It is from a place of privilege that we hold on to the belief that life is fair. People who are not in a place of privilege cannot tell themselves that lie with any hope of convincing themselves it is true. But from a place of privilege we continue to trumpet the mistaken belief that life is somehow fair. We lie to ourselves in many ways about this. Some of the most common include:
1. Well, everyone goes through good times and everyone goes through bad times. It all evens out.
No. No, it doesn't all even out. There are people I know who lead truly charmed lives. I can think of one man in particular - white, heterosexual, extremely good looking, gifted musically, athletically, intellectually. He married another charmed life and together they have children who are all also gifted in terms of being athletic, musical, smart. I asked him straight out once - "have you ever gone through a difficult time? Have you ever really struggled with anything?" Well, no, not really. He was given their house which is huge and sits on five acres of land. Not that he needed that gift since he is successful in his career as well. He has been given amazing opportunities for no other reasons than that he is likeable, good looking (yes, that does make a difference in how people treat you!), and just has always been at the right place at the right time. Things just fall into his lap. They always have.
In contrast I met someone yesterday who grew up in the projects. There wasn't money for shoes, let alone for the equipment needed to succeed in school. School wasn't the priority anyway. Surviving was the priority. He works now for minimum wage, which is not a living wage in CA. At $10 an hour, he cannot possible afford any kind of housing out here. So, he works two full time jobs meaning that he works 4 times as hard as the CEOs of the company he is serving but is paid 1/350th what the "boss" makes. He cannot possibly raise himself out of this hole because he spends every waking minute working. There is no way to get further education, there is no way to get out of his own situation. He has survived family members being shot by random shootings and gangs. He has survived imprisonment for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He still can't afford to live here, even with two jobs, so he slips from bridge to bridge, from street to street, occasionally being able to stay in a shelter or with a friend. From this place, though, of recognizing that life is not fair, he was able to tell me how much better off he is than those in war torn countries, than the refugees fleeing their homes, than those experiencing torture or rape. Life isn't fair. He knows this. And all he can do is tell his story and work towards change that will make it "more" fair.
2. Karma tells us you reap what you sow. So those who are struggling deserve it and will have better things come to them as they live better lives.
Again, I don't see this playing out in real life. Those who were born into poverty, war torn countries, into violent households or violent political situations haven't somehow 'deserved' it, unless you believe they messed up in a previous life and are therefore reaping the punishment from a past life. This sounds to me, again, like a very fancy way for privileged folk to feel okay about the many good things they celebrate while not worrying too much about the fact that so many others are struggling. If it's their own fault then there is nothing I need to do about it. If it's just 'karma' then I would be irresponsible to interfere with what the universe has handed out to them.
No. I can't buy this. We've been given a world to make "right" and to make "fair". We are simply doing a horrible job of bringing that about.
Life isn't fair. But we are given all the tools to make it work for everyone. Making it work for everyone has to start with the acknowledgement that life ISN'T fair. We have to start by seeing that reality for what it is. Only by first seeing that the inequalities all around us, the struggles, the suffering of others are not because they deserve it, not because of karma, not because of Divine providence; only with that vision, that insight can we start to own our part. Our part is that those with privilege, those whose suffering is "less" are called to ease the suffering of others - not just through charity, but through systemic change. We've set up a world where some are winners and some are losers. This isn't what God wants or envisions. Divine imagination is abundant, and the world we've been given is full of abundance as well - enough for all, if we only work to make that reality. God has given it to us to make right and God won't just "fix" it for us. We have responsibility in this. We've been given a call, a job, to help. That has to start with seeing, but seeing is not enough. Life isn't fair. But we have the tools to make it more so. If only we would step into that call.