Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is Being Fair A Bad Idea?

Teacher talking to student at LSI
Teacher talking to student at LSI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was recently listening to an Andy Stanley podcast on leadership in which he proposed that the idea of being fair is a bad idea.  Are you surprised?  According to him,  the scenario goes something like this;  a parent, a teacher, a boss says, "I can't give you _____  (you fill in the blank-time, attention, affection, money, resources) because I can't give the same thing to everyone and if I gave it just to you it would be unfair. Since I don't have enough resources to be fair and give it to everyone, I won't give it to you or anyone."  The end result is that not only does no one get the benefit of the ______, but that the giver becomes disengaged, uninvolved, distant.  What could be a win-win situation becomes a losing situation for everyone, including the person who wants to give, the person in charge of the resources.

How do you reconcile this situation?  Andy Stanley proposes what he calls "Do for one, what you wish you could do for all."  But wait, do for one and leave someone out?  Isn't that unfair?  Aren't you as a parent, a teacher, a boss, playing favorites?  The answer of course is yes.  But isn't life unfair?

I'm not suggesting of course that a teacher, a parent, a boss give all their attention, all their resources or affection to one child and nothing to another.  Just as Andy is not suggesting a leader ignore the needs of all employees and dote on one.  Instead he is suggesting that you select those situations where you can tutor, counsel, encourage, where there is a reciprocal relationship and make a difference.  In other words, "do for one what you wish you could do for all."

Throughout history, there have been examples of this.  Oprah Winfrey was mentored and encouraged by a fourth grade teacher Mary Duncan, who took extra time with her, allowed her to stay after class to help with various tasks and encouraged her to overcome her feelings of insecurity.  Walter Cronkite, well known news anchor, was encouraged by his devoted high school journalism teacher Fred Birney who gave him practical experience as editor of the high school newspaper and encouraged him to go into journalism rather than engineering.  Finally, Dr Martin Luther King Jr was inspired by Dr. Benjamin Mays, a minister, a scholar and president of Morehouse College.  Dr. King was so influenced by his close relationship with Dr. Mays that he would call him his "spiritual and emotional father".  What if each of these individuals had decided not to mentor, not to encourage, not to inspire because they didn't have the time to do that for all their students?  What if they had been afraid to become involved in the relationship because it wouldn't be fair to other students?  Would we have even heard of Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr or Walter Cronkite?  Probably not.

Overwhelmed by the needs of the students in your classroom?  Pick one where you can make a difference and mentor them.  Overcome by the turmoil, the needs of our broken world?  Pick one cause, one area where you can make a dent in the universe.  Think what a difference you could make if you applied this principle.  Think what a difference we all could make if we each one applied this principle to just one person.  What if instead of worrying about being fair, we instead worried about making a difference?  Would the world look like a different place?


  1. Hi, Lynne! ~

    A controversial and thought-provoking post! I agree with your premise on behalf of both students and teachers -- INSPIRING! Thank you!

    I'd like to share this at:

  2. It is never about being fair, it's always about making a difference in the lives of others. Following God's calling and His will - everything! You have expressed this so wonderfully here, Lynne!

  3. I loved this post!! Thank you for sharing. As a mother and a teacher I can relate to the situation. I always chose to give the best I can and I encourage the person I gave to to give something else to a third person and make it as a chain. We don't have the same needs, but we all have needs that others can fulfill

  4. great post. I raised 5 kids and worked for 30 years, now I am raising my grandkids. No life is not fair. My thoughts were always different, I'm not into giving everyone a prize at the end of the day. I feel if everyone gets the prize it is no longer special or earned. If one child/person excels today
    in their endeavors, then they receive the prize. In the same manner if one child/person needs discipline one child gets it. Making the world grey is not a goal of mine. Great post...<3

  5. @Linda-thanks for the compliment and reposting!
    @Martha- I must admit, I've only recently come to this conclusion. I've spent a lifetime trying to be fair and failing at it!
    @Nikky-You have really hit the nail on the head-we don't have the same needs and consequently being "fair" is not only a bad idea, it's unnecessary
    @Jan--I like the way you put it, "making the world grey" should not be a goal