Why Aren’t People Treated the Same as I Am? It’s Not Fair

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Reader’s Question

I am a 17-year-old boy and my mother says that I am obsessed with the fact that other people should be treated the same as me. She also says that I try to belittle people in an undertone and get satisfaction from it, in order to bring to light the fact that they should be treated the same as me. I think this is true, mainly because she told me this after I was in a fight with my sister, and after the conversation all I could think about was why she wasn’t telling my sister the same thing. My mother also said that I do not point out my own flaws. Is there any way you can help me?

Psychologist’s Reply

When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me three little words that I absolutely hated. Whenever I complained that something wasn’t right, she’d say, “Life isn’t fair.” Of course she was correct, but it took me a long time before I accepted this basic fact of life. If I had accepted this premise a lot earlier, it would have saved me a lot of time, pain and anguish. Perhaps you can learn from my mistake.

There are two big life lessons in this situation. The first lesson is that life isn’t fair. People will not be treated the same as you. In some ways this is good, because it means that you will be treated better than some. Of course, the flip side is that sometimes it is bad, because you will be treated worse than others. Hopefully the good and the bad will balance themselves out, but even if they don’t, there is nothing you can do about it. Nothing you do or say (even under your breath) will change what others do.

That’s the second life lesson. You cannot control the behavior of others; the only person you can control is yourself. When you really wrap your head around this concept, you may see that it can be quite liberating. You get to be in control of situations, because only you decide what you will do. You no longer have to expend a great deal of energy trying to get people to change what they do. They act how they act, and then you decide what you want to do in response.

One of the difficult parts of this, though, is that being responsible for your own behavior means that you have to decide who you are and want to be. You must behave in accordance with your own values. One of my favorite examples of this involves holding the door open for people. I am a polite person, so if I reach a door first, I hold it open for the person behind me. I’d say about 50% of the time, the person for whom I am holding the door will thank me and appreciate the effort I expended for them. However, the other half of the time they walk through like they are royalty and I am their servant. That doesn’t feel as good. So, I must decide whether I am going to be a polite person regardless of the behavior of those for whom I am helping, or if I will be rude because some people don’t appreciate my efforts. Either way, I am accountable for how I act.

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I think this is what your mother is trying to tell you. Your behavior is your own, no matter how anyone else acts. Perhaps your sister was wrong in the fight you had, or perhaps she wasn’t, but her behavior is immaterial. All you need to concern yourself with is how you acted in the fight. Did you behave appropriately or did you not? Having a sister myself, I’m going to go with “not.” It is tempting to just blame everything on her, but being accountable for your own behavior means that you need to figure out your own mistakes and learn from them. Ask yourself what you did that you wished you hadn’t, or what you should have done differently. Then take those answers and use them as tools to help you improve your behavior.

All this will take time to accomplish. However, once you accept that things will happen that aren’t fair, you may find that the fairness issue is no longer as important as it once was, and that when you stop fighting the inevitable, you may find some peace. Similarly, when you decide to take responsibility for yourself, you stop giving away control, and you will truly become your own man. That’s exciting stuff. I wish for you that you learn it a lot sooner than I did.

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