Life isn’t fair.
I’ve heard it said so often, and my school even set it as a PESA Speech question once. One cannot deny it is true; on one end of the spectrum, we have footballers who earn millions of dollar each year even though they are merely starlets, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have skilled (and renowned) professionals who don’t get half as much. Let’s not forget the gypsy children who have to beg for money on the streets and suffer humiliation every day, and the kids of Africa who, even in their years of innocence, know death may be impending. I guess this post should be read from the perspective of a person living in a first world country, for it is written in one. It’s the only perspective I can write from; claiming otherwise would be presumptuous.
Yes, life is unfair. But is it really that unfair? I think a happier way of viewing the world, is to see life as a balancing game. (I’m really not in the mood to articulate this better, so maybe I will re-write this post in a few days).
I think many of us would be familiar with the term in economics, “balance of payments”. For those who are not, the balance of payments is basically a system of calculating the inflows and outflows of different accounts, but we all end up with the same value, 0. The balance of payments always, well, balances.
In my opinion, life is pretty much the same thing. Let’s illustrate this in a simplistic way. We compare the lives of two people, John and Joe. John’s really smart, and he does really well in his academics. He’s not much of a looker though; he’s pretty average, aesthetically. Joe, on the other hand, is the star quarterback. He has got a nice body, great abs, flawless skin. He’s doing ok in school, around the 50th percentile. Now, it’s very easy for John to be envious of Joe, and think life is unfair. After all, Joe’s quite the hottie John always wishes to be. So, how do we decide who’s actually “luckier”? Who’s more favoured by life?
Suppose (although this is overly simplified), their lives can be “calculated” from the perspective of two accounts: Academics and Looks. For John, he would probably get a 9/10 in his “academics” account, while only a 5/10 for his “looks” account. Joe would get about 6/10 for his academics account and maybe a 9/10 for his “looks” account. If we regard their lives as some sort of “balance”, John would get a score of 14/20 while Joe would get a score of 15/20. Clearly, the “accounts” balance to roughly the same amount (14 is not too different from 15). In this way, life isn’t actually that unfair, is it?
Life does not only consist of 2 accounts. It includes so much more, things like family, happiness/the ability to be happy and satisfied, love life, affinity for certain subjects, musicality, sporting talent, grit, and the list can go on and on. What we have to understand is that there will definitely be “accounts” we score better in, and “accounts” we do not. For every strength I have, there would be a person, out there, who is not just as good. The same goes for every weakness. Most importantly, we have to know that we all “balance” to the roughly the same amount at the end of the day. We are not privy to everybody’s “accounts” and we often only see the “accounts” that we are aware of. Take me for example. I know I’m not pretty, but I guess my determination kind of makes up for it. Suppose there is someone who is prettier and more determined than I am, the person may not have as good an affinity with foreign languages as I have. In other words, there will definitely be something that I’m better at, and something that I’m worse at. There’s no point being upset over another person being better at something that we are not as good at. There will definitely be areas where we are actually better. It’s just we don’t stop and consider them, and perhaps, because we aren’t close enough with these people, we don’t see them.
Life is a balancing game. I think it’s important to find (and acknowledge) our strengths and use them to our advantage. We all have strengths that other people don’t, and weaknesses that other people don’t. Nobody has an identical combination of strengths and weaknesses, and this is what makes us all so special, and so different. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not implying that we should always think the worst of others, and their weakness. What I’m trying to say is that we have to learn to be proud of ourselves and not be jealous or even upset that some people get the things we want. Because in certain areas, we can do so much better than them; we all have our own strengths, and we need to recognise they exist. A good question to ask yourself is: would you trade what you have for that? Would you trade your affinity with the arts and humanities, for someone’s incoherent speaking, and (beyond) excellent computing skills? Would you? I think you’ll find that you like yourself better.
On a side note, our strengths and weaknesses are static, your weaknesses can, with sufficient work, be your strengths, and vice versa; if you disregard your strengths, you might one day lose them. We can constantly improve ourselves by shifting the “value” out of certain accounts and into the accounts we desire. I’m not sure if this is convincing, but everything has an opportunity cost, so I think the mechanism is one more of “shifting” as well as “adding” and not merely “adding”. Take famous cellists, 2cellos for example. As children (while they had an obvious talent for cello), they would work very hard to strengthen their cello “account”. The opportunity cost is the value of their social lives and childhood. They shifted this value/potential value, and added it into their cello “account”. I think the same can be said for any footballer, president, actor, singer, writer.
Life’s not easy. It will never be. But we can be happier if we see it as a “balancing game” and learn to appreciate our strengths and weaknesses more. I personally think the “happiness” account is pretty important.