In the movie “The Lion King” Simba’s uncle Scar famously sneers the line, “Life’s not fair, is it.” As parents we’ve had opportunity to quote Scar many times over the years, complete with our best imitation of Jeremy Iron’s voice, because it turns out he was right. Life just isn’t fair a lot of the time. Justice may be blindfolded in all those statues of her holding the scales, but there are times when it’s pretty hard to believe that she isn’t peeking. Especially when you’re a kid.
Kids are born accountants. They can tell you exactly how well their side of the balance sheet matches up with that of another kid (especially their brother). Often the resulting squabbles have to do with possessions, like whose turn it is to play with a particular toy. At other times the issue is privilege, like who gets to ride up front in the car, or who gets the “good” couch during a TV show. We tried to let the boys work through most of these situations by themselves, on the theory that mommy and daddy weren’t always going to be around to mediate for them in life, but there were times when a bit of parental intervention was the best solution.
Once our boys were old enough to care, I made a rule that the oldest kid in the car always got to ride up front. There wasn’t anything fair about that. They didn’t choose their birth order, nor did the oldest do anything to merit the privilege. I just imposed the rule because I didn’t want to deal with all the skinned knees and arguments that resulted when they raced to the car every time we went somewhere. As it happened the rule had the side benefit of putting the smaller kids in the back seat where they were safer anyway, but my true motivation was that I just didn’t want to deal with them arguing about it all the time. Of course, removing the “front seat” prize for being the first to the car didn’t necessarily keep them from racing through the parking lot either.
Parental intervention doesn’t always end like we thought it would.
One morning the boys were bickering about whose turn it was to get the “good” couch while they watched TV. Their respective claims weren’t getting them anywhere with each other, so they finally appealed to Karen for a ruling. It’s important to note here that we were not above exaggerating things for dramatic effect in our parenting. On more than one occasion I could be heard telling the boys that if they didn’t stop whatever they were doing I was going to rip off their arms and beat them with the bloody stubs. This declaration was so over-the-top that it usually had the desired effect of stopping them in their tracks and reducing them to peals of laughter. So when Karen responded to the boys by declaring that the good couch would go to “whoever could hit the hardest” she had every reason to believe they would respond in the same way.
They didn’t. They took her seriously.
When it was over, Tucker was crying, Gerrit looked victorious, and Karen was horrified. It was a pretty good bet that the “Mother of the Year” prize would be going to someone else that year.
As she brought the situation back under control, Karen found that Tucker wasn’t hurt at all, but was crying because he had lost the couch to Gerrit. It had been a fair (though unintended) contest, and he knew he had lost. Sometimes fairness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
It’s hard to blame our kids for appealing to a sense of fairness. Even as adults we tend to measure our lot in life against what we see happening to other folks we know, or to other people who have what we want. Our sample size is small, so the unfairness often seems great by comparison. When it’s just you and your brother vying for the one good couch and only one of you can win, losing seems vastly unfair. Or when we see the neighbors driving a brand new car while we sit at home waiting for the shop to call to give us a verdict on what it’s going to cost to fix our outdated clunker (again), the scales just seem unfairly weighted against us.
But when we start to compare our situation to a larger group of people, the unfairness of life can take an uncomfortable turn. There’s no doubt that trying to stretch an older car for a few more years can be a frustrating proposition, but for most of us it’s a choice. We’re trying to be good stewards by setting aside our desires for a new car and making do with what we have. But there are many people who have no car at all, or who can’t afford the repairs they need on the vehicle they use for their livelihood. There are people who desperately want to work but can’t find jobs…people who have every reason to view our ability to pay someone to fix a car as totally unfair.
And while we wait for the mechanic to call in the peace and safety of our home there are people who have to leave their homes because of war and famine. People who don’t know for sure if they’re going to eat today. People whose only source of water to drink is shared by wild animals, alive and dead.
No. Life isn’t fair.
For whatever reason, we in America have been born into enormous blessings while millions of people around the world are born into abject poverty. It’s not fair. Our kids didn’t do any more to deserve their lot in life than did the kids in Haiti or Ethiopia, or a hundred other places around the world. It isn’t fair…but what can we really do? It was drought and famine and corruption that caused these problems, so how can one person really make any difference?
Well, we can start by making a difference to one person. Just one.
Sponsoring a child through Compassion changes a life. A child’s life. For about what it costs to do an oil change in the old clunker you can provide a child with food, medical attention, education, and a chance.
Or for a little more you can provide a simple filtration system to give folks clean water.
Click on one of the links. Change some lives.
Whoever sponsors the most kids gets to ride in the front seat! :-)
originally published 12/5/11| next post Wonder