A Gift You Can Kill With

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Some days, I think the greatest gift you can be given is the illusion that life is fair.  It isn’t.  For every day that you’ve survived intact, a thousand other people have died for stupid reasons, been financially screwed for random reasons, gotten shafted by a roll of the dice.  We have survivor syndrome in that all our triumphs – including our continued breathing – seem like an inevitable finish as opposed to a lot of luck in our direction.
We can affect that luck to some extent, and we should.  Smart decisions will sometimes save you when bad ones would kill.  But sometimes you make the smartest decisions with the best information, and some unstoppable force smashes all your plans.
That illusion of fairness, though… it’s comforting.  It makes you feel in control, which is a feeling so good people have literally murdered for it.  It gives you the sense that there is a consistent reward and more consistent punishments, which in turn makes it easier for you to make the smart decisions, since you have this sense that it’ll work out if you just work smart.
And then, if you’re not careful, you become a monster.
Drink into that illusion too far, and you start thinking in absolutes: everyone who failed deserved to fail.  Everyone who’s rich now is hard-working and talented.  Everyone who’s well is eating properly, and those who are sick must have been doing something wrong.
If you buy into that ideal too far, you start making the world less fair.  Because the only way to change the world properly is to look it in the eye, and if you’re the sort of person who believes people with bad outcomes must be bad decision-makers, then you start unwittingly creating ways to punish people down on their luck.  Worse, you start rewarding people who made it to the top by accidents of circumstances.
The truth is that life is unfair – a harsh, and will-sapping, truth.  A little lie to skew the universe’s reward ratio helps you get up in the morning, helps you make better choices, improves your life to the extent it can be improved.
But don’t forget that bad things also happen to good people sometimes, and it’s not their fault.  Because when you forget that, you start hurting good people.

1 Comment

  1. Bryce
    Sep 8, 2013

    “If you buy into that ideal too far, you start…” voting Republican.
    Excellent essay. Bookmarked.

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