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Hey, No Fair!

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

No picking pleaseNot everybody was happy when the web-based registration system for the 2011 Boston Marathon took just eight hours to fill all 20,000 slots deemed by race organizers to be the maximum number the course could hold. With applications outpacing capacity, thousands of qualified runners failed to get a number for the race.

In a recent article for the Boston Globe, columnist Doug Most offered a gentle admonition to those runners who cried foul about being left out in the cold.

“To all those runners bemoaning how it wasn’t fair that they didn’t get in: Would it have been more fair if you had gotten in and another runner had not instead?”

It doesn’t take much to trigger our fairness meter. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has posited compellingly that fairness is one of five foundations of morality that all human beings share. It is certainly a value that many of us would name as important.

We watch for fairness in the media, where we hope to see equal weight afforded to opposing sides of a story. We watch for it in the development of public policy, where we expect to have conflicts of interest made visible. We watch for it in sports, where we slap fines, jail time, or at the very least a record book asterisk on players who have taken unfair steps to outperform the competition.

Fairness lies at the heart of that golden rule of behavior that tells us to treat others as we would have them treat us.

But there’s a difference between luck and fairness, isn’t there? Fairness implies intention. Our best chance for receiving fair treatment is to follow the golden rule as often as we’re able.

But, when a random or capricious circumstance thwarts our wishes, we can fuss about it, or we can make another choice. We can chalk it up to luck, or—as I prefer—to the invisible hand of fate steering us closer to our purpose.

The next time you get boxed out of the Boston Marathon, what other race will you choose to run?

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