Feb 10, 2012

It's not fair...

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the word "fair" and how much we talk about it.  Being a father of four children under 13, I am accused a lot of not being fair.  I really don't worry about it much because I have come to the conclusion that life is not a matter of fair and the sooner my kids learn that truth, the better they will function in life.  The dictionary defines fair as "free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice".  That would be a great understanding of fair.  I would agree that we should all strive for freedom from dishonesty and injustice in our dealings with everyone.  I don't know that we can accurately be without bias.  I have beliefs and those beliefs create "biases" in me that shape my decision.  It's the bias that causes us to feel and scream "unfair", especially when the bias goes against us.  But isn't that the way life is?  Isn't it unrealistic to believe that I can live without bias?  Shouldn't I naturally be more biased with my sexual inclinations towards my wife than other women?  Shouldn't I naturally be "biased" that my children should seek for excellence in their lives and expect them to rise above the standards of this world?  If I really believe what Christ says in the Bible is true and that the gospel is the only hope of salvation for mankind, shouldn't I be biased towards that opinion and shouldn't it influence my relationships with other people? 

Here's another problem I have with "fair."  Fair "dumbs" everything down to the "lowest common denominator."  This is what is happening in our culture in America right now.  We used to believe in a society where people had a strong work ethic - where we rewarded hard work and applauded the financial success that followed.  Now we gripe that the rich "should pay more taxes than me because they have more money than me."  We've created government programs that either foster a mindset that people should expect something for nothing or that creates a system that even if they wanted to rise above their circumstances, they can't afford to.  A couple of years ago our church was doing mission work in the Appalachian area of Kentucky.  One of the missionaries there told us that they had a program to train some of the women in the area to clean houses for income.  One young lady went through the program and began to get some income.  Then, she suddenly quit.  Why?  She told the missionary that when her income increased, she lost all her government benefits and free childcare and it cost her more to work than it did to stay home and let the government take care of her.  She wanted to work, but she couldn't afford to.  That's what a system that caters to the "lowest common denominator" creates.  Fair; whether in a society, a business, or a church, has a tendency to reward mediocrity and stifle creativity and excellence.  Ironically another definition of fair in the dictionary is "neither excellent or poor, moderately or tolerably good."  THERE IT IS!  That's fair in our society.  Fair breeds mediocrity.  Take one look at where we are right now and tell me that we are not just a mediocre group of people.  No one wants a steak that is "neither excellent or poor".  A mediocre steak might fill your stomach, but it doesn't make you want to come back for more.  Nobody goes out and rents a "mediocre" movie that they've seen before. 

Spiritually, fair brings condemnation and means that we all go to hell because that is what we deserve.  This is the problem when fair is brought into the church.  When we deal with God, we don't want fair - we want mercy and grace.  Fair cheapens grace.  Fair attempts to paint God as some sort of socialist grandfather rather than a holy God who in an outstanding act of grace takes upon himself the sins of the very people he forgives.  Fair doesn't adequately explain the existence of evil and its consequences.  Fair doesn't motivate me to worship.  Fair doesn't create in me awe and majesty. 

Ultimately, the essence of leadership is the art of learning how to rise above "fair".  Instead of asking what is fair, here are a couple of other questions to ask instead:
  • Is there a "right" thing to do in this situation?  If so, do it no matter the cost.  Sometimes there is no definitive "right".  Right is not based on your opinions, but God's standards.
  • What is the "wise" decision?  In the lack of a right, the best question to ask is about wisdom.  I owe a great deal to Andy Stanley and his book "The Best Question Ever" on this one.  
  • Instead of asking what is the "fair" thing, ask "What is the "just" thing to do?"
  • What decision will lead the organization best to accomplish its mission and lead towards a culture of excellence?
  • Even if this decision doesn't seem "fair", what will be the cost of inaction?

I've come to the conclusion that the only thing "fair" is good for is to be a place where we get to go to get some cotton candy and ride the Tilt-a-whirl.  Fair is good for cattle auctions and car shows.  Otherwise, let's stop spending so much time on trying to find "fair" and instead be people of grace who strive for excellence and expect others to do so as well.  Let's quit dumbing ourselves down and through the grace of God start rising up.  This doesn't mean that there isn't a time and place to make a "fair" decision when we are referring to justice.  God always expects us to be just because he is just.  But let's allow our vision of fair to be colored by the justice of God and not the opinions of men.