Are Equality and Fairness Achievable?

Perhaps all people expect or hope to live in a society that truly practices equality and fairness for all. Philosophers, religious leaders, scholars, writers and ordinary decent, fair-minded humans have yearned for a linear, clear connection between human rights and rewards for all. Regrettably, this utopia has not been accomplished to date. What can we do to approximate these noble values in our lives?

Part of the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” These precious words have been inspiring but to date, have not been uniformly practiced.

The dictionary definition of Equality is, “The state of being equal; likeness in size, number, quantity, value, quality or degrees.” Surely, this definition does not apply to human beings. We vary from one another on all these parameters. Thus, this definition of equality may apply to most people’s desire to treat each other with fairness, decency and equality.

Though adults attempt to teach children to be honest and fair, research highlights the challenges kids find in adopting these values. British researchers Patricia Kanngiesser and Felix Warneken of the University of Bristol, analyzed children’s concepts of equality and fairness in their interactions with their peers. They found that “Few children gave away more than half of their stickers (the reward) to their partner who had worked more than they did.” These studies also discovered that “Though merit-based sharing is apparent in young children, it remains constrained by a self-serving bias.” Fairness is defined as “An unbiased disposition to be honest, frank, impartial, just, objective or dispassionate was lacking in young children who worked hard to protect their personal interests.”

In child rearing practices many parents believe they have equal expectations of all their children. However, many youngsters feel though the values were equally taught, the standards were not equally applied. Perhaps it is a linguistic variance. The word “equality” was derived from the Old French word “equalite” meaning “uniformity of in size”, while the Latin word “aequalitatem” means “likeness, similarity, or equality referring to rights or privileges.”

Fairness is also a concept in the eyes of the beholder. In tangible issues, the comparison of treatment is easier to ascertain. Yet, when we add issues of a perceived preferred treatment of a sibling, another employee or a student assessing his grade on a test, these perceptions may be tainted by a sense of being unfairly treated associated with the notion that he/she is the least favored child/employee/student.

Deal with equality and fairness:

  • Understand that equality and fairness are in the eyes of the beholder.
  • Accept that total fairness and objectivity in adult life is unachievable.
  • Attempt to be as fair and decent as possible and model it for others.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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