“It’s not fair.”
That phrase has come up a lot lately.
I heard it from a friend grappling with divorce and mourning the end of a 20-year romance. I heard it from a worried mother, who was alerted about an active shooter at her son’s college campus. I heard it from a student whose 20-year-old peer is fighting cancer.
And it left my own lips earlier this month when I learned I would have to make an unplanned career change due to budget cuts where I work. (Note, this is unrelated to SpokaneFāVS).
“The universe is not fair and it’s never going to be fair,” author Daniel Keys Morgan once said.
We all know this. Growing up, our parents barked it at us to quiet our gripes. Maybe we’ve even said it to someone when we couldn’t find better words.
It’s an easy go-to phrase because in its simplicity, it is truth. And there’s nothing wrong with saying or accepting it. The problem is that we don’t follow it up with anything helpful. We can’t stop at “life’s not fair.”
We can’t stop at being angry, or sad, or disappointed. Complacency isn’t acceptable.
How we handle the unfairness is what’s important.
This isn’t the first time an employer has had to end a contract with me because of funding issues. I moved to Spokane from Connecticut to start a religion news website. I had a decent salary and benefits thanks to a sizable grant from the Lilly Foundation. Then that grant unexpectedly went away.
I was angry and scared.
Paying attention to emotions like those, and feeling them for a while is good, healthy even. But after a time we need to move past it, or at least try to. Sitting in anger or sorrow long term makes things worse.
That lesson first resonated with me after reading something Ven. Thubten Chodron wrote. She’s the abbess of Sravasti Abbey, the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Newport. She calls the lingering of negative sentiments the “garbage mind.”
It’s not as bad as it sounds, though.
“It’s very good when our garbage mind comes up, because then we have a chance to work with it, clear it out, and apply the antidote to counteract or transform it,” she wrote.
That can be done through meditation, by wishing for the happiness of those who may have caused the hurtful emotions, or by examining our own stories to see where the root of the hurt is coming from.
I think it can also be done by seeking opportunity in all things, which isn’t easy.
“When one door closes, another opens …” That’s the part of the Alexander Graham Bell quote everyone knows.
The second half of the quote is equally important, though: “… but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
When we’re staring despairingly at the closed door, that’s when “life’s not fair” bubbles up. Seeing the opened door takes work. After I was done being upset about my employer moving me here, and then pulling funding, I was able to see the opened door – the opportunity.
For me the closed door created a possibility for me to create a local nonprofit to keep the SpokaneFaVS website going, which is a decision I’ve not once regretted.
It’s not fair that yet another employer has to let me go. I’m disappointed, but I know there’s an antidote and I’m eager to see what’s behind the next door.
This column first appeared in the Spokesman-Review.