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June 30, 2013

Are You Being Fair?

slices of chocolate cake
One of my elementary school teachers told this story.

A woman had three daughters. She was determined to show no favoritism, and had dedicated herself to treating them equally and fairly at all times.

One day, the mother baked a beautiful chocolate cake, and served it for dessert. She carefully cut three identical pieces and gave one to each of her daughters. The first daughter considered chocolate cake to be about as good as any other dessert, so she thanked her mother and ate her slice. Chocolate cake was the second daughter's absolute all-time favorite. She ate her slice with intense enjoyment, and still craved more. When she asked for another piece, the mother refused because it wouldn't be fair to give one daughter more than the others. The third daughter thought chocolate was about as yummy as cardboard. She set her piece aside and asked her mother for something different. But the mother refused because it wouldn't be right not to treat the girls equally.

How often do you suppose these girls felt that Mom was treating them fairly?

Sometimes couples try to approach fairness in marriage the same way. Maybe they agree to divide household chores so that each person takes an equal number of turns doing a particular job. Or maybe they allocate disposable income so that each person has exactly the same amount of spending money, never any more or less. Maybe they keep track of personal interactions, exchanging an equal number of back rubs, text messages, gifts, even sexual acts.

On the surface, carefully making sure that everyone is treated the same might seem like a good way to ensure fairness. But in practice, it leads to feelings of deprivation, a sense of being imposed upon, and growing resentment.

We have different abilities, desires, strengths, weaknesses and needs. Two hours at one job might be as difficult as eight hours at another. Vacuuming the living room might be relaxing for someone and torture for someone else. Keeping score, taking measurements, and trying to conform to a "what's good for me is good for you" mentality is not a happy way to live.

It doesn't really matter if one person does more of this and less of that, or if someone gets a little more of something and even more of something else. What makes someone feel fairly treated in marriage -- or anywhere -- is to be recognized as an individual, not treated as an interchangeable part.

a slice of cake
Fairness means understanding and accommodating different needs, adjusting to changing circumstances, looking reality in the face rather than focusing on a list of imaginary rules. It means knowing that 60-40 often works better than 50-50. It means giving the one you love an extra slice of cake.

Image courtesy of Marcus / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 fabulous comments:

  1. An excellent debunking of the myth of fairness, Rosemary. I always do the floors because Tammy hates it. She always does the tub because I hate that. It certainly feels fair whether or not someone sees it that way.

    Fairness, used mindlessly as in the chocolate cake example, becomes a bludgeon for tyranny and absolutism.

  2. Wow, Rosemary. What a great story to illustrate the illusion of fairness. It really helped to consider the story from the daughters' points of view.

    My goodness, if we kept score we would have been divorced a long time ago. When we feel that we need something from each other, we ask. We also do things for each other without being reminded or asked. It's not picture perfect, but we are happy!

  3. Not only does this raise some great thoughts about what fairness really means, it also gave me a huge craving for chocolate cake.


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