March 16

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The Seduction of Justice

By Greg Baer

March 16, 2011

Workplace

Steven described how his boss had given him an assignment that was much bigger than the assignment given to a coworker. "It's just not fair!!" Steven said.

I have heard these words on many occasions, and rarely does the speaker understand the meaning of the word fair. "Does your boss pay you?" I asked.

"Yes."

"To do what?"

"My job."

"As defined by whom?"

"Well, I guess he defines what my job is."

"So does your boss have the right to give you an assignment he pays you for, even if it might be more work than an assignment he gives someone else?"

After some mumbling, Steven said, "I guess so."

"The word fair," I said, "is synonymous with the word just—as in justice—and they both describe a condition of impartiality and reasonableness, where behavior and consequences conform to an established and accepted code of rules. This could also be stated as a relative freedom from prejudice, favoritism, or chaos. The boss acted within the guidelines of your company, so it sounds like it was entirely fair."

"Well--"

"So you're not talking about true fairness. You just want things to go your way."

"Not really."

"Let's test that out. Do you ever go over the speed limit? Even a few miles an hour over?"

"Sometimes."

"Actually, I've driven with you, and you go over the speed limit all the time. When was the last speeding ticket you got?"

"About three years ago."

"So in the last three years I'm guessing that you've been over the speed limit hundreds--probably thousands--of times. And yet you haven't been ticketed. That sounds unfair to me."

"I never thought of that."

"Do you know any people who work harder than you do?"

"Sure, some. You probably work harder than I do."

"Again, according to your definition, how unfair. But when was the last time you complained that somebody else worked harder than you, or that you didn't get enough speeding tickets? Ever?"

"Not really, no."

"So what you want isn't true fairness, is it? You just want things to be easier for you."

Steven learned an important lesson that day about his selfishness, a lesson that could serve nearly all of us. When we feel sufficient Real Love in our lives, we don't worry about tiny "injustices." Rather, we're concerned about how we can be more truthful and more loving to others. Happiness comes from loving, not from an insistence on justice.

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