Monday, March 28, 2011

"Life is not fair. Get used to it." Worst. Advice. Ever.

"Life is not fair.  Get used to it."

I have always hated this piece of advice.  On the surface, it seems wise; let's face it, life is not fair for a hell of a lot of reasons.  There's never any guarantee that you'll actually earn the rewards you work for, or that you'll get them if you do earn them.  The right side, if there is one, doesn't always win.  There will always be people who will exploit other people, or who will kick you when you're down and do their worst to keep you there.  There will always be people who think the only way to climb to the top, or to stay at the top, is to hurt other people, take things away from them, block them off from a better life.  There will always be people who want to destroy any hope that other people, those they consider inferior to themselves, will ever have any kind of life worth living.

Life isn't fair.  But you know what?  That doesn't mean that it's got to stay so manifestly unjust.  It certainly doesn't mean that we have to just shut up and take it and accept defeat.  Think of what would've happened if workers had never stood up for their rights, if Black people had never asserted that they are equal in dignity and worth with people of all other races, if women hadn't demanded the vote or equal pay for equal work or the right to decide what happens to our own bodies, including our reproductive systems.  Think of the world we might have lived in if Hitler had just been permitted to take over whatever country he had his soldiers march into on the basis that "life isn't fair".  Think of all the people who live in poverty whose lives would be even worse than they are if they hadn't had access to the help they can get—at least, where such help is available.  Think of all the people who wouldn't ever have been educated if education had remained the exclusive province of the wealthy.  Think of all the people who still wouldn't be able to openly love the people they love just because they don't fit the heterosexual monogamous "norm".  Think of all the people who are still working to achieve the goal of being taken seriously as people, of not having the odds so blatantly stacked against them.  We don't live in a perfect world.  I don't think we ever will—or at least, I don't think we ever will live in a perfect world in my lifetime.  But you know what?  This world of ours would be even worse, even more screwed up, even more unfair, if everyone who's ever had to confront the world's unfairness had just shut up, kept their heads down and not ever done anything to try to change it.

We should never passively accept a bad deal.

"Life is not fair.  Get used to it."  This isn't good advice.  This is just about as far away from being good advice as you can possibly get.  It's a smug sneer at someone whom the speaker feels is vastly inferior to themselves, whether it's through social station, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion—or lack thereof—or (usually) age, or any combination of the above, with or without various other variables I haven't mentioned.  It's just another way of saying, "I got mine—screw you if you haven't got yours!"

While I'm under no illusions about the fairness of the world—I'd have to deny a substantial chunk of my life as it's been in the past five years if I were—that does not mean that I, or any other person who lives in this imperfect and unfair world, should have to simply accept it for what it is.  I refuse to get used to the unfairness of the world.  To do so would be to complacently accept that what I know is wrong is actually right, and to embrace the belief that only those who automatically benefit from the way the world is set up deserve to have dignity and a life worth living.  I can't do that.

But I can rewrite this piece of advice so that it becomes worth listening to and taking to heart.  All of us, from the most privileged to the least powerful, deserve to have a life that is meaningful and free of persecution.  All of us should be free to live in dignity, whatever our circumstances.  Getting used to the unfairness of life shouldn't even be on the table, if only because "get used to it" in this case actually means "do what you can to let it stay that way."  I don't believe we ought to let it stay that way.  And this is how I prefer to hear, and give, this advice:

"Life isn't fair.  So do something about it."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Good Point Often Repeated

If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.
—J. K. Rowling, through Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.
—Samuel Johnson, 
Boswell: Life of Johnson

The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.
—John Dalberg, Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity

...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
—Hubert H. Humphrey

A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.
—Mahatma Gandhi

Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
—Matthew 25: 40

How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
—1 John 3: 17-18

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How many times do we have to hear the same point, or even just similar ones, before the message actually sinks in?