Almost anthem-like, and from my experience far more prevalent in Australia than in Asia, are protestations that life is NOT fair, accompanied by the metaphorical chest beating. In my own home, I have heard this very same turn of phrase – “But it’s NOT fair” – uttered not once, not twice but innumerable times, most often from my 8 year old, who uses it as a shield to deflect from my pointed questions about her performance at school.
Amanda is doing well enough but like most Asian parents, I always think she can do better. It especially annoys me when she proudly relates the sterling accomplishments of her best friends at school. As in, she’d say, “Did you know that Krishna came first in our maths pop quiz?”
No, I didn’t, but thanks for telling me. “And what about you?” I always ask. “Did you come come first in anything?”
“No,” she’d say with slumped shoulders. “But Mrs. X says I am her best drama student,” she’d say, her face brightening.
Being old-school when it comes to my kid, the news that she is best at drama does nothing to make me feel good about my parenting. After all, will being first at drama get Amanda anywhere? “What about reading? Who’s the best in your class at reading?”
“Lily,” she says, her shoulders back down. “It’s NOT fair, she’s almost at level 30.”
“But why is it NOT fair, Amanda? Lily reads hundreds of books. How many do you read?”
Lily single-handedly won their class an outing to the water park when they were in grade 1 by raising a couple of thousand dollars for the school through the P&C’ s annual readathon. I meant to enrol Amanda but forgot to submit the form.
“Not as many. TV is just more interesting,” she says, her shoulders now the same level as her waist.
“Then how can you expect to be as good as her? Would it be fair if you read half the books she did and was as good as her?”
“No, it wouldn’t,” she says quietly.
I’m pleased she can see the logic in expecting only what you put in. It’s a really simple equation but even many adults don’t get it. Take for instance this lady working at a boutique where I was attempting to get an exchange on something I bought because it didn’t fit me.
“It turns out I wear XS instead of S,” I said to her.
She looked at me contemptuously then said, “But it’s NOT fair! You’re a skinny minnie.”
Yes, I am relatively thin but I am that way because I watch what I eat, exercise and am constantly berated by my mother when I pile on a pound or ten. So what is the unfair part?
Similarly, people say to me, “Oh, you’re so lucky. Life’s NOT fair. You have a husband who provides you with everything. I have to slog for what I have.”
Yes, I do have a husband who provides me with a relatively comfortable life. Again, everything is relative. But are you around to see me eating bread and vegemite when everyone else is having their abalone and sharksfin, surrounded by family, for their Chinese New Year reunion dinners? Are you sitting with me in the dark, in the hospital parking lot, as I wait for hours on end for HRH to finish up on patients? So again, what is unfair about this?
I don’t look at my corporate warrior friends and say, “Gee, life is unfair, don’t they have it all?” because life is fair and they don’t have it all. No one does. The Stay-At-Home Mums (SAHM) envy The Full-Time-Working Mums (FTWM) for being able to socialise with other adults and drawing monthly incomes. The FTWM envy the SAHM for the extra time they have with their kids – the leisurely drops offs and pick ups, being able to take care of the littlies when they are sick. Single folks of a certain age envy their married peers, whilst married folks, trying to juggle a partner, work, kids and in-laws, envy the freedom and lack of compromise of their single peers. Some of us have more than others, that’s true, but no one has absolutely everything: not youth and money, or youth, time and money, or any other truly enviable combination.
“What about the rockstars or the Oscar winners?” you ask. “Or the Prime Minister? Don’t they have it all?”
I put it to you hypothetically: if life is truly unfair and they get handed all their lucky breaks on a plate, why is it they still have marital breakdowns, physical breakdowns, jump off a bridge or what have you?
“But what about those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths? As in born rich and beautiful?” you ask.
Go ask them how much time they got to spend with their fathers or mothers or whoever was providing them with that silver spoon. Unless you shop at Salvo stores, silver spoons don’t come cheap, which just goes to show you that life is fair. No one has everything. As for beauty, apart from it being in the eye of the beholder, your mum or dad could have chosen to mate to anyone they wanted, so who are you to complain about not being Miss Universe?
We only think life is unfair because we don’t know the FULL STORY on everyone else’s lives. If we did, then the collective moaning and groaning would give way to a chorus of gratitude for the gifts and life we’ve been given. Of that I’m most certain.