Fairness

‘It isn’t fair!’ How often do we hear that? As children, it was one of the chief complaints we hurled at adults. As adults, it is one of the chief complaints we hurl at politicians, corporations or anyone or anything we perceive as outraging our sense of justice and fair play. Or rather, at anyone or anything we perceive as not behaving as we think they should. There is a difference. By fairness we often mean equality and are surprised when the mismatch between the two leads to confusion.

In RB 34, which we read today, Benedict tackles the difficult question of distribution of goods in community. You might think he would say everyone should have the same; but he doesn’t. He adheres to the biblical notion of distribution according to need (cf. Acts 4.35). That immediately sets a cat among the monastic pigeons, because it implies that equality is less important than discerning and meeting the needs of individual members of the group. This apparent inequality is actually the way in which fairness is best served, for it ensures that no one has any legitimate cause to grumble.

I think we can apply this to several of the big questions being debated in Britain today. From bankers’ bonuses to gay marriage, a concentration on equality may blind us to larger questions. Fairness demands that we be just, irrespective of our personal opinions or preferences. It demands that we consider the needs of the group as well as of the individual. Above all, it demands that we be prepared to accept that others may see us as unfair even as we are trying our hardest to be fair. That’s not fair, of course, but isn’t that the point?

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8 thoughts on “Fairness”

  1. It is an interesting point that others may see us as unfair even when we are trying our hardest to be fair. However, a community individually and collectively considering the needs of the group against the individuals on their own does really help ensure that more just solutions emerge. This seems to me to be one example of St Benedict’s wisdom.

  2. “That immediately sets a cat among the monastic pigeons”

    As long as it doesn’t set Bro Duncan amongst the nuns… Oh dear. It’s been a tiring day. Sorry – couldn’t resist!

  3. Fairness demands that we be just, irrespective of our personal opinions or preferences.
    I agree with that. It cuts both ways whether you have opinions based around your belief in and preference for human rights or your belief in and preference for a religious system/ doctrine. It does also follows that just as we may be trying to be fair, but must accept that others will judge us as unfair, so we must, if we are fair, accept they may have a fair point for their view that we are “unfair”.
    We benefit enormously if we accept that our own lives will not always “be fair”, at the same time we must strive to treat others fairly. In short, a lot of giving and feeling for others is required to live in peace with all as far as is possible 🙂

    • Indeed, Sue. The question of fairness is complex and made more so by our tendency not to think things through at times. That said, we can all learn from the instinctive feeling for fairness that many children have. I wonder why we lose it as we grow older?

  4. I find this post very entertaining.
    So many of us really need nothing when many more need a lot. I wish we had the courage to face this facet of your Rule. It would make a much better world 🙂

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