October 18, 2017

Fairness—does that mean equality or proportionality?

Traditional weighing scalesIn relationships of whatever kind, there’s potential for getting in a muddle over this: By “fair,” do we mean “equal” or do we mean “in proportion?”

This is a key distinction in moral psychology developed in Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”—one that evolved over the course of the work he describes and, by implication, not perhaps so obvious.

Many of us may expect individual rewards to be in proportion to efforts put in or perhaps outcomes achieved, rather than equal shares for everyone, irrespective of contribution (assuming equal opportunity). But not everyone sees it like that necessarily.

Which of these is “right” isn’t central here…

The point is simply remembering “fairness” means different things to different people and our response to whatever we perceive as fair (or lacking fairness) is rather deep-seated, partly innate and unconscious, and so it’s powerful. It has the potential to drive unexpected division.

What do you mean by “fair” when you use the word?

And do the people around you mean that too?

Could be worth clarifying.