I think of myself as a kind-hearted and understanding person. But last week, I was at the grocery store and noticed the woman in front of me was very pregnant and had four young children with her. When it was time to pay I could see she was on public assistance. I got so angry that she gets help with necessities while I work a job I hate to cover mine. I’m surprised at myself having this reaction. I consider myself politically liberal. Yet I can’t shake off my resentment. I’m 68 years old, single and can’t afford to stop working. Is this fair?
A well-meaning adult, likely a kindergarten teacher, taught you about fairness. It’s an essential skill, but one fraught with complexity that many of us never explore as we grow up.
When we’re children, learning to take turns or to recite the rules of a game after another kid cheats reinforces a basic, though necessary, concept of fairness. As we mature from adolescence into adulthood, it’s easy to see that the world provides some people with advantages. An individual’s birthplace, intellect, natural talent and physical appearance—along with the financial, emotional, psychological and moral makeup of their parents—create advantages that weigh life more favorably or less so.
Character is defined by our ability to admit this and to make personal choices that reset those imbalances. Each encounter we have with unfairness offers a life-defining moment for spiritual growth. We discover who we are by the choices we make.
Fairness isn’t the real issue for you, though. Resentment arose through old wounds. Perhaps in the past you gave away copious amounts of money or time, and kept crumbs for yourself. Sometimes people over-give, hoping to be seen as good. Or they believe that by giving to others, they will receive. There are so many conflicting religious and social messages that we miss the simple solution: Take care of yourself and others. Be someone you can depend on. Stay invested in thriving and in doing what you can to ensure that others thrive, too.
Self-awareness is a gift and you have it. You projected a story on a pregnant woman in a grocery store, noticed and sought advice. We all concoct stories about other people, but we don’t all realize those stories reveal something about ourselves.
Here’s one insight: You are pregnant with possibilities for another way of life. After all, you can’t know the pregnant woman’s situation unless you ask and she opts to answer honestly. She could have been babysitting. She might need public assistance to get through a rough patch. Or maybe her entire life has been a rough patch.
None of that is any of your business. This is: You are unhappy and have the power to be happier if you change your attitude and circumstances. Consolidate debt, slash expenses and save everything you can. Reimagine necessities. Consider moving overseas or to a less expensive city. Apply for a new job. Be fair when assessing how to reinvent yourself. You’re never too old to believe in your ability to birth a life that thrills you.