What is Fair?

So the other day a friend posted this link on Facebook and I thought it was really interesting.  It was a talk about some of the differences between liberals and conservatives, and one of the differences was what value each group places on fairness.
I was telling John about the video in the car on the way to Teddy’s football game and we got into a discussion about fairness.  We concluded that fairness is a particularly difficult standard to apply because it is frequently  subjective.   Any two people can both claim to prize fairness highly and yet disagree completely on a course of action.  I offered this example:  one person may argue that the very rich have no obligation to support the very poor through charity or taxes. He might assert that people who work hard for their money have a right to keep all they earn.  If others don’t work hard enough, it is only fair that they don’t have as much.  Another person might argue that it is only fair, with such abundance available, that those who have should contribute to the welfare of those who have not; it is just that everyone should at least have enough to eat and a place to live.
Both positions claim to be fair.  Both sides have good arguments.  So what do you do with that?
Kids are notoriously consumed with a desire for fairness.  Nothing makes them angrier than to be told, “Life’s not fair.”  That’s one of John’s favorite things to say, and I always counter with, “But WE have to try to be.”  What happens when what I think is fair is not what my kids think is fair?  Already they have very different concepts of fairness.  Given the above example at the dinner table last night, Jake (16) assumed the liberal argument and Teddy (15) the conservative one.  Neither would even admit there was any validity to the other’s position.  “He’s just wrong,” they both said.
Perhaps fairness isn’t the best guide to decision making.   We are all lucky, aren’t we, that God doesn’t base His decisions on fairness!  It wasn’t fair that the latecomers to the vineyard got a full day’s pay, was it?  It wasn’t fair that the Prodigal Son got a robe and a ring and a calf and a party–at least his brother didn’t think so!
Maybe we should be concerned less about what is fair than about what is right.  We’ve heard it so often that it’s just words, and trite words at that, but asking what Jesus would do in a given situation isn’t a bad way to approach decision making, if you are serious about really following Him.

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  1. Leah says:

    What happens when we disagree about what we think Jesus would have done? (I ask that sincerely.) I think liberals would tell you that Jesus would do X, while conservatives would tell you that Jesus would do Y. And we find ourselves back where we started.
    This post makes me think of that song, “You can’t always get what you want.” I used to hate that song when my parents used to start singing it. But now I love it.

    • lesliesholly says:

      I guess there might be incidents where people would disagree on what Jesus would have done. Honestly, I never really thought of that. Because it seems so obvious to me what Jesus would do in any given situation. I’ll have to test that out different people and see how they respond. But somehow I just can’t imagine Jesus telling a poor person, “Sorry, you should have worked harder, no food for you!” 🙂 Did your parents sing that song to you when you complained about fairness as a child? My son’s kindergarten teacher always said to them: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!” Leslie Sholly “Take time just to be. Remember, you are a human being, not a human doing.” http://www.lesliesholly.wordpress.com

  2. Leah says:

    Haha. No, of course Jesus wouldn’t say “Sorry, you should have worked harder, no food for you!” But I can imagine there are people who would argue that Jesus provides for those who help themselves (read: work) and that he never would have approved of government redistribution of wealth. Yes, it’s good to help your neighbor, but the government shouldn’t get involved. So they believe that we should leave inequality to individuals to address. When we start arguing about how Jesus would see government policy we’re headed for trouble 🙂
    And, oh yes, my parents would sing. As soon as someone whined “that’s not fair!”

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