Prominently displayed in the main hallway of my son’s school is a large sign that lists “Life’s Rational Rules of the World.” There are twelve rules altogether, and the first one on the list reads: “The world is not always fair.”
From the first time I saw that sign, I was impressed with the school. What a great truism to emphasize to children, because, throughout their lives, they will continually be confronted by injustice.
I thought about this basic reality of life recently when two major legal verdicts were handed down. I found it to be a fascinating coincidence that on the same day that Scott Peterson was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Laci, Robert Blake was acquitted of charges that he murdered his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. What crossed my mind was how many people were directly affected by these two cases and their verdicts. I can only imagine how unfair the world must seem to many of them.
For starters, let’s not dismiss Scott Peterson’s plight out of hand. As I’ve stated in the past, based on what I know about the case, I personally believe Peterson is guilty. Nevertheless, even though I’m a strong advocate of the death penalty and a harsh critic of soft-on-crime judges, I am compelled to say that I don’t believe the evidence in that case came close to proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the truth be known, what I think really happened was that Peterson convicted himself with his arrogant, ignorant behavior before, during, and after his trial. Though jurors probably would never admit it, even to themselves, I believe they condemned Peterson to death for being a lying, cheating, vile human being. And, like it or not, that does not qualify a person for capital punishment.
But let’s stretch our imaginations a bit. What if Peterson really didn’t kill his wife? In that unlikely event, if you were Peterson, do you think you might feel that life is a bit unfair? Imagine facing twenty-plus years on death row and eventual execution for a murder you didn’t commit.
Even if Peterson did commit first-degree murder, he must surely be comparing his outcome to that of O.J. Simpson. According to most law-enforcement officials, O.J. had far more evidence against him than the majority of people who have been put to death for being convicted of murder, yet he walked away from his sham trial into a life of golf and financial freedom (at least until he once again turned to crime).
Even worse for Peterson was the fact that he received his death sentence on the same day Robert Blake was acquitted. Worse because, in Blake’s case, it was commonly known that he hated his wife and wanted to get rid of her. In fact, two different people testified that Blake had approached them about killing his wife. My best guess is that he actually did hire someone to do it, which is probably why there is no hard evidence pointing to him.
But, Peterson and Blake aside, let’s take a look at the victims in these two high-profile murder cases. Laci Peterson, the beautiful young lady with the affidavit smile, ended up with her mutilated body, along with that of her soon-to-be-born baby, in San Francisco Bay. Life certainly wasn’t fair to her.
And what about Laci’s parents, who must now live their remaining days thinking about how their daughter’s life came to such a brutal end. To further their pain, they also lost a grandson whom they never even got to see.
Then there’s Scott Peterson’s parents. Even if Peterson is guilty, I doubt his parents believe it. Which means they are destined to spend every day of their lives with the thought that their son is on death row, awaiting execution for a murder they believe he didn’t commit. The world must seem like a very unfair place to them right now.
We see these kinds of tragedies play out on television day in and day out, so much so that both the victims and the perpetrators become old news very quickly. When is the last time you heard anyone talk about Chandra Levy, who, like Laci Peterson, ended up a mutilated corpse?
Gary Condit did lose his seat in Congress over that one, along with his Washington, D.C. love nest, but he was never even indicted. Not a shred of evidence … but a little too much of a coincidence for my taste. As with Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy left behind a grieving family destined to live out their lives in an unfair world.
On the other side of the coin, what about the lucky ones who somehow managed to cheat death when it appeared to be imminent? When Elizabeth Smart was found alive, it seemed to all the world to be a miracle. Yet, could you blame the families of Chandra Levy, Nicole Simpson, or Laci Peterson for asking themselves, “Why couldn’t my daughter have been the lucky one?”
Or Ashley Smith, who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the murderer with a conscience who killed Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes in an Atlanta courtroom? Why did the fates allow her to escape certain death, while tens of thousands of other people are killed by everything from a tidal wave in Southeast Asia to a hurricane in Florida to a mudslide in California?
There can be only one answer to these questions: simply that life isn’t fair. Worse, none of us will ever know why. We have free will, but we can never hope to understand the inevitable.
The reason it’s important to intellectualize all this is because the unfairness of the world is such an integral part of life. A person in search of a fair world has little chance of finding happiness.
To make life worthwhile, you have to stay committed to a meaningful purpose in your life and live every day as responsibly as you can. You have to move steadily toward your goals, day in and day out, in spite of the treacherous blows periodically meted out by life.
The airlines remind passengers to put their own oxygen masks on first, before helping their children. It’s also a sound principle to apply to the unfairness of life. By this I mean that it’s important for you to accept the reality that the world isn’t always fair, and move forward with your life in spite of the injustices that may confront you from time to time. Leading by example puts you in a much better position to teach this painful truism to your children.
When something goes wrong in my 16-year-old son’s world, he often says, “It’s not fair. To which I usually respond, “Life isn’t supposed to be fair.” Just as important, I tell him that anyone who is alive and healthy doesn’t have all that much to complain about.
Accepting the reality of an unfair world and learning how to deal with it is a lifetime project, so the earlier you begin explaining it to your child, the better off he or she will be.