This one has been floating around in my head for awhile now after a friend asked me to write something on the subject of justice and fairness. Sounds like two subjects, plural, but both are so interrelated, and for this particular friend so glued together and part of her path to well-being that I will, for her, treat them as one.
This was going to be a tough nut to crack, but a tasty one for sure. I wanted to do her proud, to treat it with the reverence and respect and detail that I assumed she’d hoped from me when she asked and offered her own perspective in a private message that was difficult to read. And I read it more than a few times. With that in mind, I created a separate corkboard for index cards with different thoughts and ideas, I wrote point-form notes, and I did some research. I watched a number of Ted Talks videos (those things are like crack, or Lay’s potato chips, which is pretty much the same thing). In thinking on her words, I looked back into my own history, and saw memories of unfair treatment, unjust actions, and re-experienced just a whisper of the frustration and anger I had at the time and that I am sure she still feels the raw, jagged edges of.
My loose plan had been to define the words, explore what they mean in our society from both a technical and more generally colloquial point of view, to look at where the two things crossed and where they diverged. Eventually, I’d hoped to wrap it all up in a neat little package, put a bow on it, and put it out there like the lump of coal I’m probably going to get next week in the fuzzy wool sock I’ll be hanging over the HDTV with a fireplace video playing. It wasn’t working, though. It was turning into a major research project, almost a thesis, and it was giving me a headache. Long ago I learned that when you rent three movies and get a pizza on a Friday night, you watch the big flashy blockbuster first. Don’t save it for last, because you just won’t enjoy the others properly.
Aren’t analogies fun? I’ll leave you to figure that one out.
Ultimately it dawned on me that I wasn’t going to be able do what I had set out to: treat the subject fairly, and provide for this friend what I thought she wanted. The two were simply not compatible, but that was my fault, certainly not hers. I don’t think she wanted validation from me for the ripping wound that still bleeds in her, but like a nice person, a paramedic, I wanted to try my best to patch it up.
“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.”
“I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”
― Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury
Bad things happen to good people. Bad people get away with shit they shouldn’t. Life isn’t fair, and we want to tear our hair out at it sometimes (and sometimes we do), but as a society, a generally even-minded culture of good people, we try our best to mitigate this and our failures are often pretty spectacular. As a people we keep moving ahead despite the failures, using them (hopefully, over the long run) to refine our laws and systems and even our ideals sometimes. But as individuals, our subjective natures leave us impaled on the pointy end of the stick more often than not it seems, and goddammit that’s hard to get past.
I sat in a disciplinary meeting once because I had told a dispatcher to fuck off on a recorded telephone line. In front of two stone-faced supervisors, one of which had suggested I was turning into a problem employee, and a completely ineffective shop steward, I gave a passionate speech on PTSD, how this horrible injury made my life miserable and caused things like this, and how the lack of support from my service and colleagues only made it that much worse. When I was finished, without addressing any of these things, they gave me a week-long suspension and an order to contact the city shrink. Others who’ve done similar things were paid overtime to simply apologise. This does not even come close to the level of unfairness and injustice some, like my friend, experience, but it lends me insight and a tangible understanding of the deep rage and resentment that come with it. Talking about it still makes my gut churn. One of those supervisors is now in a cushy upper management job with the fancy rank of commander, the other retired, and the shop steward is a full-time union man, probably still as hopeless as he was then but getting a comfy salary with benefits. I’m waiting until the middle of next month before I’m allowed to go back to the food bank.
All three of those guys were dicks, but my well-being and my sense of serenity have become more important to me than them, even if it still tweaks my inner William Wallace to remember it. It took a very long time for me to set that priority. Inner peace comes at a high price, one I’m paying in instalments, one that others haven’t yet put a deposit on, but it is still the safest, warmest, most comfortable home to have when winter gales rage even if the bank still owns most of it.
We can’t stop the storm, but I choose to light a fire. A stupid platitude maybe, but not really that empty or meaningless.
People find strength in the thought that all things happen for a reason, in fact they grip to this like a lifeline when they’re drowning and I have no issue with that. It’s not something I believe, though, and even if there is a reason behind the random events in our lives it’s down to something as idiosyncratic as choosing left or right, door one or door two. I find difficulty in reconciling the idea that bad things happen to good people for a reason when that reason leaves them miserable, injured, forever altered, and constantly fighting their own minds. What is fair or just about that? Where’s the reason for the assholes of the world drinking spiked eggnog at holiday dinners while their victims struggle with walking out the door?
There isn’t one. Life isn’t fair, and it’s pretty much that simple, but we can work individually to be fair ourselves and find peace in that, maybe.
I suspect this is where the trouble my friend is having rests, but I don’t want to speak for her. I’m not qualified to speak for myself most of the time. I am certainly not qualified to give anything more than empathy and solace, or maybe some personal insight for all that’s worth, and those things I offer freely.
Come sit by the fire with me. I’ve got hot cocoa and there’s comfort from the cold here, because like Calvin once said to Hobbes, “Some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”