The issue of inequity I wrote about in my last post “fairness is relative” points out that who we compare ourselves to (our referent) makes a big difference in how we perceive our rewards in life. I’m preaching to the choir in this post as I suffer from a fairly high equity sensitively myself. It all started for me when I was very young. I remember comparing Christmas presents with my brother when I was a little boy. He is 3 years older than I, and often got “stuff” that looked cooler than mine. We both got socks and candy, and much of what Scott got in blue, I got in red. In all candor, I do prefer red over blue, but for some reason, even this didn’t seem fair. I never picked red, it was given to me by my parents as “my color”. But Scott got toys that were electric while mine were still spring wound. He got stuff that flew in the air and mine rolled on the ground. It’s not that my presents weren’t great, it’s just that his seemed better.
I remember running upstairs to my room crying one year when I was finished opening my presents. My mother sat by my bed with genuine heartache wondering what she could do to console me. She was a good mother. She got me gifts that were age appropriate. She did nothing wrong but have an eldest child who got gifts that were appropriate for him, but not for me. But to my heart, it felt like I got less, and it made me feel like I might be worth less. Interestingly, I don’t even remember what my younger sister received. I honestly could not care less at that point. She was a girl, and she was 4 years younger than I. What sense is there in comparing yourself to someone you don’t perceive as the same as you anyway? Just for clarity sake, my mother did not sit next to me on my bed and utter the words “life ain’t fair son”. She cried for me!
And though I’ve grow up, my sense of equity has remained in tact. When we hire someone at work at a higher salary (salary compression), it stings. I start to think to myself “are they worth more than me”? Conveniently, I don’t think very much about those who I out-earn doing practically the same job. This is a convenient way of thinking if your goal is to feel “gipped”! I’ve struggled with this for most of my life, but I’ve made big strides in taking back the thankfulness for what I do have over the years as well. And this post is about how I’ve relentlessly pursued joy in my life by releasing the equity entitlement that has encumbered me for so many of my years. It took a diagnosis of advanced colon cancer to come to terms with the fact that entitlement was robbing me of experiencing the joy in my life.
When I look back at my life I can remember other key moments when my sense of inequity ruined my joy. In high school, I worked for a steak house called Sirloin Stockade in McPherson, KS. I worked my way up from dishwasher to busboy, then fry cook and finally grill cook. Being the grill cook meant I was “the man” on the line. I loved my job, and I was rewarded well for my work. I made $3.65/hr when the minimum wage was only $3.35. This meant that I was rewarded with nickel and dime raises every 6 months during my years of service there. I was the highest paid high school staff on the line. I worked long and hard, and the job was very rewarding. I earned enough to buy my coveted 1966 MGB convertible sports car. Wow, I enjoyed work, and I loved the payoff!
One day I went in during our lunch break at school to pick up my check. The day crew was almost exclusively older women who I “lovingly” referred to as “betty crocker’s”, all of them with their hair in nets and jolly dispositions. It was never busy during the afternoons on weekdays. The real work happened during the weekends when the high schooler’s ran the lines! As one of the ladies handed me my check she said “don’t spend it all in one place”. I remember saying something like “it’s not enough to get much of anything anyway”. But her next words I will never forget. She said “yeah, it takes a lot of hours for $6.85/hr to add up to much”! I was flabbergasted as I realized that she was serious. These Betty’s got paid nearly twice the hourly wage I was earning, and their work was far easier.
It wasn’t long before my tenure at the Stockade ended. The manager explained that grown women have families to support, and that I was the highest paid high school employee. But this didn’t take away the sting. Though I don’t remember any decline in my work ethic, I suppose my motivation did decline. In the end, I was fired for swapping shifts with a friend of mine (something we often did, and for which my friend was not fired).
But I was a kid, right? This is just the type of thing that happens when you lack maturity, right? I think not. It has happened to me time and time again, and I’ve had to come to the conclusion that life just ain’t fair. And it ain’t gonna get fair just because you grow up and get more power and influence. Some of the richest and most powerful men and women in the world feel gipped. And it’s all because they compare themselves with those select others who have a better gig than they do. But this will always be the case; there will always be those more fortunate than I. So the solution can’t be to find ways to restore equity in the traditional way. You can’t always get more money for your job! You can’t always work less for a lesser pay! There must be another way to maintain the joy of a good job, even when others are rewarded more favorably for the same work. Here are three recommendations I’d urge you to consider when dealing with inequity:
First, recognize that You’re Maama was right: LIFE AIN’T FAIR; and it ain’t getting fair this side of heaven. Once you come to terms with this truth, facing inequities won’t feel like such a shock.
Second, recognize that you have a lot to lose. Mainly, you stand to lose the joy you currently experience in your job.
Third, focus as much attention on those less fortunate around you as you do comparing yourself to those who have more.
In the end, life is about loving others and the experience of JOY that comes from serving faithfully. The inequities that exist in this life are temporary, and God has a place for us where the struggle for peace and joy no longer exists. Until that day, keep fighting the right fight. The fight for prosperity is never ending, but the fight for Joy is eternal: One feeds your belly and your ego, the other feeds your soul!