Fair is an Opportunity, Not an Outcome

'Fair' is an Opportunity, Not an Outcome

'Fair' is an Opportunity, Not an Outcome

On a recent sunny morning I took my son, one of his pals, and two fresh donuts to a playground. As Pal lifted his for the first bite he dropped it in the dirt. He wasn't into either the 5 second rule or my son's offer to share his un-dropped donut, so he looked on dejectedly as my son enjoyed his treat.

Hey Mom, Son whispered. To make it fair, can we go get him another donut? I replied that they were due at camp in a little while and we didn't have time for another donut run. To make it fair. Hmm.

To me, fairness lies in the opportunity. Fair means having equal opportunity to observe or experience or achieve. What we do with opportunity is up to us. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes it's brutally difficult. But we decide to do or not do. It's not about fairness.

To my young son, fairness is an outcome. Fair means ending up equal, everything's even when the dust settles. Regardless of effort or decisions made along the way, everyone nets out the same. That's fair.

That night I asked my son why he thought the situation was unfair. Because I had a donut and he didn't.

But he did have a donut. He started out with a donut just like you did. Yes, but he dropped his and I didn't. And it wasn't fair to him because then he didn't have a treat.

Could he have chosen to clean his donut off and eat the part that didn't touch the ground? I guess so, but he thought that was gross.

OK. But it was an option. Maybe not a great option, but one he could have chosen. And didn't you offer to share your donut with him? Yes, but his was chocolate and mine was vanilla, and he didn't want vanilla. He wanted chocolate.

OK, so he chose to reject half of a vanilla donut because he wanted a whole chocolate one. That's a valid choice, and it was his to make. Nothing wrong with that. But it doesn't make it unfair that he ended up without any donut. I see what you mean, but... I felt bad for him.

Of course you did. I'd be disappointed if you didn't. But that doesn't mean it was unfair. It was unfortunate, and he was sad, but it wasn't unfair. You had the same opportunity and you handled it differently, so you had different outcomes. That's not fair or unfair. That's life.