Thursday, February 9, 2012

Teaching Children About "Fairness"

Life Isn’t Fair
By: Garrett R. Hall

Michael heard the familiar deep roar of his dad’s car as it accelerated up the curving driveway.  He dropped his ball and ran to the car with outstretched arms.  

“Daddy!” Michael yelled happily as his dad opened the car door.  

“Hey buddy!” Michael’s dad bent down and hugged him.

As father and son walked to the house, Michael asked his father, “Can Ben have a ride in your car sometime?”


As they reached the door, Michael stopped abruptly.  “Dad, why do you get to drive that fancy car?” 

“Because I bought it,” Michael’s dad replied. 

“But, why can’t Ben’s dad drive the same car?” 

“Well, I suppose he can drive the car, if he can afford it.”

“But Ben said his dad can’t afford it. He told me his dad doesn’t make enough money at his job.” 

“That may be true,” Michael’s dad said. “If it is, Ben’s dad could try to get a job that pays more or he could get a less fancy car.”

“That doesn’t seem fair,” Michael said. “Why should you get the car and not him?”

Sensing Michael wouldn’t be satisfied with simple answers, his dad paused and said, “let me change my clothes and then we will talk in the den, okay?”

Michael’s dad went to his room to change his clothes and ponder what he would say to his son.  He knew he had to be sensitive to the child’s concerns and questions about fairness, but he also knew he had to give his son a responsible explanation about some realities in life.  Not comfortable that he would strike the balance with sufficient grace and expertise, he knelt down and prayed for guidance.

Feeling reassured, he called Michael into his den.  “Michael,” he started.  “You asked me about fairness.  What do you think fairness means?” 

Michael looked around the room, determined to come up with the right answer.  “Fairness means that everybody gets a chance.” 

“That’s a good definition.  So, if ten men line up for a race and start on the same line and the fastest man wins the race, is that fair?” 

“I guess so.” 

“What if they race ten times and the same man wins every time?  Is that fair?” 

“Well, it doesn’t seem as fair.  The other guys should get to win too.”

“I see your point and it would be nice if everyone got to experience the thrill of breaking the ribbon as they crossed the finish line first.  But, our definition of fairness was that everyone would get an equal chance; not an equal result.”

“What if the fastest guy was just born with faster legs?  That doesn’t seem fair either.”

“You’re right; it doesn’t seem fair and I have no answer for that, except that maybe the other guys should work to get stronger legs and practice their running technique until they can get faster.  Or, they could accept that they weren’t blessed with the fastest legs and find something they’re better at.  Or, they could keep running and trying to improve on their best times.  We can find great happiness in working hard and improving our skills.  It doesn’t guarantee us any worldly victories, but getting better at something is a worthwhile skill unto itself.”

“But there aren’t any trophies for beating your best time,” Michael said in a discouraged voice. 

“If you’re doing something just for the trophy, then you are missing the main point.  Not that setting a goal and striving to win the trophy is a bad thing, because it isn’t.  We all need motivation to help us make the sacrifices necessary to improve.  But, the real reward is working hard, making sacrifices, and doing your best.  Other people may not see a trophy, but they will see your dedication and discipline.  The guy who won the trophy may not be the guy who worked the hardest, right?  The guy who worked the hardest may not ever get a trophy, which is why trophies are just metal objects that signify who crossed the finish line first.”

“I like trophies,” Michael replied.

“So do I,” Michael’s father said with a smile.  “You see that trophy on my desk?  My city-league basketball team won that trophy two years ago when we won the championship.  When I look at that trophy, I think of all the hard work and practice we put in the win it.  Do you know how many years I have played in that league?”


“Twelve years – even before you were born.  Do you see any other trophies on my desk?”


“That’s because we didn’t win any of the other years.  We have come in second place, third place, even last place.  We worked hard all those years, but for whatever reason we didn’t win.  We improved and we had fun, but we didn’t win.  That doesn’t mean those years weren’t important or valuable; it just means we didn’t win and I wouldn’t want a trophy if we didn’t win.  But, when we did finally win, it made receiving the trophy so much more valuable to us.  The trophy represents something more to me than just a golden basketball player on a mount.  It represents sacrifice, dedication, and admittedly some good fortune.”

“Dad…what does this have to do with Ben’s dad not getting a car like yours?”

“Good question.  I guess my point is that we are all blessed with different skills, talents and opportunities.  I was blessed tremendously and all that I have I owe to God for blessing me.  On top of those blessings, I have worked extremely hard, sacrificed and had some very good fortune.  For whatever reason, I have been able to use those talents and good fortune to make enough money to provide us with the things we need and to afford some things that we probably don’t need; like my car.  I don’t know Ben’s dad well, but he seems like a good man who works hard.  I don’t know why he can’t afford a car like mine, but it doesn’t mean he’s any less of a person than me.  It doesn’t make me better than him.  It just means I have the car and he doesn’t.”

“But it still doesn’t seem fair that he can’t have a car like yours.”

“Who says he can’t have a car like mine?  Those cars are at the car lot right now.  There are salespeople waiting there who would love to sell the same car to Ben’s dad.  Ben’s dad has the ability to make money and no one is saying he can’t buy the car – except maybe his wife.”  Michael’s dad chuckled to himself and then looked at his son.  “Don’t tell mom I said that.  Anyway, Ben’s dad has the freedom to buy the car; it sounds like he lacks the money.”

“Right.  So why should we get more money than them?”

“I don’t know, Michael.  There could be a thousand reasons and since we don’t know their situation, we can’t answer that.  But having extra money to spare is also a responsibility that I take very seriously.  Your mom and I do what we can to help those in need.  God doesn’t bless us with money so we can be greedy; he expects us to be generous.  Some of my greatest experiences in life have come from being in a position to and choosing to help those in need.  I don’t know why I have been so blessed, but it also has required sacrifices of our family.  I can tell you there have been a few Friday mornings when I have left for work and have seen Ben’s dad packing up the family car with camping gear.”

“Yeah, they like to go camping a lot.”

“I like to go camping a lot too.  Why shouldn’t I get to go camping as much as they do?  Is it fair that I have to go to work while they are off camping?”

“I don’t know.  That doesn’t seem fair either.”

“You’re right.  I think the point is that life isn’t fair – at least not when you look at it using money, or fast legs or camping frequency as a measuring stick.  These are imperfect comparisons and comparing ourselves to others is not a healthy way to go through life.  The best way to find happiness in your life is to work hard, have faith and be grateful for the things you have.  If you’re not grateful for the things you have, you’ll never be satisfied no matter how much stuff you get.    In the end, the car doesn’t matter and having more or less stuff than someone else doesn’t matter.  What matters is who you are and who you love.”

“So life isn’t fair?  That’s what you’re telling me?”

“Life isn’t the same for everyone; fairness depends on how you look at things.  Just because something isn’t the same for one person to the next doesn’t automatically make it unfair.  It is wise to worry less about fairness and worry more about being the best person you can be, being grateful for what you do have and helping those who are in need.”

“So, can we trade your car for some more camping trips?” Michael asked excitedly.

Michael’s father hugged him, then held him by the cheek and said, “We’ll see.”

Michael then bounded out of the room with the carelessness of youth, leaving his father alone in his den.  He sat quietly, staring out the window into the driveway.

“And here I thought I was teaching him…”

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