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Fairness is a character trait. Character education teachers teach fairness. Parents teach fairness. Many religious leaders and club leaders teach fairness, but did you know that fairness is often misunderstood?

Children yell, “That isn’t fair!” Teens sound off about unfairness, too, but do young people really understand fairness?

Give the Dog a Bone

Fairness means that if you give one student a treat, you give every student the same treat, right? Dogs expect that kind of fairness according to a study published a year ago.

Picture two dogs. You look at them and command, “Shake.” Two paws shake your hand. You give Dog #1 a bone, but give nothing to Dog #2. Again you command, “Shake.” Again both dogs extend paws. You give Dog #1 another bone, and give Dog #2 nothing.

Now the betrayed dog stops playing. You didn’t play by the rules. You took advantage of him. He thinks you are not exercising fairness, but what is fairness?

Definition

Fairness is a quality that shows you where the line of impartiality lies; and makes you hold that line; sacrificing personal interests, prejudice, and favoritism.

Impartiality

Fairness requires impartiality – treating everyone with equity. Even if you “have a thing against” red hair, fairness will not allow you to treat redheads differently from others.

Fairness requires impartiality, but there is a line of impartiality. You must not step over that line, but where does it lie?

A Line in the Fairness Sand

Fairness is defined by some as little more than playing by the rules and not taking advantage of others – equity for the sake of equity – impartiality regardless of factors.

That is a big misunderstanding of true fairness. Such thinking erases the line in the fairness sand. If impartiality considers no factors, there is no line – but fairness has a line. It draws a line by considering every factor honestly and impartially.

Curfews

Curfews are a good example. Parents establish curfews that are best for teens, but not always equal. My personal curfews were earlier than my brothers’ curfews because my needs were different from my brothers’ needs. My parents exercised fairness by considering those factors – those differing needs.

Doesn’t Seem Fair

“That doesn’t seem fair,” you say – but it was! Our differences drew a line in the fairness sand, and my parents held it. Fairness did what was best for all of us, impartially, even though it might seem unfair.

Conclusion

Look back at our question: “If you give one student a treat, must you give every student the same to show fairness?”

No. Certain factors may draw an impartial line in the fairness sand. You must find the line and hold it.

It may not seem fair, but fairness doesn’t always seem fair.