No, Fair Systems are Not Fair

Another week in the world of education, and another teenager, Ms Suzy Lee Weiss, has gone through the epiphany after several university rejections that university admissions systems are not fair. Well, no crap Sherlock.

Yes, yes, her writing is satire. Yes, it’s tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating; she’s got so much wit and cleverness that she’ll go far…yada yada yada yawn. That she’s smart enough to write a piece of social commentary and not appear stupid on television isn’t really that amazing. There are many teenagers, all across the world, at many different ages, who are capable of the same things. It’s not a magic Midas touch, it’s simply a matter of temperament. Yes, she’s clever, but she really shouldn’t be afforded some special attention just because she’s pointed out what most people have known for ages:

Fair systems are not really fair.

Actually, I can’t think of a system that is fair. Can you? They may work, certainly, but they may not be completely fair in that they may not work to the convenience of everybody. Usually the majority, but not everybody. There’s an often fundamental flaw in everything, from job application systems to traffic.

So, if I agree the system isn’t fair, what’s the problem with Ms Weiss’ article?

It exposes the deeper modern problem, I think, that generations of youth are raised to expect certain things. We are taught that when we do A, we will get B, when we do B, we get C…and so on. We are trained in nursery to get into junior school, at junior school we are trained to get into high school, and from high school we are trained to get into university and so on. When we complain that this rigid route doesn’t make us happy, we are promptly told that the only way we can be happy, truly happy, is to acquire the money that will enable us to be happy. No matter what we want to be, it is only money that will make it possible. And thus we return to the route.

Yes, it is a question of money.

Look, if people weren’t concerned about money and how they’d be able to feed themselves in the future, there would be less people going to university. There’d be less people working 9-5 hours in office jobs to make enough money to get into the job they actually want to do. We do these things only because the established route tells us that money is necessary to enable us to live adequately enough that we can find happiness. If money (and the prestige associated with it) was no object, the only people going on to higher education and caring about ‘Ivy League’ quality would be the people who found it truly delightful to learn. Which, unfortunately, is not that many teenagers.

Ms Weiss, like many other teenagers across the globe, appears stuck on this route. Her real complaint, although she may not realise it, is not the flawed admissions system but this flawed happiness system. Rejection by universities she felt entitled to attend opened her eyes to the flaws of the system. I think for a moment she realised that she had been lied to by her entire society, in that this search for money doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. This route is not as rigid as it appears; few people who follow it ever actually attain the comfortable monetary status they seek. The instability of college admissions opened Ms Weiss’ eyes to the variables which conflict with this goal. Yes, certainly money gives you time, resources and the opportunity to pursue happiness, more so than poverty or living on the bread line. But the mistake that is too often made is that many people are taught that money and happiness are interchangeable. And when they realise that this route is not so straightforward as one has been told, it leaves people shaken. You begin to question your life so far and you ask: what is the point of all of this? Why do I bother if I’ll never actually reach my goal?

In Weiss’ case, immediately after asking that question, she looked to find a source of blame so that she could move back onto the route. It’s the unfair admissions system stopping me, not anything I’ve done/not done.

What we need to do to stop this from happening is that we need to tell teenagers new things.

  1. Yes, trying is the way to success. But. Sometimes, no matter how much you try, you will not succeed in your goal.
  2. Often, this is because you have the wrong goal. You’re looking for success at the end of the road. Sometimes, ‘success’ is the happiness, the experience, the friends and the life you make as you travel down that road.
  3. Life isn’t fair, and it never will be.
  4. Happiness is a form of wealth. Wealth is not a form of happiness.
  5. Actually, do be yourself. It’s not what universities or employers are looking for, but it’s the way to be happy. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t get where they did faking it, they got where they did trying to do what made them happy.

Focusing on the unfairness of one particular stage of life never got anybody anywhere. Ms Weiss’ case will die down soon, and as she is already apparently from a good middle-class background, with a sister working for the Wall Street Journal, she’ll likely graduate and find her desired job soon enough. At some point she’ll likely realise that it makes not so much difference where you went to school but rather, what you got out of it.

