Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fairness



John F. Kennedy said, "Life is unfair." All of us nod in agreement but what we don't acknowledge is that life is unfair, in large part, because fairness is very difficult, if not impossible, to create.

Years ago, when I started investigating discrimination complaints, I often had to stop people who'd assert that the goal of the investigation was to ensure fairness. "No," I'd explain, "the goal is to determine whether illegal discrimination took place. Fairness is a much broader and far more elusive concept. It is much easier to prevent discrimination than it is to ensure fairness."

Such discussions often dealt with the distinction between equal opportunity and equal results. The law required equal opportunity but many people wanted to scoot past that and stake a claim to equal results. [Note the current debate in Hollywood regarding the Oscars.] Providing opportunity is easier and more desirable than guaranteeing results. 

Opportunity is the ladder. Some individuals can and will climb higher than others. The genius of the civil rights laws rests in the legislative decision to go after certain narrow areas of discrimination instead of taking on the impossible dream of making life fair.

Life is unfair and it always will be.

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