She stared out the passenger window of my car with a steady stream of tears trailing down her cheeks. I gripped the steering wheel to steady myself wishing for any way to make this bearable for her. It was two days before Thanksgiving and I was driving Lori, my paralegal of 15 years, to the hospital where her daughter-in-law was losing her first baby at 24 weeks of pregnancy. Lori was trying to find strength for her family and as she grappled with the loss of her first granddaughter. “It isn’t fair,” she whispered into the world as I realized that, I too, had tears falling down my face.
“It isn’t fair” – a singular statement containing the pent up angst, anger, and agony we feel when confronted with life’s hardness. Death and divorce among the top disappointments leave us reeling and searching for the reasons “why.” Rarely a week goes by where one of my team members has not responded to a client exclaiming in exasperation “It isn’t fair.”
When we search for the ideal of fairness, we are focusing on the all too familiar and destructive rabbit hole of comparison. What defines fairness? How is fairness to be applied? Why do 130 get murdered in Paris and I sit peacefully in Nebraska? Why did my marriage fail and my parents were able to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary this year? Why do Lori and her family have to suffer now and in this way? It isn’t fair.
I have learned over the years as I relentlessly pursue justice, evaluate equitable, and negotiate outcome after outcome that fairness is fleeting. Fairness is not a measure of success, nor is it a value that sustains us. Fairness is like those myths born in fairy tales along with happily ever afters. In the pursuit of fairness we often cloak ourselves in its vindictive armor. We seek righting the wrongs against us. And we know this. At the end of the day or at the end of our lives, the penultimate question may be “was life fair?” But we will always dig deeper. Finding fairness is not what we most seek.
In the maternity ward, a white rose is laid in front of the door as a silent notice that those inside are suffering a loss. It is a symbol of a prayer for peace. In the presence of unfairness what we can seek is peace. Rather than fairness, the measures that will always rise higher than the rest and shine light during our difficult days are those that define how we are being and who we are. When we come upon the border of despair, it is useful to come back to center. Despite my hardship was I still being kind? Was I being honest with my integrity? Did I do the right thing?
As you traverse the landscape of your divorce, how do you want to show up in the face of unfairness? What is the value most important to you during this time? Do you want a fair outcome or an outcome that best suits you and your children? In determining these behavior barometers, you will ground yourself for the uphill days and better weather your emotional storm. So that in the end, you might sigh and say “it isn’t fair,” but you will have peace in your present.