Money isn’t necessary for a happy life. Definitely, a hand-to-mouth existence isn’t easy at all – I know that myself; my family is far, far from wealthy – but there’s something wrong with living to make money to enable you to live to make money. That is only living to survive. Supporting a family isn’t easy on low funds either, I understand that. Many people think the idea of seeking out only happiness is ridiculous liberalism, and that’s understandable, because after a certain age and set of experiences that is no longer an option. But I’d like to see a generation, just one, which told its children to live their lives seeking happiness, not ephemeral pleasure or money. Just happiness. Somehow, I don’t think they’d have the same problem. Because they wouldn’t go into it believing that things would be easy. But they’d go into life knowing that as hard as things got, they’d be happy at the same time.

At some point in the past you were born, and at some point in the future you’ll die. Living is not obsessing over trivial matters, but meaningfully making up the difference. And if you disagree with me, the comment section is just below.

86 thoughts on “No, Fair Systems are Not Fair

  1. Pingback: Be Yourself | Life is Mysterious

  2. 2Karl

    “No-one’s yet explained to me exactly what’s so great about slaving fifty years away on something that you hate” – Frank Turner.

    Good post.

  3. S.C.

    I don’t know how I feel about this. On one hand, I know that money doesn’t equal happiness. On the other, I really need money – and I feel like I need to scramble for it, considering the tightness of the job market in my field. I don’t have the luxury of sitting back and philosophizing, as much as I’d love to do that.

    But you’re right that life isn’t fair and that this entitled attitude that kids today and in my own generation from the 90s/00s grew up with – and that many of us were made to believe in by our parents and society – is wrong. There’s nothing wrong with good honest work; it’s not beneath anybody, and in the end whether you have Harvard or Clayton State University on your transcript doesn’t matter when you’re buried in the ground.

  4. Sword of Apollo

    Much of what prestigious universities look for in applicants is, quite frankly, garbage. This is especially true of “community service” and “diversity.” The only proper qualifications for a good university should be good grades, a good work ethic/motivation, and the ability to pay for the college by some means.

    The nonsense requirements are in part a product of the fact that colleges in the US are either public (run by an arm of the government) or government-subsidized. A fully private, unsubsidized university system would have reduced tuitions (due to competition) and more schools as demand for college education rises. We wouldn’t have this situation of too many students chasing too few quality college positions.

  5. Woolly Muses

    I skimmed all the comments so I may be repeating someone else’s views. Totally agree with your article. I can quote instances which occurred thirty years ago where late teens early twenties employees/staff did not want to do what they perceived to be menial tasks, only to discover their desired job in the workplace was harder than they thought. Most tasks look easier when completed by a professional or experienced employee.

  6. sedrate

    You are so wrong saying money doesn’t bring happiness, it certainly does. Sanity ain’t cheap. My best friend lives half a country length away, seeing her makes me happy, how do I see her, by paying for a plane ticket with money. Another friend is getting married at a tropical destination, she came to my wedding on short notice and through hell and high water, seeing her get married will make me happy, how do I do that, by paying for a plane ticket with money.

    Sure, the earning of money can sometimes be a draining, soul-sucking, pain in the ass, but it’s necessary. Life’s not fair as you say and part of the unfairness is that you have to work to make money so you can do the things that make you happy. Not to mention eat and stay warm.

    1. NicholasF

      You didn’t convince me that money brings happiness. You however seem to have convinced yourself.

      I just want to impart a single feeling to you: sadness. You say “…it’s necessary. Life’s not fair as you say…” Human life is a human construct and, as such, we as humankind have the right to modify it as we wish. Thus nothing is necessary, thus nothing has to be unfair. Sadness… because it’s true that humanity is the greatest thing in this universe and it’s the greatest tragedy that we don’t reach our full potential.

      And then you infer from my words that I’m against the monetary system, and you’d be right. You’d get up in arms because you have been fortunate enough to profit from this system. You are enabled to find happiness, you are kept alive and safe with food and everything else. But it’s still not good enough because there are losers, and I hate them. I don’t want them to exist. Losing has always and will always suck.

