One of the top-ten all-time favorite ways people make themselves unhappy is by believing the world should be fair. Here is how to stop yourself falling victim to this damaging fallacy.
Fairness: a deeply ingrained cognitive distortion
The concept of fairness has to be one of the most damaging cognitive distortions in history. The world is not fair; it isn’t now, never has been, and never will be. It is just how it is. We are living proof of this. Our distant primate ancestors were smarter and luckier than their nieche competetors. We survived and they didn’t. Not very fair for all the other pro-humans that didn’t make it. But here we are. Again, it is what it is.
“Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” – Dennis Wholey
Some people will always get the biggest slice of pizza.
Applied to human affairs the concept of fairness insists that everyone should be given the same odds for achieving success. But history tells us that life has never been anywhere close to being fair. Some people are more “gifted” than others and will end up with a bigger slice of pizza. It is just how it is.
This idea is nicely illustrated by the following commentary
In the US at one stage there was a public outcry that various mental tests used for education opportunities or employment were “unfair” to many individuals or groups. David Riesman, an author and commentator on American society wisely observed that “The tests are not unfair. LIFE is unfair and the tests measure the results.”
Buying into the fallacy of fairness causes a world of pain
When we personally buy into the fallacy of fairness it not only leaves us open to a world of pain it also dimishes our ability to take responsitily for our lives and the motivation to take the action.
The thing is that the habit of thinking the world should be fair is deeply ingrained and our response to percievd unfariness will usually by quite unconscious. Thus, to deal with this cognitive distortion we need to be very conscious in how we attempt to deal with it.
What follows is one way you can train yourself to let go of your buy-in to the fallacy of fairness.
Check out this graphic from Brendan Kalinins
The fallacy of fairness hack
- Notice when you are reacting to a situation you perceive as “unfair”.
- Tell yourself something like: “[your name] you seem to be really [insert emotion] about this situation you believe is unfair”
- Step outside of yourself and observe the feelings unfold in your neurophysiology.
- Note to yourself: “ [your name] your insistence that the world should be fair is causing you to suffer”
- Challenge the fallacy of fairness: “Who said the world has to be fair – it is as it is.”
- Move on
“Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.” – Oscar Wilde
Why it works
When you observe your feelings, rather than getting caught up in them, it gives you some distance from the situation you deem unfair. It gives you the space to see that your belief in the fallacy of fairness just causes a bunch of pain. When you connect pain with this belief structure you are will end up dumping the belief and embracing acceptance as an alternative.