Fairness is a moral value shared universally. We all have an idea of what is fair and what is not. But do some situations make it more difficult to decide what is precisely fair?
The Last Cookie
The story is all too familiar: There are two siblings and one cookie left. Who gets the last cookie? One says that the cookie should be split in half and shared equally. The other sibling helped mom make the cookies and believes they earned the cookie. Who gets the last cookie?
Two Types of Fairness
Knowing what is fair is not too difficult to figure out. The struggle is distinguishing between different types of fairness. One type is fairness of equality and the other is fairness of merit. Fairness of equality would be the cookie getting split into equal pieces and passed around. Fairness of merit would mean that the child who helped the mom would get the cookie because they earned it.
Trouble occurs when we fail to distinguish and define the type of fairness for a given situation. In a college classroom, students were arguing over how the government should redistribute income to members of society. The words, “That’s not fair” began to enter into the conversation. The professor asked the class if it would be fair to take the points of the hard working students and pass them out to the all the other students who didn’t study hard. The class unanimously said that was not good. The professor was making a point of the different types of fairness. Those who work hard and earn their success ought to be rewarded. Taking earned success in the name of fairness of equality crosses the bounds of what is ethical.
“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.” -Aristotle
As disciples of Christ, we always need perspective. At the heart of it all, Christ dying on the cross for his people was an act of freedom and not coercion. When I am tempted to think, “That’s not fair!” I remind myself of what is truly fair. The Lord sending me to hell is what is fair and just.
While we work through life, we can strive to act just and to bring about what is fair. By not mixing the two different types of fairness, we are closer to freedom for all and the pursuit of happiness.
For Further Discussion:
The Unfairness of Equal Outcomes on F.E.E.