When I was a child, I insisted on a daily basis to my mother that things be absolutely, verifiably fair. As the oldest of two girls, two years apart, everything was divided in halves, shared and scrutinized to make sure that not one crumb of cake was uneven. We played games by the letter and received duplicate cassette tapes to circumvent the inevitable squabbling, but life is messy, and it doesn’t always divide into two. When such an occasion would arise, I would yell that it wasn’t fair, and my mother would reply: “Life isn’t fair.” As though that was supposed to make me feel better.
Despite being older, I was not as cunning as my sister, and she would usually end up with the bigger or better half of whatever I wanted, probably because she was willing to make arguments outside the rules that I so scrupulously followed. We would switch bedrooms each time we moved, and when it was her turn to pick, I would end up with a tiny space barely large enough to contain my twin-size bed. When it was my turn? She argued for, and got, a much larger converted office space that I had not thought to choose, because it didn’t have a closet and my mother said no.
Each time I was on the losing end of such a small slight, I would argue and whine, and each time my mother would let me know that life wasn’t fair. My reply? Life is never going to be fair unless we work to make it that way.
All these years later, it is still the core of every belief that I hold. Maybe life isn’t fair, and maybe it’s a little tedious to use a ruler to measure that slab of cake, but how will we know unless we try? Politics, religion, oppression – they may not ever be fair.
But they certainly won’t be fair unless people like us work to make them as fair as possible, all the time.
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