Speak Softly … then bang your head against a wall….

January 29, 2013

So I pondered and I pondered and I tried to come up with a scenario that would get their attention and yet not single out any one girl.

On an index card I asked them to write their definition of fair/fairness; favorite color; favorite possession; and favorite accomplishment thus far in life. (We did not get to the last two.)

I read everyone’s definitions. Out of 10 girls at least 4 wrote “fairness is everyone gets equal” and one actually wrote “You get what the other person has”!

For this the definition of Fair is “Everything is equal and everyone gets the same thing.” Agreed? Now play along with me.

Mrs. A is the ELECTED leader of our group. We’re a tribe, we’ve elected her leader. We’re having an event and she has appointed me in charge. She’s also passed a law that we will have an official favorite color. There are a few rules:

a. I am in charge of determining the favorite color and how I do that is up to me.
b. Our favorite color will become the only color we can like or wear. All your clothes, your electronics, your car–all the same color.
(I got a few, “Wait, huh?” expressions.)
c. Everyone must be able to see the color.
d. It will be our favorite color as long as Mrs. A is our elected leader.

I went down the line and asked for their favorite color.
blue, turquoise, blue, pink/purple, purple/blue, turquoise, purple, blue, green, purple

Okay, it looks like the majority want blue to be our favorite color. The official color is blue.

Yeah! Aww.

Aww? By your definition everything is equal so in order to be fair we all have to wear blue and everything we own is blue.


That is your definition of fair. But we’re forgetting one of Mrs. A’s rules.

We are?

I’d like you to meet my brother, my sister, and Suzie’s dad. We’re forgetting one of Mrs. A’s rules and we have a problem. She said everyone must see the color. You see, to my brother and my sister the colors blue, purple, black, and brown all look the same. And Suzie’s dad is colorblind too. But it gets worse. My brother is also red-green color blind and green is gray to him. He almost sees in black-and-white. Because the law states it has to be a color everyone can see, our official color is gray.

What? That stinks? Gray?

It’s the law and it is your definition of fair that everyone gets the same thing. Sadly, that means you have to go with the lowest. There is nothing that will make any of them see the correct colors. So we have to go with what they see.

How many of you are happy with how things turned out? Not a single hand went up.

How many of you think this is fair? Believe it or not about half went up, especially after I repeated their definition of “fair.”

How many of you will make sure my brother, my sister, and Suzie’s dad know you are not happy and it is “their fault” or that it is not fair?

Out of 10 girls, 8 hands went up. 8 out of 10.

Is it their fault? And you’d get angry with them? You’d hurt them? How is that the other parts of the law–friendly and helpful, considerate and caring?

How many of you will come to me to tell me, as the person in charge, it is not fair? I stopped counting hands.

Is that showing responsibility for what you say and do? Is it showing respect for self? Others? Authority? Remember, it is your definition of fair.

How many of you remember what was said to change the outcome? No one remembered until I reminded them that they could elect someone else to change the rule.

If fair means “equal” how many of you would want the doctor to give you a band-aid when you’ve broken you arm because he gives a band-aid to the boy with a paper cut?

But that’s not right. That’s not what you need. Band-aids won’t help.

So maybe fair really means making sure people have what they need, not necessarily the same things, to have the chance to succeed? The next time you are tempted to run up to me or another adult and stamp your feet, saying, “It’s not fair” think about these things:

  1. Start to look at the positive in situations.
  2. Instead of using fair to mean “equal”, state exactly what you are upset about and see if it sounds right. Example: Instead of saying, “It’s not fair that she has a trophy” say “It’s not fair that I didn’t get a trophy even if my team didn’t win” and see which sounds more spoiled.
  3. Stop and ask yourself if the situation is one of true injustice. Example: voting rights–yes. Example: You didn’t get the book or part in the play you wanted–no. Example: Ask yourself if you or someone else will be detrimentally harmed because you only like chocolate cupcakes and only vanilla is left–no, not an injustice either?
    Some of the more obnoxious girls asked “What about if I’m allergic?” at which point I stopped speaking softly and actually said, “The choice is yours and no one is going to shove it down your throat.”
  4. Ask yourself what true “equality” would mean before you cry “that’s not fair.” You represent a group—should everyone receive the same punishment if only one of you messes up? All the time? If one person can’t go, no one can go? No one can win because no one can lose?
    At this point I told the girls about another situation where because the actions of one girl for the 4th time the entire troop almost got the “fair” punishment–every girl would have to have a parent with them on every outing and trip from that point on. I was talked out of this and told them they should go thank the person who talked me out of delivering the “fair” punishment. She asked them if they understood what it meant–that if it happened again she wouldn’t be able to talk me out of it!
  5. Ask yourself if it is not a big deal (no one is getting hurt), is there something I can do to positively change the situation in the future so that everyone gets what they need? In our color scenario, you were told you could elect someone new. In another situation if you step back and think, you can come up with ways to improve things without stamping your feet and crying “It’s not fair!”
  6. And realize that nothing in this life is equal. It would be a very boring place with no rewards and success and no chance to grow or be better.

I started handing out journals for the badge we were working on.

I really want you to think about what you are going to say before you run up to me to tell me something’s not fair. I don’t want to hear those words. This is not to say you can’t change things or stand up if a true injustice is happening. But stamping your feet and crying “It’s not fair!” is not going to help.

So take this journal … I purposely picked gray–

Aww. I don’t want gray. (BTW, this is said by Suzie, and Suzie’s dad who is color blind is in the room. She is one of the loudest to cry “It’s not fair!” or complain if there are no more chocolate cupcakes left. Suzie’s dad was later given the “whole” story.)

(through gritted teeth) I picked gray to remind you of what a boring, winner-less, plain, sad world it would be if everything was fair by your definition.

I am now going to go bang my head against a wall. I think I ran out of grace-filled words.



  1. I *love* the quote on the wall of my son’s teacher last year. “Fair is not always equal, and equal is not always fair.”

    • I’ve started seeing more of that around my daughter’s school this year. The doctor line actually came about because T2’s teacher did a whole scenario of different wounds all getting band-aids or giving the guy with a broken arm your finger splint. I am realizing 10 seems to be an age where “fairness” is huge. We went through this with T1 so mine have heard the lecture several times already and “You want fair? I’ll make it fair!” I have no patience!

  2. I think you came up with an amazing lesson … and it went right over their heads!

    • I did get to talk to some of the parents and more details about the whole situation came out. At least apologies were given even if the behavior wasn’t right to begin with. But there were some details I wish my own child had given to me earlier so that I could have focused that lesson and known who worked as a ring leader and who was a follower. Thanks for the support!

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