Character Chats

What is fairness?

The True Character program here at True Balance Karate is our social and emotional learning program. Every month we have a different word of the month. This month, we’re talking about fairness.

What is fairness? It can sometimes be an overused word. Fairness means everyone should receive what they deserve and what they need.

Fairness at the dinner table

Here’s an example, one that’s easy for kids to understand too:

Let’s say we all sat down at a dinner table to eat. Would it be fair for all of us to get the same amount of food?

What if one of us just ate lunch an hour ago? And another one of us is only four years old and is tiny. And another one of us is dad — he’s not four years old, is not tiny, and has worked in the garden all day and had to skip lunch.

Is it fair for all of us to get the same amount of food? No, it’s not. Fairness is getting what you need and what you deserve. It’s fair for the younger kid to get the smaller portion. And for Dad, who skipped lunch to get all the flowers planted in the garden for mom, it’s fair for him to have more food. Right? So fairness isn’t always everybody getting the same thing.

What’s fair in these scenarios?

We’re going to go through some scenarios to try to define this to our kids and to talk a little bit more about what it really means.

Scenario #1: Let’s say you and I are about to run a race. Is it fair for both of us to start on the same line and start at the same time? Yeah. When we’re in a competition, it’s fair for both of us to have the same exact competition.

Scenario #2: Let’s say all of us are excited to see a concert. First person to get to the concert gets the best seats. Is that fair? Yeah, that’s fair. They got there early. They did the work. They got up and got going. They got the better seats. It’s fair for the person who gets there first to get the best seats, to get the best choice.

Scenario #3: Everyone is standing and waiting for a drink in class and you let two of your best friends in front of you. Is that fair to the other kids in class? No, it’s not fair to them to let people cut in line.

Scenario #4: Your brother shares his toys with you, but you refused to share your toys back with him. Is that fair? No. If somebody shares with you, you want to be nice and share back with them.

Scenario #5: You take the last cookie out of the cookie jar. Is that fair? Well, that depends. First, we have to answer a couple of questions. If we made a dozen cookies and you’ve already eaten 11 and you didn’t give Dad a chance to have a cookie, no that’s not fair. However, if you gave Dad a chance to have a cookie and if everybody has had a couple of cookies and it’s just the ones that are left and you happen to be the last one that grabs it, that’s fair. Somebody has to get the last cookie. 

What about if everybody has had a few cookies, except for Mom. Is it fair for you to eat the last cookie? Or should you offer it to Mom first? You should probably offer it to Mom first.

Fair is not necessarily even

Remember, fairness is more about everybody getting what they need and what they deserve, not necessarily everybody getting the same.

Now let’s say one of your friends makes a mess of all their books and toys. Is it fair for you to clean up their mess? No, people should clean up their own messes.

But let’s say you were playing with your friends. All the toys are out and your friend started getting sick. Had to go off to the bathroom. Maybe they’re throwing up.

Is it fair for you to clean up their toys then?

Yeah, we take care of each other when we’re not feeling good. It is fair to help somebody else out when they can’t do their regular things.

Fairness in competition

Let’s say your team is losing your competition. So you change the rules. Is it fair to change the rules in the middle of the game? No, it’s not fair to change rules in the middle of the game. Part of the game is that we all play by the same rules so we can see who wins.

Let’s say you’re in a contest and your friend wins an award, a trophy or a medal — and you don’t. Is that fair? Yeah. Part of being in a contest is that some of us who do the best win. We get our trophies, we get our awards, we get our ribbons. Those of us who didn’t, don’t win.

One of the ways I describe this to our students here when they talk about fairness and competition is to ask them, “Why did the other person win first place? Did they maybe practice more than you? Do you think it would be fair for you to win first place if you only practice three or four times, but the person who won first place practiced an hour a day?  Would that be fair if you won instead of them?”

This can help the students see and understand the true reason for competition. To reward hard work and dedication.

When we look at things like fairness, we want to look at what do people put into it, especially in competition. What have I done to get there?

I always tell my students, “Don’t be jealous of the people who won.” If you’re jealous of anything, be jealous of their free time for all that work that they’re able to put in in order to win. Don’t be jealous, be motivated.

So fairness, again, is something that can be a little difficult to define but something that is actually really important for us to dig into and make sure our kids understand it.

Thanks everybody. And we’ll see you on the mat.
–Master Helsdon