheater who gets away with it, the mediocre grade despite valiant effort, the parent who favors one child over another.
We learn in athletics, as rules of the game are reinforced and good sportsmanship is modeled. Sometimes we see the cheater get away with an infraction. And we know again, that life isn’t fair.
Yet our parents control perceptions of fairness through their dealings with us. It may be a matter of keeping one’s word and not breaking a promise without good reason. It may require positioning disappointment tenderly, or respectful and loving responses to a child’s concerns.
Perfection? No, our parents weren’t capable of that and nor are we. Relative fairness, on the other hand, is a reasonable expectation – don’t you think?
Life isn’t fair: Teaching our children
Most parents try to teach children to play fairly, to believe in fairness (dare I say “justice?”), even as we attempt to instruct in self-protection and competitiveness. We speak of fair play, but when disappointments occur, we resort to “life isn’t fair” in knee-jerk fashion as if it were the only response available.
I suggest an alternative: save “life isn’t fair” for a serious tone and times of careful thought.
All too often, we toss out that line rather than seek a more judicious comment. There’s a distinction between competing and subsequently being disappointed, and unfairness. Don’t we owe it to ourselves and our children to make that differentiation? Shouldn’t we position success at least in part in the trying, the risking, the going for it?
“Not winning” shouldn’t elicit an automatic “life’s not fair.”
Turnabout is fair play
Some teach their children that “turnabout is fair play.” In other words, if the other guy hits below the belt, you do the same. Perhaps there is equity in that.
To me, this is little more than two wrongs make a right (if indeed they do). Isn’t this behavior responsible for a society of politicians versed in dirty tricks, and steroid-enhanced sports heroes? Must I add that divorce can be a sad example of two adults going at each other in the worst possible ways, as children look on – distressed, yet absorbing these patterns of behavior?
Is turnabout fair play? What do you think?
Many say yes. I find myself ambivalent on the subject, while still clinging to my integrity. Perhaps I would be better off (as would my sons) if I had mastered that particular lesson years ago. But I didn’t.
You make your own luck
Then there are those who insist you make your own luck. To them, I say that’s an overly simplistic (if popular) concept. Worse – it results in blaming the victim, and by victim I mean the one who may suffer consequences they have not caused in any fashion.
You know. Wrong place, wrong time. No “pattern” of poor choices but a single instance of being duped and decades of repercussions to contend with. A car accident, because someone is speeding, lights off, on a foggy and rainy day.
There are forces beyond our control – illness, accident, disaster. It’s hard to find anything of “fairness” in an earthquake and its ungodly toll on human life, and the despair that follows. There is no rhyme or reason to a child being abused, or who struggles with disease. There are millions of people in our country who are out of work, homeless, hungry, and without health care.
At least as terrible? They’re without hope.
These individuals did not “make their own luck.”
Teaching our children life skills: fair dealings
I have never had eloquent explanations for any of this – not when my children were young and brimming with questions on every subject, and not now. Things happen; we deal as best we can, and experience provides some perspective. And we make a choice to focus on the good, to point it out, and nonetheless learn that we’re all vulnerable to the unforeseen circumstance.
- How do you speak to your children about fairness and unfairness?
- How do you speak to the child in yourself on these same issues?
Life isn’t fair, but we deal
Life isn’t fair, and I do not believe in Karmic retribution.
I do believe in learning from mistakes, in caution where it is warranted, and in calculated risks.
I believe in trying, and that in itself is success, even if I do not accomplish my goal.
I believe in gratitude, and taking whatever comes with as much grace as I can muster, and I confess that some days that’s none at all.
I believe in reminding myself on a day like today, when darkness is palpable, that there will be light again. That there is light, and for me, that light will always be my sons. They are healthy and flourishing. With values they can honor.
As there is light in the privilege of having raised my children, my younger son yet to be launched, so, too, am I learning to raise the child in myself. None of this has been easy, but it is a life. It is my life. And on an anniversary that casts onerous shadows, this morning there is sunshine.
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