      There’s so much more I want to say but not all of it is aimed at you. And please don’t get the impression that I’m cornering you and attacking you, sedrate, because I only have good intentions in my heart. Nicholas: From the Greek name Νικολαος (Nikolaos) which meant “victory of the people”. The ultimate victory of all the people.

  7. findingthewritethings

    Education is often lumped in with success and that in order to become successful you must be educated. This is partially true, but our society views education as a pass and go type of thing. Get all the good grades you want, but it doesn’t meant much if you can’t apply any of the skills and knowledge you were supposed to have learned.

    Believe me, my major was deemed ‘useless’ haha, but I loved it and I made it work for me! I never expected something to just fall into my lap because I earned a degree. Valuing education isn’t just getting through school, it’s using what you learned to make a life for yourself.

  8. GlobeInspired

    Money will come when you do the things you are happy doing and love doing. As for university, if you are really determined in going, you will make it happen. Thanks for sharing, I like your writing. 🙂

  9. The Judgmental Cook

    ” it makes not so much difference where you went to school but rather, what you got out of it.”
    Excellent. I can’t say I’m all that proud of where I went to school, but I sure did learn a lot and not just what was taught in class. I learned how to think and how to write. I learned about politics and how to play the game. I learned that very little is fair. And I learned that academia isn’t real life… and that was very valuable.

  10. P.

    Reblogged this on Thoughts on a Rampage and commented:
    Definitely agreeable, people these days have a mindset that everything will be handed to you on a silver platter. Sure this would be the case if you: a) Mined the ore to make the silver, b) smelted the ore into the silver and c)worked the silver into your platter. No things in life are free, and everyone should know by now life is not fair. not even remotely. You need to work for everything that you have, unless you are one of the privileged to either be born into a privileged family, or just won the lotto. Myself, I am not from a privileged family, so I think I’ll take my chances at the latter.

    If things do not work out the first few times, don’t complain to social media and say that it is the others fault and that life is unfair, try harder and work a little longer, you might get what you are looking for. Success is always just around the corner.

  11. magnuswendler

    Interesting to read your post here. I have struggled on my journey to find what really matters, where I’m going and what I am doing. Money is definitely factored into this contemplation, so is happiness. I found your points on university to be interesting, about how if we weren’t money focused, we wouldn’t have as many people in universities. This point is kind or ironic because so many people spend thousands upon thousands simply to get through university and obtain a piece of paper that gives them some credential in life. If money didn’t matter so much, and we didn’t spend it in this way, we would be spending less and even if making less, we might have more. We could put some of that savings toward things that do make us happy such as perhaps things that give us a sense of happiness and freedom. That being said, a walk in the park or woods can give happiness and come at the price that we cannot put any dollar amount upon.

    Loved reading your post and look forward to future posts you write!!

  12. mackenziedmiller

    I immediately disliked Weiss’ article when I read it but couldn’t put y finger on exactly why ad I just chalked it up to me being in a bad mood. But when I read this blog you basically told me why I hadn’t liked it.

  13. howiebm

    With everyone having different perceptions of fair it’s just everybody thinking everyone else’s version of fair isn’t fair. As long as human choice is involved nothing will be fair; saying that I bet when we have completely automated systems, with advanced A.I. based on completely black and white reasoning we will say they aren’t fair either!

    Fair is a point of view, and there-in lies the problem with that generic article.

  14. lauraweldon05

    Wow! Great insight! Are you really younger than 17? I’m 27 and am just figuring that my college time was pretty much a waste…

    1. lauraweldon05

      Ok, well, college was not necessarily a waste per say, but it didn’t provide me with the opportunities I was promised it would. I can easily spot BS and call it what it is, and I can analyze things more than I could before college… which is nice as a mother. But for my children, I have to think outside of the box as to how to raise them. They can’t just go to college, and provide for their family and be “happy”. You don’t earn millions outside of college, and if you’re looking just for money, you’ll never get enough to fulfill your “happiness.”

      Just like you said Gates and Jobs did what they did cause they did what they were passionate about, it wasn’t a monetary quest.

