Three of the most wrongfully and most often uttered words I’ve heard in my time. That’s not fair. Part of the reason I hear it so much is from my work of 14 years developing youth. Many of them do not understand what is truly fair and unfair, or more important, that life isn’t very fair. Period.
A large part of the youth mindset is from watching grown-ups who say the same thing or act congruently with those words. Those professional athletes who “role model” what to be like, complaining at every play and whistle about an unfair call… that sinks in as one more reminder that “it’s not fair.” Other adults who complain about situations that they have no control over, or full control over. That sinks in as well.
They’re dangerous words. They can lead to entitlement. “Well, I should have gotten this because… It’s unfair.” It is fair. And it’s as fair as it’s ever going to get.
Along those lines, I see adults and children so concerned with being “first” for things. Shoving and pushing and making proclamations about how “I was here first!” What’s so great about being first? I prefer to be last for many things, and for a couple of reasons.
1. If I’m last or behind a situation, I know what’s in front of me. I get to be in the back and most attune to everything in front of me. This helps size up a situation and react to what is going on accordingly, and with enough time to change course if I must.
2. Think about it in terms of beta testing or technology releases. Some people get bent out of shape, all hyped up, and lose sleep with the new version of (insert whatever here) something. They shell out some money, download the update, and impatiently complain about delays until the thing is released. Then, they find it to be full of bugs and quirks that they get to spend their hard-earned money to test. If I’m a little more patient, I get it after many of the wrinkles have been ironed out. The desire for a brand new car! Nah. You own it first. Let someone else lose 50% of the value under their watch. I’ll buy a quality pre-owned and save my money, or just save my money and not.
So, there are reasons to wait.
There are reasons to be patient. No matter if we feel like our circumstances are “fair” or “unfair,” perhaps we should consider if they are trying to tell us something in the first place. Don’t have enough money for something at this time? It could be a sign that we’re not in a position to buy it and should focus ourselves on other priorities. This thinking can be related to almost any situation in life.
Sometimes, when I hear enough complaining about how things “are not fair,” I’ll pull a group together to go over what really isn’t fair. This is still my opinion, of course, but I feel that the things we eventually get to, as a group, are truly unfair. At first, kids will tell me things like, “You have to waste your time going over this with us.” “Nope, that’s not it. Who else has an idea?” “The people who are following the rules are missing out because of those who aren’t,” another might say. “That’s true, but not what we’re looking for. Come on, what’s really unfair?” Eventually, without fail, one young mind will wrap their brain around what’s going on, raise their hand, and teach us all a lesson.
“What’s unfair is that some people don’t have a chance to complain about what we’re calling unfair because they’ve never had a chance to experience it. Some people don’t even have hands to raise. Some people don’t have families, or homes to live in, or people who care about them.”
Those are the things that are unfair.
And that’s not to say that some of those people couldn’t have changed those circumstances as well. For many, some of those things just happen or happened, in an unfair manner.
I’ve heard about tests and studies like this before, but have recently heard a lot about the Stanford marshmallow experiment. Essentially, kids were given a marshmallow and two options. They could:
a) just eat the marshmallow
b) wait 15 minutes and get a second marshmallow, or similar treat
70% of the subjects couldn’t wait. They consumed the fluffy treat. Several years later, the same researchers followed up with the groups of test subjects. It turns out that the people who didn’t need the instant gratification turned out to be more “successful” in many terms. Please notice the quotes, as people’s definitions of success will vary. Just some of the measures of success were things like higher SAT scores, higher levels of educational attainment, healthier body mass indexes, along with other measures. Delaying the gratification, also known as being patient, can pay dividends.
So, let somebody else argue that they were there first. Proudly yell “I WAS HERE SECOND.” Watch the simpleton in confusion, thinking that you aim to engage in a pointless battle for “first place.” Don’t eat the marshmallow, or at least not for 15 minutes. No matter what, remember to be patient. Remember that life is sometimes not fair, but that’s okay. You’re tough enough.