by Greg Krehbiel on 20 August 2004
Kids often moan, “that’s not fair,” to which the typical dad might reply, “life’s not fair. Get over it.”
While we should strive to be both just and fair, there are times when the two seem to conflict. Or at least what sounds like fairness can confict with justice.
For example, “fairness” can mean giving each kid the same number of presents for Christmas, or making Holly do just as many dishes as Joan. “Justice,” on the other hand, means giving each person what they deserve based on their particular circumstances.
“Fairness” is often a kind of mindless consistency. Joe got a spanking when he lied, so when Sam lies he needs a spanking as well. But “justice” listens to the story and responds on an individualized basis. Maybe spanking is more effective for Joe and losing computer privileges is more effective for Sam. It’s not “fair,” but it’s just — and more effective.
It seems to me that men are more interested in justice than in fairness. That’s just a casual observation and could easily be wrong, but when there’s an apparent conflict, a father should emphasize justice more than fairness because fairness can deteriorate into something ugly.
“Zero tolerance policies” are the result of “fairness” run amok. They result when nobody in an organization — say, in a school — is willing to make the hard decisions and distinguish between one kid’s plastic butter knife and another’s switch blade. “A knife is a knife. They both have to be suspended.” That may be “fair” in some perverted way, but everyone knows it’s not just, and it breeds contempt.
What causes otherwise intelligent people to fall for this kind of lunacy? It’s a distrust of moral leadership. It’s an attitude that prefers the generalized moral deliberations of a committee to the administrative moral decisions of a leader. It should be obvious that such an attitude is deadly to fatherhood. The father, not a committee, is the moral administrator of the home.
A father who hides behind “fairness” or committee decisions is a moral coward. It’s his role to render a just decision — taking all the details into account — no matter what the rules say.
This may seem at odds with the need for consistency. “The rule is 10:00, young man, and you came in at 10:05. You’re suspended.” (You’ve heard the expression, “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”) But what if the child was five minutes late because his friend’s father offered to drive him home, and the dad made an unscheduled stop at the gas station? Is it just to blame the boy?
Yes, consistency is important, but not at the expense of justice. And yes, there is a committee in the home. The mother and father participate in making the family rules. But a committee of two can’t resolve a conflict, which is why someone has to be the decision-maker. That’s the role of the father.
Children need to be treated with justice, kindness, and consideration of their needs, but things don’t always have to be “fair.”
-- 2004-08-20 » Greg Krehbiel