What is fair?

Recently had this conversation with an adolescent who has never lived without public assistance (an adolescent, so not personal responsibility issue as of yet).

Adolescent asked me how we got to be so rich, because it isn’t fair.  “Rich” is based on the ‘fancy’ furniture in my house, all of which is second or third or fourth hand, and owning a house, which we put in a lot of hours of work every week for years to make the payments on, on land we inherited, so I concede some luck that by definitition isn’t ‘fair’ does come into play.

However, same adolescent wears high end ‘kicks’ or whatever the current in term is- tennis shoes or sneakers that cost between 100 and 200 dollars, every year, one or two new pairs. Same adolescent has expensive electronic toys and game boys and game stuff that I don’t buy and never did.  Same adolescent, when comes across money (gifted, allowance, chores, or illicitly ‘found’) immediately goes to convenience store to buy junk food, junk toys, junk electronics, every time.  Same adolescent was offered a job, worked for 2 hours and said it was too hard.

I asked same adolescent how adolescent got to be so rich, because it wasn’t fair.  I explained that I just came from a country where construction workers are wearing flip flops and sleeping on boards they put up on the construction site, in flimsy shacks on the construction site because they can’t buy closed toe shoes or afford rent, and they walk everywhere because they can’t afford a car. where a woman gets paid ten dollars a day to cook, clean, do laundry, and do grocery shopping for 8-10 hours and is considered lucky by her peers because most similar jobs are harder and pay only 7 dollars a day.   Hot water is a luxury and baths are unheard of. people play basketball barefoot and in flip flops, and eat rice three times a day, or maybe two, and might get some meat with that, but it could be stewed pigs’ ears and they will be thankful.
“That’s not fair,” I said. “You should sell your shoes and send some money to those people who wish they could live half as well as you do.”

“That’s different,” said the adolescent. But there was no explanation for why that was different and why it was fair to have shoes that cost more than somebody else’s entire monthly expenses for a family, but it wasn’t fair for me to have a big house.

“I’ve never had a hundred dollar pair of shoes in my entire life,” I pointed out.  “My shoes are nearly always purchased for a couple dollars at thrift shops or yard sales.  I don’t care that you have them.  If that’s what you value, that’s fine.  But maybe don’t look at somebody who can’t afford the shoes on your feet and tell them it’s not fair that they have things that you don’t.”

I thought about it later, and I could have worded that more accurately.  Over a year I definitely spend more than that on books, because I value books more than shoes.   So if I really, really wanted hundred to two hundred dollar shoes, I could ‘afford’ them, but I would have to do without other things I want more than I want any pair of shoes.  Some of those things are food that isn’t beans and rice, internet, hot water, and I’m also in my fifties and in my twenties there was no way in the world I could have bought an expensive pair of shoes.

So I hope the adolescent outgrows it.  On the other hand, I don’t recall feeling that much envy and resentment towards those who had more than I did.  Sometimes I was really frustrated by how little they understood about how other people lived (those arguments that you should do this or that and it’s less than you spend on your weekly starbucks tab still make me gnash my teeth since I’ve never had a weekly starbucks expense in my budget).

Envy is just not a sound philosophy of life.

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