The Sunday School teacher friend of mine, who is a lawyer, was going to teach the children about the importance of being content with what we have been given and not always comparing ourselves with others. A content person tends to be much easier company than someone who is always complaining that life is not fair. One thing that always amazes me about Immy is how content she is, on the whole. Sometimes she does complain about how hard things are for her compared with others, but normally she is happy to watch others succeed and prepared to accept that most things are harder for her than they are for other people. It's often me that's fighting against the injustice of it all, on her behalf. The old and new testament writings contain a range of messages on this subject, some focussing on the need to be content with one's lot in life, where others are more concerned with the fight for justice and freedom from oppression.
I was talking about the story again, with another friend who is not religious, a few days later. We observed that when our husbands were away with work we tended to have a calmer atmosphere at home with fewer arguments about getting the children ready for school etc, and this is because we had to do it all and there was nobody in the other room to feel envious of, or competitive with. Tired yes, but not so grumpy! I'm sure my husband finds the same thing when I am away.
Studies with animals have shown that in more stable and long-term social groups this sense of fairness is less pronounced, which makes sense really - and this is what we observe in our human societies too. It doesn't bode well that, by all accounts, we are one of the most unequal societies in the Western world, and becoming rapidly more so. It heightens a general sense of injustice and pits us all against our neighbours.
So I must learn from Immy's example and try to be grateful for, and content with, what I do have - and yet continue to fight for greater fairness in the world around me. Because I can do something about some of the things that are unfair. I can vote, I can do my research and campaigning and speak up whenever I get the chance.
But there is some unfairness which is extreme and impossible to rationalise or do anything to prevent. This has struck me forcibly over the past fortnight. Three lovely friends have been landed unimaginably hard blows, completely out of the blue in each case. One has lost her husband suddenly, one has a child diagnosed with cancer and another has lost a baby grandchild unexpectedly. I've been writing this blog post, but at this point I really have nothing more to say. It's just not fair.
So I guess my conclusion is that life is often deeply unfair and there's absolutely nothing to be done about it. Taking Imogen as an example, there's little point in dwelling on the unfairness of being born with cerebral palsy and the numerous challenges this brings. There are other unfair things about her life, however, and the lives of other people, that I can fight to change. But on a personal level it is important for me to steer clear of being envious of others, and to balance my campaigning and fighting with some thankfulness and contentment.