We have been taught through both subtle and explicit messages, that life is fair–if we are “good” then if follows, only good things would happen to us. Our first introductions to this concept began early in life with fairytales – the “good” girl always comes out a winner. Cinderella and Snow White overcame incredible obstacles through their goodness and then they lived “happily ever after”. As little girls, we listened to these stories over and over again with rapt attention. Time and time again, we were taught that goodness, loyalty, virtue, and honesty are rewarded.
Beyond the fairy tales, references that reinforce this philosophy abound. Consider Santa Claus’s clairvoyance; he knows when we are “naughty or nice” or the idea of “What goes around, comes around”. These are just two examples of how the culture reinforces this belief system. We cannot escape a barrage of messages as our culture is filled with slogans, lessons, parables, fables: If you do good things, then good things will happen to you.
But then somewhere along our life journey, we are run straight into a major obstacle and it knocks up to our knees. The belief system ingrained from our childhood does nothing to prepare us for the hardships and disappointments of life. We are stunned. “I don’t deserve this” we lament. Our suffering is exacerbated by the deep shock that what we always believed in has betrayed us. Now, not only are we dealing with a major life crisis, on top of that, we are left wondering what we did wrong.
Here’s the conundrum; if we believe life is fair, then it follows that we must somehow deserve or be responsible for this terrible experience. On the other hand, if we give up the belief system, then how do we proceed? What can we believe in? If we thought our “goodness” offered “insurance” from bad things happening, then we may feel as if now we move forward unprotected.
Recognizing that life is not fair can help you see your experiences in a more realistic way. There can be great freedom in accepting that you are not in control of the universe. You may not see how “fairness” is connected to control, but when you link together your “goodness” as insurance for the outcome you desire, then you are assuming you can manipulate or at least “manage” the outcome. You may have been a great wife and your marriage still may have collapsed or you may have been incredible at your job and passed over for a promotion or you may have been a wonderful mom and your child now struggles with addiction. The wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous teaches us that when we let go of our need to control, we often find life is freer and easier. As one wise person in recovery once told me, “It was arrogant for me to think I control everything. I am not that powerful! What a relief to let go of the responsibility for everybody and everything! Now I do the best I can and I let the rest go!”
Things do go wrong. Sometimes, they go very, very wrong. However, life is neither fair, nor unfair. Life just is. To quote Rabbi Kushner, “Sometimes bad things happen to good people.” If you keep thinking life is fair, then every time something bad happens, your belief system will lead you to the conclusion that you had it coming. And no one ever, ever “deserves” to feel that.
The lesson is simply this: Do your best, because it feels good not because it “insulates you from bad things happening.” Be mindful that the outcome is often beyond your control. Then shift your focus away from anxiety producing thoughts and refocus them on gratitude for all that is joyful and good in your life.
“I’m not afraid of storms for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”
~Louisa May Alcott~
Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice and is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback. Click here to purchase.