How to practice fairness and accountability

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Fairness is about everyone getting what they deserve and need. However, it has been observed that many times folks focus on what they want and not so much on what others may need or deserve. In a world where it seems that life is not fair at times and many do not get what they deserve the question we ask ourselves is how can I practice fairness and keep integrity to the values I believe are suitable for all.

If we are in a position of power over others whether it is as a teacher, parent or employer, we will do well to start with not asking others to do something that we would not be willing to do ourselves. As children watch us and how we deal with each other and them they are learning how we practice fairness in our everyday life. Do we share the chores at home with other family members? Are the tasks we assign others just the things we do not like to do? How do we respond when we make a mistake?

When a mistake is made, many times there is a cover-up by claiming not to know who made the mess, or by blaming it on another person. When a child sees this done by an older sibling or an adult who is deemed a leader in the community, they are not learning accountability and responsibility for the action. They are seeing injustice taking place, and in some way, this may permit them to do the same. So what is fair when mistakes are made?

Fairness calls for us to admit that we made a mistake, apologize for the error – the Balanced Life Skills way by saying, “I am sorry for _____.” and following it up with restitution or making it right. Taking these steps will help our children to see fairness displayed practically. In fact, we can name sharing responsibilities, being accountable for mistakes as fairness when talking to our children and acknowledge them for their appropriate actions with others.

While this all seems like giving others what they need, fairness must always be balanced with assertiveness and justice for ourselves. Fairness is for everyone to find the balance in what we need and deserve.

Bringing out fairness in our children

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While hearing the refrain, “That’s not fair” comes when someone is not getting an emotional need met, many times it occurs when the rules are not followed, or it is perceived that someone has an unfair advantage by bending the rules. No matter where we find ourselves, playing a game with the family, a competitive team sport, in the corporate world or when competing for a grant to help a good cause there are rules and expectations that we expect everyone will be following.

There are times though that one family member forgets whose turn it is, or an opposing team does not follow the rules, or there is an underhanded dealing in our work, and things are not fair for all of the competitors. Every culture, organization, competition has both rules and ethics that have been agreed to or are understood by most parties and our understanding them helps us to conduct ourselves in a way that makes everyone appreciate how much we value the virtue of fairness.

To help our children understand that all of us need to work within the rules and ethics of the groups, we belong to we can use something as simple as having a driver’s license. The rules of the road are there, so we take turns at intersections, know which side of the road to drive on, and what all the signs on the road mean. These keep us safe. There are also ethics and good manners involved. While there may not be a rule about who gets a parking space, ethics, good manners say that if someone has their blinker on indicating their desire for a parking space, that we do not jump in front of them – just because we could. It is the fair thing to do.

When bringing out the best in our children fairness can be acknowledged in them when we see them;

  • taking turns in a game,
  • sharing food (especially a dessert) or toys,
  • when they had not complained about the time you needed to make for their sibling when they were sick, or
  • after a game that everyone did follow the rules.

Later you will recognize them for playing in competitive sports without complaining to a referee or about a bad grade they received on a school paper.

Look for those small occasions of fairness and point them out as such so that at a later time when they are upset about something that does not feel fair to them,  you can guide them to being fair with others and they will have a good understanding what fairness looks like in your family.

Fairness is a virtue that involves our respect for others and giving them the dignity everyone deserves. It is the practice of justice for everyone, even when we wish that things had a different outcome.

Fairness begins with personal integrity

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It is not unusual for any person to feel angry when they perceive that something is not fair and especially if they are the recipient of the short end of the decision. In fact, most anger comes from a feeling of not getting what we think we deserve or that someone else is not behaving in a fair way to us. Many are willing to call out “that’s not fair” anytime their needs are not met.

Angry feelings are a normal emotional reaction to having a goal blocked, or we are frustrated by what we perceive to be ‘not fair.’  This month we are considering what fairness is and so the question, does fairness mean that everyone gets the same. All of us can think of a time when we were left out or received less than others around, less attention, fewer accolades, less food. What are the factors that might play into fairness?

To begin with, we understand that every situation is different. Different circumstances, ages, needs to play a part in fairness and many times our point of view may even cloud our opinion. Let’s say there is a team chosen for a competition. Only five people can be on the team, based on the rules – but we want to be a part of that team. How could that decision be made and remain fair, even if some will not be able to go to the competition?

These may be some of the factors considered:

  • Talent
  • Age
  • Effort
  • Time to practice
  • Desire
  • Attitude
  • Favoritism

Which of these appear to be fair or unfair? How would you go about making these choices?

