I wish this story were different. I really do.
The first time I ran into this issue was in a conversation I had with an older lady I knew a long time ago. Her name was Margaret. She liked people and she liked making fudge. Every week she would whip up a batch and deliver little plates of it to people in her neighborhood…with one exception.
I could tell it bothered her because she brought up the topic. Margaret pointed to a house across the street. “I used to have her over for coffee,” she said. “She was a very nice person and we got along quite well. We’d each have a piece of fudge, sometimes we’d have a game of cards or sometimes we’d just sit and watch the birds. So, one day, I thought I’d stop by her house. She met me at the door, we had a short chat, but she did not let me inside. I stopped by a couple more times and she never invited me in. So, I said to myself, ‘The heck with her!’ and I never invited her over to my house again!”
That did seem fair I thought, but I also noticed that the fair answer did not make Margaret happy.
A few years later I was talking to a band teacher at a small school. He had an excellent rapport with his students and would spend late hours at pep band, marching band and half-time events, plus plenty of early morning practice sessions. Until he stopped. “I’m getting ripped off!” He sounded bitter. “I get paid the same amount whether I put the extra time in or not. I’m tired of getting taken advantage of, so now I do the bare minimum.
That’ll show ‘em!” And that seemed fair, too. But I noticed that he used to love his job, and now he doesn’t.
And Christmas cards. A friend of mine dropped a small bundle off at the mail slot in the grocery store. “Just seven!” he said. “I only send out cards to people who send me one first. Fair’s fair!”
And that does seem fair. So why do these stories about fairness also seem so sad?
Thinking about this, I sought out an older mentor of mine, a man who seems unfailingly upbeat and happy.
“Oh, that!” He dismissed the issue with a wave of his hand. “You’re always going to have that with people. I mean look at Jesus. He healed 10 lepers and only one said thanks.”
“But that’s not fair!” I protested.
“’Fair’ will always disappoint you,” he said with a smile. “I decided a long time ago to focus on doing things because I like doing them, I’m good at doing at them and they help people. And the reward I get for that is enough for me.”
Don’t you hate it when someone is right?