  15. It'sAGuysLife

    I disagree to a degree, money brings many people happiness, I’m a person who is very driven by earning money. This may coincide with the fact that we don’t have have a lot of it. We aren’t the poorest by any means however we also are not the richest. I deem happiness to be where you are at a point of being content. Personally for me I wont be content until I am finically secure to where I don’t need to worry no longer. I also think it is wrong to state “Sometimes, no matter how much you try, you will not succeed in your goal.” This comes across very pessimistic in my opinion and quite disheartening. I believe you can achieve everything you want in live as long as you are passionate, hard working, patient and can learn from your failures.

    I think what this girl is doing is exactly right, learning from her failures and using them to her leverage as oppose to letting them consume her, many people would have sat and felt sorry for themselves but she is doing what everyone else should do with failure and reject, prove your rejector wrong.

  16. Megan's Musings

    I really enjoyed this post. I agree with the thoughts on happiness being wealth. Our culture has taught us that we are entitled and shouldn’t have to work. Thanks for raising some great thoughts and challenging mine.

  17. Hitchiking Colorado

    It’s definitely all about the perception and outlook you have on life. Here are three different perceptions I can think of off the top of my head:
    1) That life is all about making money. This is shallow, but let’s admit it, there are millionaires out there that are living to make the next investment. I’ve met them. They live in fear, and are constantly afraid of losing their bank accounts.

    2) That life is about what you leave behind. Mozart, Beethoven, Jimi Hendrix, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Geronimo, Stephen King…. the list goes on and on. These people have found a way to devote themselves to their lives’ work, and it’s not about making money, even though they are well off, but about what they leave humanity or leave on this planet. In terms of humanity, their work literally lives on as long as humanity is not extinct and still in existence. I think this is a noble pursuit, and a step above the first way to live. There are millionaires that invest in car dealerships, and oil, things like this, and they really are not leaving anything of real value behind. Look at the Donald Trump building in Las Vegas. What a worthless piece of architecture, that will surely be forgotten within a few decades and within 100 years, most likely crumble to the ground. Music, writing, philosophies, inventions, innovation— these are things that we can contribute to humanity, and it has nothing to do with your accumulated wealth or the degree you hold from which university; none of that pretentious bullshit.

    3) That life is about living for the moment. A very few select portion of society live their lives like this all the time, while the most of us probably live it like this on occasion. To never live your life like this is a shame. To live like this all the time, I suppose, one could say you are lazy and lack ambition. In some cultures, this is a way of life.

    Of course, I’m just commenting off the top of my head and by no means is this a complete truism, only an opinion I have at this moment. I’d like to live my life by way of number 2 and 3.

    Good blog, by the way. Got my neurons firing.

  18. SurvivingLimboGirl

    I didn’t read Weiss’ article but don’t need to. I got so much out of reading yours! As a mother of two adolescent boys, I really struggle to give them a valid answer when they ask me what the point of going to school is and express that they feel they are wasting their lives. And that’s just elementary and middle school! I have to fake an answer. To be honest, life is short and kids these days are bright, entrepreneurial and brimming with enthusiasm (all positive traits which appear to be hampered and diminished the further along they get in school).

    I don’t know what the solution is. We train our children OUT of following their passions so they can spend half their lives trying to recover some sense of what their passion might be. I can’t fathom that these are necessary developmental milestones (disillusionment, disassociation with intrinsic desires) but maybe they are. Maybe we have to be deprived in order to motivate enough to seek higher ground. I know that personally, loss and defeat have compelled me to (out of necessity) mine my soul for my true life purpose. Still, I already knew when I was seven years old and by the time I was 16, I had lost faith in and awareness of what truly brought me joy.

    I stumbled onto your blog and so glad I did. I look forward to reading more. I love when I read something that hits a nerve and that is what you’ve done, quite eloquently too, I might add. 🙂

  19. separateddavid

    I take your point, but people complain about fair systems exactly because they are fair. They complain because they think they should have had some preference and when the outcome does not suit them, they think they were cheated out of that preference. Select 10 out of 100 people by rolling dice and you’ll have 90 people complaining how unfair it is. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the starting point.


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