Teaching our children about fairness begins with our integrity to fairness and treating others according to what is needed, deserved and appropriate. There may be times that we give up our personal needs and wants for that of others because it is the right thing to do. When we remove our emotional desire and needs, we can be courageously decisive on the side of fairness.

How to deepen your capacity for compassion

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Compassion, as we noted before, begins with recognizing and giving ourselves the same kind of compassion that we would give to others that we see we can help in their time of need. Learning to be compassionate is a process that can be difficult in the simple moments of the day and maybe easier when there are large disasters taking place.

At the time of writing this post, there is a massive storm that is devastating the Houston, TX area of the United States. Every person that sees the results can feel empathy and may take action. Right here in our community, we may see a traffic accident and not give much thought to the impact on that one individual’s life. Even as a mere accident without too much physical damage to the cars or the people, the emotional impact and how it may affect their ability to get to work may have more of an effect than we may think about.

There is a meditation practice that I would like to share that in your time of reflection or meditation each day you may find will help to deepen your compassion for others. At some point in your meditation say in your head the following words:

For yourself say twice:

  • May I find relief
  • May I find peace
  • May I be at ease

Then think of someone in your life and apply the same mantra to them saying it twice:

  • May they find relief
  • May they find peace
  • May they be at ease

You can follow by taking these thoughts to the world saying them twice:

  • May all beings find relief
  • May all beings find peace
  • May all beings be at ease

These are just a reminder to ourselves to be compassionate with ourselves, those close to us and then the world. Saying these words will build our capacity for empathy and compassion, and you will find your heart growing for taking action to use the gifts you have been blessed with to help others in their need and to be kind to yourself.

To quote the Dalai Lama: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Learn compassion for self and others

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Having compassion for others has three steps, and they are the same three steps that are necessary for us to have for ourselves. It has been my learning that for us to have compassion for others begins with a willingness to have compassion for ourselves in a balanced manner. So first let’s look at the three steps to get to compassion for others and then see how we can apply them to ourselves.

The first step is noticing the suffering of the other person. We can see the frustration, disappointment, pain or difficulty they are going through at the moment. If we ignore the other person or refuse to look at what is happening to them, it is not possible to go to the next step.

The second phase is when our heart is moved to want to take action to care for and help the person who is suffering. The word compassion has its roots in “suffering with,” so it is an appreciation for what they are going through and our desire to take action to relieve that suffering. This second step also involves showing understanding and kindness to another person when mistakes are made. We are not harsh in our criticism.

The third step is a culmination of the first two when we take action needed to help in the way that we are able; recognizing that all of us have and will suffer in many ways in our lifetime. We would appreciate any kindness shown to us; therefore we offer our kind acts to those we see who are challenged at the moment.

Imagine now these three steps applied to ourselves. When we have a difficult time, have had a failure or disappointment, have not lived up to what we would like from ourselves first we recognize the way we are suffering, and we admit that we are human. Just like others, we are not going to have everything go our way all of the time. Then instead of criticizing ourselves with harsh words, thinking of ourselves as a failure or not able to accomplish the thing we failed in, we ask ourselves what virtue do we need at this time for this situation and act in a way to care for our needs.

The reality shared by all humans is that we have limitations and fall short of who we would like to be. The more we are willing to open ourselves to this reality instead of fighting against it, the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves.

The practice of compassion for ourselves along with the understanding that all humans need and appreciate being shown compassion will help us grow this virtue and bring all of us into a peaceful existence with each other.

Strengthening our empathy and compassion

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Every person in the Universe has many things in common including our needs for food, shelter, love, attention, recognition, and happiness. Every human has suffered also, and there are many commonalities of those sufferings. They may be sickness, worries, loneliness, fears or sadness. When we recognize those feelings in another person if we react with understanding, we are practicing empathy. When we take action, we are practicing compassion.

How we take the rust off our sense of empathy and take action with compassion begins with understanding what all of us have in common.

  • Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
  • Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
  • Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness, and despair.”
  • Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
  • Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”

When we have difficulty understanding what a person is feeling or how we may be able to help them, go through these steps and ask how they are in each area, what do they need that I can give to help them?

This practice will make it very clear what we can do for them and how we can help them clarify what they can do for themselves to relieve the suffering they are feeling. Sometimes just listening is the most compassionate action we can take that will provide the most healing.

How would you demonstrate compassion for a friend or loved one if they were sick, lonely, hurt, worried or fearful?