For those of us who were raised in a western cultural mindset, ‘justice’ is one of the most important values we hold.
Fairness, equity, getting what we earn, what we deserve – these are all things we value deeply. We believe that the innocent are (or at least should be) acquitted, and the guilty punished. We tend to believe governments enact laws justly, that smart students get good grades, that slackers at work are punished, and the best athlete gets gold. At least we believe very deeply this is how it should be – for when we see injustice we are outraged.
This value is a really good thing. It leads to a flourishing of society that simply cannot happen otherwise, as is evidenced by places around the globe where justice simply does not exist.
In the global West, we also have a very strong individualist mindset. We tend to focus on ourselves. What we can accomplish, what we can do, and our own track record is of utmost importance. My job performance (not the team) where I went to school (no regard for others in the family), what I gained for myself (not the community) are ways we focus very narrowly on ourselves.
When we compare ourselves to others, it’s specifically to those with more than us. We like to ignore facts like if we combine all we have (house equity, savings, retirement fund, etc.) $100,000 easily puts us in the wealthiest 10% on the planet (if we approach $1M we are the global 1%)*.
When we combine these deeply held values – we come to a place of “I don’t have a whole lot – but everything I have, I earned myself. And honestly… I deserve a little bit more.”
We assume intelligence & hard work will guarantee good outcomes
We assume smart/good/cool/hard-working people – have good lives.
Dumb/bad/lazy people fail.
We assume that outputs are the result of inputs.
Since we generally assume society is “just” and “life should be fair” then we have to assume outputs are the direct result of inputs.
When we find other people do indeed have more (better, cooler) stuff than us, we cannot hold on to the belief that we are as good (deserving, worthy, important, smart, cool, etc.) as they are and still maintain this sense of fairness.
There are ways to resolve this inequality we are faced with.
We could compare ourselves to those with less than us (which we never want to do) and understand just how much we have – and see it as ‘just’ (whatever that may mean in this scenario).
We could accept the notion that we are not as good/important/ smart/ cool as we thought – and thus not as deserving of the good stuff as we believed.
However, these two options are not what we are taught to do in modern, western society. We are constantly told: “you deserve better.”
So we look at the balance of what we have, and what we feel like we deserve – and we feel a great sense of imbalance, of disruption, of inequity. We will have a reinforced sense of “no, I deserve more/better/happier/prettier” and we will be driven by that nagging inequality that we feel compelled to resolve.
The only way we see to right this supposed wrong is we need as much as others (which of course is a never-ending cycle) – or we are discontent because we see this gross injustice that is a result of this apparent imbalance.
We can never find contentment – because we are constantly plagued by a nagging feeling that we should have more. That life owes us. That we deserve better.
Our default equation (good people=good stuff, hard work= success, innocent=not guilty)only makes sense if we assume the part in the middle is fair, is just, is equitable.
In many other parts of the world, this is simply not so.
Assuming the police will only help if you pay them, that a job goes to whoever has the most powerful family ties, that a judge will side with whoever comes up with the best bribe, that grades are not earned, that prison is reserved for those with the wrong political ties are all assumptions held by millions of people all over the world.
What if by default we assumed this life wasn’t really fair. That what we got/earned wasn’t a just reward.
What if we accepted that some who work really hard get nowhere, and some who seem to have it all did very little to ‘earn’ it?
What do you feel you’re still owed?
Consider the life you would have had – should have had – if God had not intervened.
Lord of sufficiency,
God of abundance,
Creator of everything,
I admit my constant craving for more hinders me.
It gets in the way of loving you,
It causes me to resent others,
It doesn’t allow me to be happy with what I have.
Help me to see everything that I have as a gift.
Teach me to look at others who have more with joy,
Encourage me to look at others with less – and be honest.
Give me your heart, give me contentment.
For my sake, for the sake of those around me,
and for the honor of your name.