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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/23/11

Applying Elementary Teaching Principles to World Behavior: Fairness

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The first principle I set down was fairness. As many times as we've heard the expression, "Life isn't fair!" I suspect we wish strongly this were not so. Witness our feelings at the end of a story where justice is done, and how we cheer the underdog who suffers throughout, yet somehow receives justice in one form or another. We all want fairness--and surely look strangely at anyone who doesn't proclaim to want it--so why not keep fairness high on the list, when envisioning the future of a world we want to live in?

"Mr. Geery, Sammy isn't being fair!"

"Mr. Geery, that's NOT FAIR!"

"Mr. Geery, You're not fair!"

How many times have teachers heard such proclamations? It feels like infinite to me. Most kids have an innate sense of fairness, which arrives at an early age. Many studies have been done that support this conclusion, though anyone who's worked around kids, or has their own, hardly needs to be told this.

Still, as if to prove the point, here's an edited version of a study I recently read about. [Note: I am chopping quotes liberally for readability, though I try hard to retain the essence of them.]   "Feb. 15, 2011:   Adults may want to take a lesson from young children who've demonstrated that even at the early age of three, children have a sense of what's fair.... The study found that children shared with each other after working together to earn a reward, even in circumstances where it would have been easy for one child to keep all of the prize without sharing.... prizes such as gummy bears and stickers... the children almost always shared equally, according to the study published in the February issue of the journal   Psychological Science . "We were surprised that this rule was so strict -- that equality was so strongly preferred," Felix Warneken of Harvard University said in a journal news release."

I certainly DO suggest that adults take this lesson from kids, since it is unfairness that provokes so much--if not most--of the trouble we see in the world today. Trouble that could be promptly eliminated, if more people believed in, practiced, worked for, lived and breathed a bit more fairness in their daily behavior.

A cursory glance at today's headlines: "Syrian security forces open fire on demonstrators"; " Brits gunned down in Florida made wrong turn into ghetto " ; " Stripmining America - Unpatriotically "; " Consensus Builds on Free Trade Deals, Alongside Proof of Their Toll "; " The Rich Get Richer Etc. " But really, need we go on? These titles were taken almost randomly from just two popular, somewhat antithetical websites: The Drudge Report and Common Dreams. I will go a step further, and pose this question: How many depressing or pathetic headlines can YOU find that are NOT based on some form of unfairness in the world? I predict very few.

In the U.S., we can trace unfairness into the mists of antiquity, starting at least with the European domination of Native Americans. Or how about this write-up on the lighting of the torch of the Statue of Liberty, our alleged symbol of fairness to all: "No members of the general public were permitted on the island during the ceremonies, which were reserved entirely for dignitaries. The only females granted access were Bartholdi's wife and de Lesseps's granddaughter; officials stated that they feared women might be injured in the crush of people. The restriction offended area suffragists, who chartered a boat and got as close as they could to the island. The group's leaders made speeches applauding the embodiment of Liberty as a woman and advocating women's right to vote.

"Shortly after the dedication, the Cleveland Gazette suggested that the statue's torch not be lit until the United States became a free nation "in reality": "Liberty enlightening the world", indeed! The expression makes us sick. This government is a howling farce. It can not or rather does not protect its citizens within its own borders. Shove the Bartholdi statue, torch and all, into the ocean until the "liberty" of this country is such as to make it possible for an inoffensive and industrious colored man to earn a respectable living for himself and family, without being "ku-kluxed", perhaps murdered, his daughter and wife outraged, and his property destroyed. The idea of the "liberty" of this country "enlightening the world", or even Patagonia, is ridiculous in the extreme.

The above comes from Wikipedia, whilst meanwhile, the words the statue supposedly stands for most of us learned in grade school: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of you teamming ashore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"  

I believe we have a few light years to go in the department of fairness, though I hope for a paradigm shift that brings it about with lightning speed. Fairness, according to dictionary.com, means "free   from bias, dishonesty, or injustice, as in 'a fair decision,' or 'a fair judge,' or 'each person is treated fairly, with no favoritism.'" And we wonder why people "go postal," as if the answer isn't staring us in the face.

How about "bias," a term intimately related to fairness and the way we treat fellow humans, particularly those from other countries, females, or kids: "a particular tendency or inclination, especially one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question." One factor that attracted me to science was the supposed absence of bias, the extension of logic and objectivity to phenomena we can observe. That we have been having a mad rush in the opposite direction, to the point that politicians now boast about being "anti-science," makes me cringe. I thought we left "the dark ages" a few centuries ago, but it appears we are back in the midst of them. Creating "fairness" as a guiding light, we just might acquire a vision that incorporates what knowledge and wisdom that humans have learned through the ages, rather than slamming those commodities in a closet.

It's hard to imagine that favoritism and bias could become more rampant and rank than what we hear from lunatics who have confiscated public airwaves; the Becks, Limbaughs, Hannitys, Trumps, Tea Partiers, and so on. The open, blatant attack on fairness can do nothing but worsen the burden on those already suffering. Yes, there will be "blowback." Are we not already seeing it, with folks kicked out of their homes, a growing loss of jobs, people dying by the thousands from lack of healthcare?

The unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity for humans in the U.S. today is staggering beyond comprehension. This unfairness is to no one's advantage, even to the wealthy, who could only benefit from educated, productive minds, capable of solving our copious problems. Much of what astounds me is that so many of the wealthy don't seem to grasp this simple concept: All our advances in technology, medicine, our understanding of life on earth--well, everything that brought us benefits we have today--are the result of active, engaged, curious, educated individuals, who had a minimum of food on their table and a roof over their head. Failure to fight for more of this, for the advancement of our species, for a habitable planet, for caring about our progeny and successive generations, is nothing, if not ignorance incarnated.

The more sensible and intelligent amongst us are now calling for fairness even to nature, as many others have done for decades. An article today was titled: On Earth Day, Recognize the Rights of Mother Earth . The article notes that " thanks to some innovative thinking by governments, municipalities and indigenous peoples, a wiser mindset is taking hold. And the United Nations has also begun to consider the rights of nature. This may be the first step toward the adoption of a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. A companion piece to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights [arguably the most important documents ever written, http://www.wunrn.com/reference/pdf/univ_dec_hum_right.pdf, emphasizing fairness amongst humans], this emerging declaration -- which would be backed by enforceable laws around the world -- seeks to redefine our human relationship with all other species from one of dominance to one of harmony. Many places have already begun to change their laws in accordance with this new way of thinking."

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In my run for U.S. Senate against Utah's Orrin Hatch, I posted many progressive ideas and principles that I internalized over the years. I'm leaving that site up indefinitely, since it describes what I believe most members of our species truly (more...)

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