Is Life Fair?

There are several clichés that suggest that if you simply apply yourself, things will work out in the end. Determination, hard work, and a little bit of confidence will lead to a positive outcome. The universe is a fair place.

The early bird gets the worm. Life is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. All in a day’s work. Luck is the residue of hard work and design.

Believing in these sayings would imply that the universe is a fair place. Good behavior will be rewarded, while bad behavior will be punished.

But is that true? There are instances where bad behavior is rewarded, and when good behavior is punished. History is filled with examples of violence, exploitation, bigotry, and greed. There are many historical (and current!) figures that have benefited from unethical behavior.

Of course, there are also many examples of people who have acted in the common good. There are also plenty of people who have been rewarded, both financially as well as with public adoration, for hard work or generosity.

So instead of a fair, just universe, wouldn’t that suggest that life is largely luck? Good and bad things can happen to good and bad people. Life is a series of random events, and trying to predict what will happen in the future is tremendously difficult.

Or maybe the universe does indeed reward grit and determination. Not in every single case, surely, but perhaps as a general rule. Clichés become clichés for a reason — they may very well be good rules to follow.

Or to ask a simple question: Is life fair?

Related questions: Is it a cruel world? How has luck shaped your life? Is it fair to judge the past with morals of today?


3 thoughts on “Is Life Fair?”

  1. Imagine you are a not-yet-born soul looking down on a world with its societal rules not yet determined. Now imagine you had the opportunity to determine those rules, but you also had no idea where or to whom you’d be born.

    How would you structure society to be the fairest place possible, a place where you had the greatest likelihood of a decent life?

    This is an extremely dumbed down and non-jargony version of philosopher John Rawls thought experiment, used to determine how we (you) could make society the fairest place possible.

    I think it obvious to say today’s world is not a fair place. If your life’s dice were to be thrown again, you’d likely be born into poverty in a society with conditions not prone to material or social advancement. Would you think it fair that one nation — not yours, let’s say — had 5% of the world’s population, yet consumed 25% of its resources? Or let’s say you were born in that country — yes, the United States — but you were born into the bottom quintile with little material or social mobility possible. Would you think that fair? Would you think it fair that the top one percent of households owned more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined? Would that be the world you’d design?

    Here’s the deal. While the world and life are not fair, we do have the ability to make it more fair. We can take action to promote leaders who and rules that advance equity. We can play a role in dismantling -isms in all their unfair forms.

    The choice is yours. While you could not design the rules of the world you were born into, you can play a role in building the world as you’d want it to be.

  2. No, life isn’t fair, but that brings up other questions. Is it supposed to be? Is our perception of fairness reasonable, or is it skewed? Thoughts?

  3. This was my father’s constant refrain when I was a teenager and felt unjustly treated: “Life’s not fair!”

    I didn’t want to hear it. He was right, though. Part of being an adult is that you recognize it, and move on.

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