My favorite quote about fairness comes from Babylon 5:
I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.
My second favorite quote about fairness comes from The Princess Bride. After another boy who has just beaten young Bill Goldman at badminton tells him, “you’ll get me next time, and if you don’t, you’ll beat me at something else,” he sits down next to Edith Neisser, who says:
“That’s not necessarily true, you know. […] Life isn’t fair, Bill. We tell our children that it is, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not only a lie, it’s a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it’s never going to be.”
Would you believe that for me right then it was like one of those comic books where the light bulb goes on over Mandrake the Magician’s head? “It isn’t!” I said, so loud I really startled her. “You’re right. It’s not fair.” I was so happy if I’d known how to dance, I’d have started dancing. “Isn’t that great, isn’t it just terrific?” I think along about here Edith must have thought I was well on my way toward being bonkers.
But it meant so much to me to have it said and out and free and flying—that was the discontent I endured the night my father stopped reading, I realized right then. That was the reconciliation I was trying to make and couldn’t.
—page 187 (in my edition, which is from the 70’s)
Fairness. It’s a fascinating concept. Because “fair” . . . well, “fair” can mean a lot of different things, and when it comes down to it, would we really want our world to be fair? To me, as my love for the above quotes indicates, the most comforting view is that the world just isn’t fair, full stop, and this ironically makes me feel rather more cheerful about any bad things that might happen. But when you start to break this down . . .
One of my friends and I once had a conversation about life being fair. Here’s how that conversation went: