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"What's fair ain't necessarily right."

Toni Morrison, Beloved

"Mum, it's so unfair!"

My 7 year-old child

"Don't talk to me about fairness!", I replied, for once finding what I still think was quite an eloquent answer to my 7 year-old.

"Fairness is me taking you to school on time while your sister is at home before going to nursery*. Fairness is treating you in a different way than I treat your sister, because you are not the same person, nor are you the same age. Fairness isn't treating everyone the same. Fairness is adapting to people's needs."

She looked at me with what I call her "thinking eyes". The absorbing was real. My words were sinking in. She didn't argue. I think I made my point. You can tell I feel proud.

Because I care.

I care about fairness. A lot. I care about trying to do the right thing so everyone gets their share. I tend to think of fairness as inherently good, I mean, we should all vouch for a fairer world, the end. But wait a minute, did I mistake fair for right?

Could something be wrong with fair?

SO UNFAIR! is a go-to argument for kids who express their frustrations. Sometimes, parents just go with the commonly overused "yeah, well, the world is unfair" to brush off any potential endless conversation (I do too). Life is indeed unfair, after all.

And when we say that, we rarely mean it in a good way.

Isn't it true that justice can only be enjoyed by few?

That the world is dominated by a minority which we tend to confuse with the majority?

If so, then justice is unfair**.

Like anything, striving for perfection equals permanent headache, yet it doesn't mean that fairness is always wrong, neither does it mean that it is always right.

Nothing is permanent.

What if me taking my eldest to school while her sister was watching a cartoon was indeed unfair but right?

“You can't be consistently fair, consistently generous, consistently just, or consistently merciful. You can be anything erratically, but to be that thing time after time after time, you have to have courage.”

Maya Angelou

If fair matters, as much as the idea of right (on that front, right is as fluctuant a term as anything, and the right choice can often come out wrong!), I like to think of it as a distant aim to the shivering arrow of my moral compass. Sometimes, I shall land on the wrong shores only to adjust my route, the tip of my pen, the hairs on my brush, and the words I speak, time, and time again.


*I have to specify that her younger sister was watching a cartoon while I was pacing to get her, the eldest, out the door. Hence the "unfairness" of the situation.

** In the UK, 66 percent of the female prison population are mothers, and twice as many black women are incarcerated than white for the same offences. (source: Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty, ROSE, Faber&Faber, 2008)

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