Louise Thompson: When life doesn't seem fair
Life isn’t fair. That’s what we are often told, so we can suck up disappointment. Does it help? Not really. Fate is not even-handed, and we all know that, but somehow we still kinda, sorta, expect that it totally should be. That if we are good people, keep our nose clean and our room tidy, we will be rewarded by benevolence and life will treat us fairly. And most of the time it does.
Until it doesn’t. Unfair things happen every day. Occasionally, we can take a (secretish) smirk of glee when there appears to be some karmic retribution being handed out from on high. “He totally deserved it. You reap what you sow,” we will say.
However, much of the time, we see bad things happening to good people, ourselves included, and we are as saddened and shocked as we are railing against the injustice and unfairness of it all. “How could that happen? She doesn’t deserve that at all. It’s so unfair”.
All of a sudden (and usually just when you think your ducks are nicely in a row) life can end up looking spectacularly sideways from what you had intended. The rug is pulled out from beneath you; the future you had planned in your head did not include the loss that has blindsided you. Cue grief, pain and shock.
Life, for sure, ain’t fair. Events so catastrophic can happen that life will never be the same again, and we will never be the same again. There is a part of our soul that will be forever marked and our future will not roll out as we envisaged. It should not be like this, we say. This should never have happened. I should not have to go through this. I should not have to suffer this. I don’t deserve it. It’s so unfair. And it is.
However — disputing fairness holds us in the trauma. It keeps us tethered to the pain. Attaching to the shouldn’t of it holds us in stasis, tying us to the past. We cannot rebuild the different life that is waiting for us when we hold so tight to what was. Releasing the future we saw for ourselves that is no longer on the table is beyond hard — but it is the way forward.
Some losses are so great you cannot change them. You can only transcend them. Releasing the grip on the unfairness of it all will help. One of my favourite authors, Cheryl Strayed, makes this point: “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding”.
And so it is. Whatever we have lost, whatever our treasured ace of hearts, or pair of aces we thought we would hold until the end, we still do have some cards left.
They may be way lesser cards. Good health might feel like a five of clubs in the wake of devastation but it is still a card of value. The roof over our heads or money in the bank may seem meaningless at the time but they could be a six of spades.
A distant but constant spouse might be a seven of diamonds in the wake of job loss or bankruptcy. Being mortgage-free might feel like a meaningless three in the wake of a health crisis, but it’s a better card to hold than not to have at all.
You get the idea. There are lesser cards in our hand —the supportive friends, absorbing hobby, incredible doctor, amazing financial plan, loving spouse, helpful daughter— that we can overlook in the worst of times. But they are what we have left in our hand.
And so we can only play on with what we have. Playing harder, smarter and looking at the cards we still hold and those that might make their way into our hand in the next deal. Life isn’t fair. It’s what you do to transcend unfair that counts.
Through her online Happiness programme “Wellbeing Warriors”, life coach Louise Thompson helps people unlock their happiest and healthiest life. Sign up at louisethompson.com and find more from Louise at bite.co.nz/wellbeing