What’s Fair? (Part 2)

See the previous article on this topic.

The most unfair thing we could possibly do is to treat everyone exactly the same.

Do you agree?

I recapped a conversation with a guy who definitely disagreed with the opening quote. John believed that allocating a disproportionate share of resources to those with special needs wasn’t “fair.”

Part of John’s objection dealt with a legitimate public policy question — what’s the proper role of government in this sort of issue? It’s a reasonable topic of debate on which people with the best intentions can disagree. So while I differ with his conclusion, I certainly acknowledge the validity of his question.

I also recognize my personal bias. As a guy in a wheelchair, I clearly have a horse in this particular race. I benefit from the ADA and its public accessibility requirements. I’m certain that affects my perspective.

So, with those disclaimers, I believe John is wrong when he equates fairness with treating everyone the same.


“Treat everyone exactly alike” is a rule. It’s easy, no thinking or wisdom or discernment required. As long as I follow the rule, I’m off the hook.

Rules and laws always sound good. Most of them begin with good intentions. We see a problem, so we make a rule or pass a law including an appropriate penalty. Problem solved.

Except that the problem’s rarely solved. Most rules spawn cottage industries devoted to stretching boundaries, discovering loopholes, or avoiding detection. NASCAR auto racing drivers have a saying: “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

So we create more rules, ramp up enforcement, and impose stiffer fines and tougher sentences. We build more jails and open more courts. And we get more loopholes, more sophisticated evasion tactics.

I’m not a fan of Pollyanna. Society needs laws and law enforcement. I get that. But I know this for certain:

No significant moral problem will ever be solved with rules.

We can scream at each other, demonize each other, and try to force compliance with penalties and sanctions. We can reduce important issues to political slogans and compromise principles to elect those who endorse our particular slogan. We can attack and marginalize those with whom we disagree. And then we can watch as the rhetoric becomes increasingly divisive and hostile.

None of these will ever solve the important issues we face. Substance abuse, sexuality, human trafficking, violence — none of these can be addressed with more rules, because they’re heart issues.

Elections and laws cannot change hearts.

WDJD? (What Did Jesus Do?)

Jesus ignored a brutal, repressive occupation force. Rome imposed oppressive taxes and indiscriminately tortured, imprisoned, and murdered. It seems that Jesus was oblivious to the suffering of His own people. Did He simply not care?

I believe He cared more deeply than we can possibly imagine. I also believe He understood that issues of spirit and heart can only be truly addressed at the spirit and heart level. He knew that the answers to our real problems rest in simple, profound, eternal principles that cannot be reduced to a list of rules.

Jesus tells me to love everyone, unconditionally. Simple to say, awfully difficult to do — I’d prefer something more concrete. Exactly what do I have to do? What are the minimum standards? Tell me the requirements.

And that’s precisely what He refuses to do. I want a list; He offers a relationship. I want the rules; He gives me Himself.

Jesus expressed compassion and forgiveness toward law breakers. He reserved His anger for the law makers. He served and sacrificed Himself for those who had no answers, and condemned the “brood of vipers” who burdened others with layers of regulations.

John and I talked later about his concept of fairness. I told him I appreciated being able to access his facility, but I was sorry that he was compelled to accommodate me. I said it would feel a lot better if the accommodations were a gift freely given.

We had a nice conversation. He was gracious and kind, but I don’t think he changed his views much. I understand.

Laws and rules and threats of punishment may force minimal, grudging conformity, but they also foster resentment and harden hearts.

I don’t think coerced compliance is what Jesus had in mind.

See the previous article on this topic.