04 January 2014

Thinking About Fair

Here in America, and very likely in other places, there seems to be a really big push that all things be equal - everything should be fair.

This sounds good on the surface but there is an underlying problem... people are in constant disagreement as to what fair and equal mean. As a result, the attempts to make things fair and equal become hot moral and political topics.

Now, let me say that this post is not meant to share my side of a particular issue but to simply talk about the concepts of fair and equal.

What Does Equal Look Like?

Over time, I have seen a number of images that adress the ideas of fair and equal in some way or another. Here are a couple that I thought resonated with me.

So... same resources or same results? Which is fair?

At some point in recent history you may have seen the words equality and equity thrown around in the media. I like this graphic because I think it accurately depicts how both sides of our issues are thinking.

Both sides attempt to provide an aspect of "SAME" for the boys.

On one side it might be said that this is fair - all the boys have a box.
On the other side it might be said that this is fair - all the boys can see the game

Now - I have three boys myself and I am able to envision the complaints in either scenario.
On the left, my little guy is going to complain at the top of his lungs that he cannot see.
On the right, my big guy is going to complain at the top of his lungs that he doesn't have a box and he wants one too.

Some knowledge of the bigger picture can help to narrow down the idea of what is fair and equal.

Here is another graphic that I like.

How does context change the concept of fair?

I appreciate the humor of the cartoon but it highlights a very real situation in American culture. I believe this cartoon was originally pointed at education but I think it applies to other issues of equal and fair as well. How do we determine fair without knowledge of the bigger picture?

Some Reflection

I cannot help but think about how the ideas of same, fair, equal, equity, and equality all overlap and conflict at the same time depending on how you look at the issue.

Are these differences OK in some cases? What if the man in the second graphic was interviewing for a position that requires the hired animal to climb trees as a function of the job? At this point perhaps, it would seem a reasonable performance based request. In the end, the best animal for the job will win out. What I also recognize here is that the animals are not equal themselves - they are all very different and unique in their own way. They have different abilities.

Webster's Dictionary defines the words this way:

  • Equality - the quality or state of being equal : the quality or state of having the same rights, social status, etc.
  • Equity - fairness or justice in the way people are treated
  • Fair - agreeing with what is thought to be right or acceptable - treating people in a way that does not favor some over others - not too harsh or critical

Starting with the idea of fair - by definition, fair is an agreement with what is thought to be right or acceptable. Oh dear! Can you see a problem here already? Thoughts are not always the same among groups of people. Fairness ties into the definition of equity and equality deals with things being the same in some way but we already have seen that arguments occur over what aspect of "same" in a given situation constitutes fair.

UGH - I think my head is spinning.

God's Word - Same For All

Enter the Bible. The Word applies to all people equally. We are told that all people have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the punishment is the same regardless of the sin and that punishment is death. (Romans 6:23)
For God, all sin is the same. The ranking of sin is a human construct. Stealing a candy bar vs the rape and murder of someone are both sin. 

I would guess that few would argue in favor of the death penalty for both the crimes - wouldn't be fair, right?

But wait! We have Jesus! He died for all sins. He paid the price for us. He paid the price for the thief and the killer. Same gift for everyone! We all have the same opportunity to accept that gift. 
Some would argue that this is not fair either. Why should the killer get the same gift as the candy bar thief? That's not fair! The killer's crime was worse! ARRRGH!

Seems like a vicious circle. This is a struggle because we apply our human knowledge and understanding to divine concepts. Good thing that God is able to see the bigger picture - nay - the WHOLE picture. 

Where do you draw the line between fair and equal then? 
My thought is that - you don't. God has already drawn that line. 
Humans should stop trying to redraw the lines and rewrite the definitions in ways that work for them.

God gives the same for all...

  1. Same punishment
  2. Same gift
  3. Same choice
...even though everyone doesn't walk away with the same thing...
Looking for the Big Deal?

Which door will you pick?
I hope this helps you to think about fair and equal a little differently. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Have an awesome day!

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