Johnny feels picked on. He is sure that he is treated unfairly compared to others. Even worse, he is convinced that it’s the story of his entire life.
When I introduced Johnny in an earlier column, I suggested that he carefully examine his perceptions. Is he really treated unfairly, as he believes? Or is he choosing to concentrate on times when things go badly for him, while ignoring times when he fares better than others?
This article is one in a series You can find the first article in the series here.
Well, Johnny has concluded that it’s not just perception; unfairness is his reality. More often than not, he gets the short end of the stick. Given that, is there any help to offer? Here are two suggestions.
1. Focus on now. Rather than dwelling on the past and reliving earlier injustices, Reality Therapy focuses on the present. Johnny can’t change the outcome of his 10-year-old science project. However, he can work on improving his relationship with his boss right now.
2. Analyze what you really want. For example, at the workplace, Johnny sees Sam taking time off, while he can’t. So let’s ask Johnny, “What do you really want? Do you want specific times off?”
Johnny’s response, “It’s not so much that I want time off. I just want everybody to be treated fairly.”
Expecting fairness sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? However, “fairness” is tricky to define, and expecting perfectly fair treatment is a pretty high aspiration for mere humans. But there’s an even bigger downside to tying satisfaction to the idea of fairness.
When Johnny allows his satisfaction to be determined by how others are treated, or at least, by his perception of how others are treated—he’s essentially giving up control to events outside himself.
If Johnny sticks rigidly to this position: “I have to be treated exactly as I think others are treated,” can he ever be satisfied? There will always be someone whom you can perceive as being treated better than you are.
It may be helpful for Johnny to examine what he wants more carefully, without comparing himself to others. For example, his perception of unfairness at work may relate to his need for power; he may not feel valued. Perhaps what he really wants is to be recognized and appreciated.
Right now, Johnny is only recognized at work for his complaints about unfairness and his requests for time off. However, Johnny may be able to change that by changing his own behaviour. If Johnny chose a more productive direction for his energy, for example, by taking initiative on the job, he may start to be recognized for his positive contributions, ultimately leading to greater satisfaction for Johnny.
While choosing different behaviours might help Johnny at work, his difficulties are not confined to his workplace. His perception of unfairness extends to all of his interactions: parents, teachers, even with his friends. We’ll take a look next time at suggestions for Johnny that could help lead to a more satisfying all-round life.
Do you think Johnny’s best path to satisfaction is by changing his behaviour? Or do you think he’s best served by continuing to concentrate on fairness?
The next article in this series is here.