At some point in your life, you probably learned the golden rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.
There is a phrase in Exodus 21:23,24 that many cite as a religious basis for the golden rule “a life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand”. Many people are taught and encouraged to seek an eye for an eye when confronted with any unfairness. Yet, Mahatma Gandhi once commented that: “If we all live according to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth mentality and the whole world will soon be blind and toothless.”
One of the most common legacies that linger from childhood is fairness. As a child, you learned about equality and tit for tat behavior as a way to promote responsibility. You played games and learned about taking turns to create a level playing field. You were taught about sharing and understand it’s not right when someone takes more than their fair share or won’t let others play with their toys.
You learned from your role models that someone must assume ownership for regulating fair play, so those who break the rules get penalized or punished. As adults, some people feel others have all the advantages and privilege. You see two groups: the have and have nots. This lack of equality or fairness makes you angry and leads you to lash out.
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.
How many people are silently tormented by a sense of unfairness expressed in such thoughts as “if only I were richer, smarter, less lonely, younger, better looking, or 20 pounds lighter?” They believe, “Life is so unfair and there is nothing I can do about it.” Unfairness could be the intellectual frustration of knowing that others are missing the point. It could be the social irritation of having to tolerate rude behavior. It could be the humiliating insult of not having your potential fulfilled. It could be the trauma of childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
Anger from unfairness may arise if a family member speaks in a sarcastic tone of voice, while you have been polite. It is displayed when a coworker gets promoted ahead of you, while you have put in extra hours. It is experienced when traffic is at a standstill and you have a plane to catch. It not fair when the bills pile up, no matter how much you work; the dog pees on the rug after you have just cleaned the house; when a friend fails to keep a promise after you have lent him money; when a boss criticizes you for something you didn’t do; when a child refuses to obey you no matter how much you praise them; when you are feeling ignored, even though you have given extra attention to others.
It is all unfair and you may even feel the urge to pick up weapons, whether physical (i.e., guns and fists) or verbal (i.e., yelling and threats) and turn them on others. These behaviors are triggered by relatively small things, but they can have large consequences.
Many people who seek anger management struggle with unfairness. They focus on how things should be, rather than how they are. Things should be fair, they often say, but fairness is not some objective fact. However many people think fairness means getting their way. Fairness is based on what you believe and perceive as ‘fair’. So when you are angry, you feel resentful because you think this is not meeting your standards of what’s fair. And when things aren’t fair, you feel responsible for straightening it out by enforcing your standard of fairness on others.
When the world doesn’t respond according to what you want, it leaves you feeling cheated, this is the core experience of unfairness. But the real danger comes up when other people won’t agree with you. No matter how much you plead your case, explain yourself and suggesting logical reasons for what is wrong, no one will agree with you. “It’s my responsibility to make them understand, then things will be fair”, you think. But no one sees it from your side, so you unleash your anger to force them to change.
To promote a healthy and happy life you have to deal with your own anger. You can choose to confront the idea that if people behave unfairly toward you that it’s a challenge to your worth as a person. This only shows that you are relying on other people’s approval and acceptance to feel good about yourselves. However, their judgment is no better or worse than yours. So their opinion is really just a reflection of their own personal taste. Their view is not an objective measure of your worth as a person. They do not possess some God like knowledge of right and wrong. They really do not know what is best. So rather than dwell on how to please them, you can choose to deal with the underlying problem, the idea that you have to do things to better and be more responsible to become a ‘worthy’ person.