What to Do When Life Is Not Fair

7 mins read
Photo by Gabriele Diwald on Unsplash

I want to give voice to those of us who are sad, depressed even, feeling hopeless right now. Many of us are fearful for the future. Some, terrified. The effect of the “acquittal”, even though expected, is difficult.

Three pieces of advice:

  1. Give space to your feelings, as they are real. Sit in the sadness (it will not last forever). Write or talk about it. Be with what is for as long as you need to.
  2. Commit to some kind of action that matches your values. Action is the antidote for despair.
    For example
    • Volunteer for a campaign
    • Work with a local refugee group
    • Write postcards to voters
    • Donate money
  3. Take a break from media or news for a bit. Take a walk. Play with a child or animal. Listen to music. Fill yourself up with the good.

Remember that we are in this together. There are more of us who want justice than not.

I wrote this piece the other day, out of my determination to keep going on despite my own sadness:

What to Do When Life Is Not Fair

You come to a point in life when you realize that life is not always fair. Bad things happen to good people, and unfortunately, bad people can get away with awful behavior. You hope that there will be accountability and justice, and sometimes there is, and other times, not. (Or maybe, not yet…)

Photo by King Lip on Unsplash

Upon realizing this reality, we humans have to figure out how to function in a world that may not be fair. Of course, one could always choose to remain bitter and angry – and that may feel good and justified for a while, but you also may figure out that those emotions can eat you alive.

When I feel particularly beset by the unfairness, one approach to finding a way through is to remember others who have endured much worse but left a legacy that lasts beyond their time.

In Spite of Everything

I think of Anne Frank, who we will all agree, did not deserve her tragic fate. As a Jewish family, the Frank family hid in an attic before she and her family were discovered and deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Anne and her sister Margot died in 1945, exhausted and sick. Anne was 16. Only her father, Otto, survived the Holocaust.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I think about Anne a lot. I wonder how she could have written these words in her diary:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Anne never saw the end of the war. She never saw Germany defeated or justice done at the Nuremberg trials. She never knew that Adolph Hitler took his own life. And yet, this young woman of hope is alive for so many of us today. She helps me remember:

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

And then I take a walk and make sure to notice the beauty all around. It helps me keep going.

The Arc That Bends Toward Justice

Another perspective that helps me in times when justice is out of reach is this:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

This idea, which many notables have repeated, reminds me that justice may take time, but there is a forward, albeit sometimes slow, march toward the truth.

Martin Luther King quoted this sentence in his 1958 article (although it is actually traced to the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker.) It resonates with my own life experience that the truth eventually gets revealed, and the timing is beyond my control.

On That Day… Life Will Be Fair…

Finally, when I feel impatient and perhaps a bit hopeless about the unfairness of it all, I think of my deep belief that is encapsulated in both the Aleinu prayer and a Matisyahu song. I’m basically a hopeful person, by temperament, and I have faith that justice and peace is possible and worth fighting for.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Aleinu is a Jewish prayer we say at the end of daily prayer services. It ends with this verse:

Bayom hahu yiheyeh adonai echad u’shemo echad

“On that day, God will be One and the world will be one.” — Which to me has always signified the dream of unity and peace and justice – One day – and it is worth it to fight for it.

And Matisiyahu’s song – One Day (which I don’t believe he connected to Aleinu) – when he says, also as a hope:

Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around
Because
All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
They’ll be no more wars
And our children will play
One day (one day), One day (one day)

So yes, life is not always fair. We need to take action, stand up and speak out – and then, eventually, not everything is in our control.

What IS in our control, always, as Anne Frank teaches, is how we think, and what attitude we carry even when things are totally falling apart.

I would love to hear what you do or think about when life is not fair.

For weekly inspiration, sign up here for Rabbi Jill’s emails.

Originally posted as a Twitter thread and on Rabbi Jill Zimmerman’s website. Re-posted with permission.


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