Reality Check: When Fairness Holds Us Back

The mother-daughter conflict story told in Choice Theory by Dr. Glasser that I’ve been referring to has one more interesting dimension that some of us might find troubling.

Briefly, the story goes like this: Mom works all day and is angry that the daughter doesn’t help out in the home. There’s yelling and sulking and unhappiness.

Glasser’s suggestion was for mom to try a short experiment, during which she treats her daughter as if she were a valued customer.

If your definition of a customer is limited to someone who buys things, this may sound ridiculous to you. Of course, the daughter is not a customer in a traditional sense.

But the customer analogy is helpful because everyone understands how one treats one’s best customer. A customer has the power to walk away, to shop somewhere else. We know that they are not held captive by us; we have to continue to earn their business.

It’s easy for mom to picture the difference between how she’s treating her daughter now and how she would treat a customer.

The quite reasonable objection to Glasser’s suggestion is, “That’s not fair. Why should I treat my daughter like a valued customer? I work all day; she should help around the house. If anything, she should treat me like a valued customer.”

And that’s probably true.

Yet, the question really comes down to, “What do you want? Do you want a perfectly equal split of the household chores? Or do you want to have quiet evenings, make the dinner, do the chores without conflict, and get along with the person with whom you are sharing your house and your life?

But it’s not fair.

You’d think it would be simple to understand fairness, but when you dive into specifics, it’s anything but. What does fairness mean?

My perception of what fairness looks like is probably different from your perception of fairness.

Is fairness what we’d have if everybody were equally beautiful? Equally smart? Is it fairness if everybody has the same chance? Or if everybody has the same success?

Do you think fairness requires that someone “should” be doing something differently? Perhaps it’s your spouse, your children, your parents, your boss, or further afield, your local politician or even those in other countries.

Does fairness mean that each one of us should wash exactly the same number and messiness of dishes?

The specifics of fairness can start to look absurd pretty quickly.

Sadly, there are some feelings that seem to come along for the ride when we have rigid demands about fairness, such as unhappiness, depression, resentment, anger.

In the mother-daughter conflict, our natural sense of justice might lead us to conclude that the daughter should, indeed, be doing her part toward the tasks of the household. Yet here’s Glasser, suggesting that the mother continue to do all the chores!

If life was fair from mom’s perspective, her daughter would be the perfect package of love, responsibility, cleaning abilities, fun, and everything else. But she’s not.

So, does mom want to try to grow the relationship with her daughter? Or does she want to cling to, “it must be fair”?

There will always be somebody, somehow, somewhere, and for no good reason, who is treated better than we are. They don’t deserve it. And if life was fair, that wouldn’t happen.

Dr. Glasser has some great quotes in his many books; I consider this one of his best: “If life was fair, there’d be no need for counselors.”

Have you ever held yourself back from doing something that you knew would help a relationship just because you thought, “Doing this wouldn’t be fair to me”? If so, do you believe that it was an effective choice?

This entry was posted in Relationships and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.