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  • Writer's pictureJerry Brook

Why you should never use the word fair

If you are over the age of twelve, you shouldn’t be using the word “fair”.

The word fair is widely misunderstood and almost always misused.

The word fair, by definition, means; reasonable, rational, in accordance with the rules and/or standards, equitable, not preferential, unbiased.

How many times have you heard someone say “that’s not fair”, and you thought to yourself, “they are just being selfish.”

It would seem that the way the vast majority of people use the word ‘fair’ is, in reality, just an excuse for being selfish. When people say that something is ‘unfair’, what they are really saying is that they didn’t get what they wanted, regardless of whether that thing was reasonable or rational.

As people mature (something that isn’t as correlated to age as you might assume), they are supposed to have a better understanding of the premise that they can’t always get what they want, and that there needs to be a balance struck between their own needs and wants and the needs and wants of others.

Fair, or unfair: unequivocally inappropriate?

When you use the word ‘fair’, it is unclear what exactly you believe to be the offending factor. That is, do you believe that the situation is unreasonable, biased, or inequitable? Since these aren’t the same things, they can have different causes as well as different solutions.

To be clear, equitable does not mean “the same”. Equitable is a judgment, a qualitative value. One plus one plus one equals three, but it is not the same as three (which is a single digit without any operations performed on it to change or modify it).

For example …

I give a shopkeeper one dollar for a bag of candy. We agree that one bag of candy has a value of a single dollar, which is a number we can both agree on. It is an equitable, fair exchange, but only if we both agree on the item’s value.

It is reasonable, and not unfair, to restrict the operation of an automobile to a certain minimum and maximum age for various reasons – physical ability, mental competence, ability to understand and accept responsibility – and while this may seem biased and preferential, there is much research to prove that these are reasonable, rational, equitable rules and standards. ‘Fairness’ doesn’t really enter into the equation.

In all fairness …

You’ve likely heard, and you may have even said it yourself: “Life isn’t fair”. But does that mean you’re supposed to just shut up and take whatever’s coming to you?

Just because things are biased, or aren’t reasonable, rational, or equitable, this doesn’t mean they are acceptable.

Yes, there are many things in life that are unreasonable, irrational, biased, or inequitable – in other words, “unfair”. You need to understand and know “why”, or in other words, what the cause of the unfairness is, and if it is real or just selfishly perceived.

If it is real and you can pinpoint the cause, then you may be able to resolve or change it. If, however, you can’t state clearly what you believe to be “unfair”, how then can you fix the problem? How will others be able to understand and know what aspect of said unfairness you are having an issue with?

What is “unfair”? and what does any of this have to do with relationships?

As most people misuse the words “fair and unfair” to mean a benefit to them regardless of anyone else concerned, it really should be obvious that the selfish form or use of these words is detrimental to any relationship.

It sets the stage for an unbalanced relationship; one that slants towards and gives an advantage to one side or the other.

It disallows resolution or solution, as no one really knows what ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ is referring to, specifically.

Just as things that are ‘unfair’ should not be accepted, not clearly defining what is meant by ‘unfair’ should not be accepted.

Also, it simply reeks of false expectations. By that, I mean that by being selfish, your expectations can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t be met.

Managing expectations

Managing expectations is one of the keys to a “good together” healthy relationship.

(For more on expectations see my blog posts on Relationship Structure, specifically Part 2 – Expectations).

As I stated in the beginning, ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ are words of immaturity. They are vague and ill-defined and when used incorrectly they have no clear, concise meaning. When you use these words in this way, they come across as being self-serving.

Fair/Unfair Challenge

Your challenge this week is to stop using the words ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’. Instead, be clearer and use; reasonable, rational, equitable, nonpreferential, unbiased, or ‘in accordance with the rules and/or standards’ so that people can really understand what it is that you are talking about.

Also, when others use these words, ask them what they mean. Ask them to be more specific. That is the only way that either of you will be able to approach the real issues.

Good Together: your guide to healthy, happy relationships

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