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Letter From the Co-CEO Lynette Lim "It’s not Fair!"

By Lynette Lim


Linger around a playground for more than five minutes, and you will hear the universal cry of these three words: “It’s not fair!”  As a parent I would rather hear any other cry than this.  A cry for help, a cry when she is hurt, a cry when she is afraid and needs comforting.  But this cry creates an infuriating knee jerk reaction of guilt quickly turned into anger because there is an insinuation of blame.  There is blame from the child that you have created or allowed a situation in this child’s life in which she deemed it as unfair.  And the instinctive response is to defend yourself why you are a good parent.


In this game of blame and defend, what usually happens are two outcomes.  The first outcome is the parent or adult in the playground assesses the situation and decides it is indeed not fair, and thus then makes a godlike decision to take the other toy/game/phone privilege from the other child.  The second outcome is that the adult decides it is not unfair, and so tries to reason with the child why it was not really that unfair.


Both consequences are unpleasant to say the least.  The first method will placate the first child, but will invariably create another unhappy child or children who now have less, and the chain effect syndrome of “It’s not fair” will start again.  The second way of trying to reason with the child why it is fair, while the child has gotten his way of getting attention, makes him cry more and then the parent does the desperate unthinkable to shut him up, which is to bribe the child with an even “BIGGER” present, thus spoiling the child and teaching them that they can get anything they want if they yell hard enough and loud enough.


My most recent “It’s not fair” incident happened during my annual trip back to Singapore when the matriarch of the family my Grandma gave $100 to two of her great grand kids and $50 to the other two grand kids.  One of them was quick to notice the disparity and thus started the howling cry that “It’s not fair!”  It quickly became a full-blown meltdown.

My dear wise mother did neither of the two possibilities.  Instead she went on an almost poetic rant of why life was unfair.  Was life supposed to be fair in the first place?  Was it fair that we had to listen to his crying?  Was it fair that he had spoiled the peace?  Was it fair that he had so many toys while many had less?  Was it fair that the younger baby cousin couldn’t come with us?  Life is never fair!


While I mull over this incident with these three words still ringing in my ears, I started to I realize that “It’s not fair” disease is prevalent in adults too.  It’s just that we say it with more words. 


I see “It’s not fair!” when employees are unhappy about their salary or bonuses.  I see “it’s not fair!” when parents protest against CPS’s (Chicago Public School) plans to convert my son’s school to a high school.  I see “It’s not fair!” when a customer loses money trading and decides to sue the financial institution for malpractice.


Trace further back into biblical history, and you will see the world’s first example of “It’s not fair” when Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, decided to kill his brother Abel because he perceived that God had favored Abel’s offering over his.


So what can we do to stop this disease overtaking our lives?  The answer to this is counterintuitive. There is a Chinese saying that says “to heal pain you need to inflict more pain.”  The book Option B by Sheryl Sanberg and Adam Grant offers insight into this.  Sheryl wrote this book in response after her husband Dave died of a heart attack suddenly, and she had to deal with grief, anger and “It’s not fair!”  Her friend Adam Grant, who is also a psychologist, told her in days of despair instead of finding positive thoughts, to think of worse things that could happen.  It is kind of turning on its head human’s need to compare oneself to others.  If you are comparing what’s better, why not compare what’s worse, and  also what could be even worse than yourself?


Sheryl thought he was crazy but as she realized that things could have been much worse.  Her children could have been with her husband while driving.  Then she could have lost all three of them.  She immediately felt a sense of gratitude, and that gratitude overcame some of the grief.


So the next time life throws you a curve ball, and you want to shout these three words, think to yourself what could be even worse?  And let me know if it works.


May your life be filled with gratitude.