The Power of Fair

Fairness is hard to define. It changes with situations and the people involved. But we do seem to have some inborn sense of fairness and a hunger for it. "Life is not fair" we remind ourselves at times to help us cope with hard knocks and reversals of fortune. But we still look for fairness. It is an instinct that causes us to respond negatively or positively depending on whether we think a person, rule or event is fair or unfair.

(Speaking of an innate sense of fairness, think back to sayings of young childhood like picking sides and settling choices by simple rhymes, (formulae if you will). Rock, paper scissors...transparent, fair? At least it’s neutral. What ones do you remember?)

Scientific study suggests that so strong is an instinctive drive for fairness that we will do self-destructive things to express disgust at a perceived unfairness. Studies are also discussed about harmful effects on our health of seeking revenge for an unfairness or injustice as opposed to seeking correction or reconciliation.

 As a mediator and facilitator, I see that people are capable and do come around to a different way of doing things, a resolution, if they believe that it is based on some semblance of “fairness.”

I work on the theory that people who want to can be led to reach a settlement, a compromise, a negotiated way of doing things differently for the better, based on honesty, trust-worthiness of the idea, on a mutual agreement - an outcome that’s “fair enough.” It can take a little doing (work) to identify the basis for determining objective fairness or reasonableness.

I have seen outcomes even begin to look better than “fair enough” to the parties once they settle upon it. Once the back and forth, the edginess, the self-protection yields a bit to forward movement, people even see the other person or party slightly better than they did before.

Perhaps related to fairness, even when things do not work out the way we originally wanted them to, there is often a lesson to be learned from dissecting the situation with a cooler head. The mediator and neutral can assist the parties if they want to identify the lesson and convert it into future value.   

It might be useful to think what opportunities give you a chance to use the power of fair.

Jeanne Franklin