judgeAt some point in your life, you probably learned the golden rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. The golden rule reflects our need for balance and fairness to counteract the human tendency to use different rules for ourselves and for others. The idea of being thought unfair by other people, is a very powerful motivator and we will often be extra kind and fair because we fear other people’s judgment. There is a phrase in Exodus 21:23,24 that many cite as a religious basis for our idea of fairness “a life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand”. This quotation is basis for how many define fairness and justice. These are principals that we learn for the world and guides society like a compass. Yet, revenge and retribution threatens to break down society, as people take reciprocal revenge one another.

The Golden Rule of fairness is the earliest known human legal system, which is almost universal across the globe. This system of fairness is known as lex talionis, or “the law (lex) of retaliation (talionis).” The premise for this form of law is the principle of proportionate punishment found in the golden rule, often expressed under the motto “Let the punishment fit the crime.” At the root of this principle is the belief that one of the purposes of the law is to provide equitable retaliation for an offended party. It defines and restricts the extent of the retaliation. The Golden Rule implies you can only hurt someone to an equal degree to those that have hurt you. Mahatma Gandhi commented that: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the whole world would soon be blind and toothless.” Gandhi has a logical point.

Many people come to counseling angry at those things that ought to be fair, but fairness is not some objective fact. Fairness is subjective, its something that you define and most of us define fairness as getting our way.  And when things aren’t fair, you feel responsible for straightening it out the situation and enforcing your standard of fairness on others. While its truly understandable that unfairness will lead to anger. Anger typically leads to punishment for the awful unfairness you experienced. And this is leads to other painful problems. For example, if something like a traffic jam leaves you powerless, tense and frustrated, what do you do? Maybe you go home and find some petty thing out of order and blow up, taking out your frustration on your family. Or maybe you go to a bar, maneuver someone into offending you, and get into a fight. Either way you are attempting to vent your anger at the unfairness of the traffic jam by hurting innocent people.

The common theme in most situations of unfairness is that you don’t know how to solve a problem. As a result you may feel out of control and anxious about the disclosure of your limitations and incompetence. There are themes of insecurity and vulnerability because we may compare ourselves to others and feel inferior to “smarter,” more “competent” people. As this anger builds, you come to resent those for their superior coping skills and you may hate yourself for being so “stupid.” However, you may not have a clear perception of the real problem. The real problem is the influence that your fears and emotions from the past have over you in the present. Your emotional lessons from the past predispose you to look for some features and ignore other factors based on what you remember about the last time you felt this way.

Judge image available from Shutterstock.