Sense of Fairness

When I grew up in Caton, NY, we attended three services a week at church: Sunday Morning, Sunday Evening, Wednesday Prayer Meeting. I was one of three kids, and we always sat one person between mom and dad, one next to mom, one next to dad.

I was the middle of the three siblings, and our parents didn’t have to tell who to sit where: we had divided the positions, rotationally. So each week and each service it varied who sat between the parents, who sat by mom, and who sat by dad. We three siblings were all about fairness and equal time. There might have been differences of opinion about which of the three was the preferred spot to sit, but our parents didn’t have to make sure we were fair: we enforced it on ourselves.

I have two kids. We don’t have the same number of services, and they default to positions of seating that they prefer. No one complains about fairness. But in other things, when dividing up food or special items, they too seem to have a sense of equanimity and fairness in the process. They will sometimes use the method of one divide and the other choose first, though I think they divide evenly enough that it really wouldn’t make any difference.

It is interesting how people come to their sense of fairness, and how they work it out in families and groups. Some of them are easier to see and negotiate than others. It isn’t always a question of power inequality. I think work can be  a hard place for things to seem fair. I know a lot of people in families complain things aren’t fair, but my sense in my family settings fairness usually seems to be an ordinary commodity.


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