Years ago, I remember being at a training when Gary described the word “fair” as the “F” word. I have repeated that truism countless times since.
Everyone wants to be treated fairly and almost everyone wants to be seen as having been fair in the treatment of others. The problem is that people can’t agree what fair means. And when they can’t agree, they spend much time and effort trying to convince the other that “it’s only fair”.
Ironically, in the English language the word “fair” means according to the relative merits of each or consistent with rules and logic. However, it also means moderately good or satisfactory.
We all often heard a favorite adage among lawyers that a “fair agreement” is one that all parties are equally unhappy about and yet sometimes, people are willing to tolerate a tremendous amount of pain in order to avoid doing something that feels unfair. I have often been pushed by Collaborative clients who are anxious to be done with their divorce negotiations to “get it done”. Those people feel tremendous pressure to be out of the conflict and yet they will not often agree to a term that doesn’t feel fair even if they could easily afford to do so.
Children often complain to their parents that “it’s not fair” and parents tell them time and time again that life isn’t fair. We all know this to be true and yet we struggle with the desire to strive for fairness. “Fairness” is a seductress and yet clinging to righteousness can be very dangerous.
It’s important to focus on what is important to each person and not on a comparison between the two. Focusing too much on the comparison—fairness—can lead to longstanding bitterness and unhappiness.