By Scott Robertson
Ed. note: The following is the column which was honored this year by the Independent Free Papers of America in the category Best Original Writing, Editorial.
One of the hardest lessons my wife and I have had to impart to our children over the years is that life is not fair. Even with a just God in the heavens and generally good people all around, bad things happen to good people, the wrong guy sometimes wins the election, and it can rain on your birthday – even if you invited all your friends to the pool. Referees miss calls. Jurors see things differently. Bureaucrats sometimes love their rules more than the people they’re supposed to protect.
And yes, sometimes the injustice hurts. A lot. My mother-in-law was named Gloria. Her very name was praise. She went to church in Lewiston, Maine every time they opened the doors. She was everything a Catholic woman could be to the church short of becoming a nun (seven kids later, that was right out). When her country was at war, she did what she could for the war effort, working at Bath Iron Works, a shipyard that built destroyers.
One other thing happened at Bath Iron Works. Hundreds of people who worked building those ships were subject to weeks upon weeks of asbestos inhalation. Asbestos causes cancer. Gloria spent the last months of one of the most devout lives I’ve ever seen in the throes of an ever-more painful process of dying.
Life is not fair.
Sometimes it’s the little things that get under your skin the most. Even as a seasoned parent, I still seethe at adults who unfairly use their power over children. It can be as simple as the “Glory Days” basketball coach who always high fives the star player, but never takes time to notice when the awkward scrub makes a nice play. Or the little league ump who calls a nine-year-old girl out at first when she is safe, just because the ump has a beef with her coach.
Sometimes the “character” our kids are building is just understanding that life contains what often seems like more than its fair share of B.S.
That’s why it’s important that we teach kids right:
Be fair, but don’t expect life to be fair back.
Try to do everything right, but realize you can do everything right and still lose.
Don’t bellyache too much when life is unfair to you in someone else’s favor. You probably have no idea how many times it has been unfair to someone else in yours.
And, perhaps most importantly, exercise the judgment to know which things in life give you the greatest chance to be justly rewarded for the good you do.
Everybody knows that the casinos in Vegas have the odds in their favor, no matter what specific game you choose to play. Life’s kinda like that. There are practically no activities where you’re guaranteed a fair shake in life. All you can do is choose to figure out which games give you the best chances, or bow out and not play at all.
I’m glad that my daughter has taken up running, for example. No coach or ref can get between her and her goals. It’s her, it’s the road, and it’s a clock. The road and the clock are constants. She’s the variable, so any change in the results, for better or for worse, is up to her. Would that all of life were so merit-oriented.
I mentioned Winnie Quaintance in this space last week. She’s the remarkable radio advertising sales manager who had the quote, “Discipline is remembering what you want” on her office wall. I ran into Winnie and her husband John at the Johnson City Symphony fund-raiser the other night, and it dawned on me that they both have rather distinctive catchphrases.
Winnie’s exhorts one to eschew small instant gratifications in favor of greater long-term rewards. John’s also is about personal responsibility. He likes to end his radio show with the words, “now get on out there and make your day.”
“Make your day.”
If you think about it, it’s really a challenge, isn’t it? Don’t let anybody else keep you from making your day.
The thing about John’s exhortation that separates it from most inspira-babble you find out there is that it is both carrot and stick at the same time.
At once there is the underlying theme of “Life’s not fair, but get over it, and make the best of everything that comes your way,” while at the same time there’s an almost paternal, “I believe in you, and I know you can take this day and make it yours.” Both of those messages are valuable and important for us to hear from time to time.
I got over needing life to be fair a long time ago. It’s not, and it’s not going to be.
But that’s not the point.
The point is that there are only so many days each of us gets, and it’s up to us to decide whether to spend them bemoaning life’s unjust inequities or to make all we can of every single day we have left.
If it’s not something you’re accustomed to doing, I urge you to try it, just this once. In spite of all that can go wrong, in spite of all who would stand in your way – today, go on out there and make your day.