Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Life is fair, we are not.

TAKAYAMA, JAPAN—Life is fair, we are not.

For me and for you, and for your across the street neighbor. And for your elementary school pen pal, for the CEO, for the pauper, for the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker...

The laws of gravity are consistent. Newton’s law, Murphy’s law, and the Pythagorean theorm treat everyone equally. Natural laws are natural laws.

Nobody chooses their parents, the neighborhood they grow up in, or their genetics. Maybe these aren’t distributed evenly, but at least nobody can “cheat” to get a better set. We are all subject to randomness when God deals us the cards in our hand. Random distributions aren’t fair, but they are random for everyone.

So even if there’s a such thing as good luck, maybe life is fair. We’re all subject to the same natural laws and instances of randomness.

And yet, in the world there are still gross injustices and moments of senseless suffering. I don’t mean the suffering we need to grow more skilled and more moral, but senseless suffering.

I suggest that it’s we humans that make each other’s lives unfair. It’s us who make the non-natural laws that make human societies unfair. We are imperfect, mortal, beings that make even less perfect rules. 

Life is fair, we are not.

I don’t like the phrase “life isn’t fair.” When we are the aggressed, “life” is an easy whipping boy to blame for our misfortune. It seems better to take responsibility and move on to the next challenge.

When we are the aggressor, saying it implies that who we are aggressing should take their complaint of unfairness up with “life”, an obviously preposterous proposal. This is especially frustrating to me because it gives us the aggressor an excuse to avoid the arduous work of becoming more moral, more fair.

I hope that as a father I have the strength of character to one day say to my children something along the lines of, “Life didn’t feel fair to me today. But gravity applies the same way to me as it does to everyone else. Which means I have to lean in harder to make myself and then the people around me more fair. Life is always fair, it is I only I who may not be.”