How many times have you heard children exclaim: "That just isn't fair!" Even the littlest children have a strong sense of justice (in fact some people believe that a lot of teenage angst comes from a fixation on fairness that most people "grow out of" in adulthood). The truth of the matter is that life just isn't fair. Even though you're not going to get an even return from all of your efforts, however, you need to work hard to be a fair person and to surround yourselves with others you can reasonably expect to treat you respectably.

Fairness can mean simply complying with accepted and well-known standards of conduct, but most people think of it as the ability to make decisions without discrimination and dishonesty. In actuality, in certain cases you will have to (or want to) discriminate in the favor of a loved one, a good friend, or simply yourself. You should never be dishonest in your decisions, however, and if you can't stand by your decision without hiding the truth, then you should carefully reconsider if you have made a wise choice.

Your motivation for being fair should not reside solely with being well-liked, but should come from a developed desire to be a fair person simply for the virtue's sake. Like most virtues, you will find times when you will benefit from being a little unjust, but you should not give in to this temptation lightly. Over time you become a product of your behavior and you will soon have a difficult time being the just person that you and your friends want you to be. Even the "safest" of transgressions are never meaningless.

The best way to work on your sense of fairness is to stop and take time for self-reflection whenever you have to make a decision—unless you really don't have the time to pause. While some decisions will have no obvious ramifications, many will have an impact you might miss if you're not careful; even if they aren't major decisions, being fair consistently is good practice. Even decisions like what restaurant you eat at, what color shirt you wear, or whether to let a call go to voicemail can have consequences that affect others— please note I'm not advocating being so concerned about tiny details that you are unable to act from anxiety. Recognizing the effect your decisions have on others will be a good exercise, however, even if you don't always act in someone else's best interest.

Sometimes you will have more serious decisions to make, and sometimes your relationship with a friend or client will depend on your decision. This is when you should carefully reevaluate and take extra care that you are making a sound, fair decision. If being unbiased and honest isn't enough, you can sometimes benefit by making a decision based on the other definition of fairness: complying with accepted standards. Basing a decision on previously established standards creates a scenario where everyone involved has a better chance of at least understanding the reasoning behind your verdict. Judges and retail customer-service reps that are handling returns often base their decisions on this principle!

Below are some activities that might help you become a fairer person:


  • Self-Reflection: As above. When particularly focusing on this trait you will also want to spend the time to reflect on each day and see if their were some decisions you might not have seen through the lens of fairness and justice. Don't judge yourself necessarily, but judge your decisions and see if they were the right one.
  • Work on Humanity, Courage, and Temperance: Having a strong sense of the virtue Humanity will make it much easier to be unbiased and fair in your decisions. Having Temperance will give you the self-control to avoid acting in anger or bitterness—the moments when the worst of unfair decisions are made. Having courage will help you to make the ethically right decision even when you are receiving pressure from others to act unfairly in their behalf.
  • Listen to Others: People love to criticize each other, so it's liable to happen to you at some point. If someone accuses you of being unfair, listen and take the criticism seriously. You may have made a good decision after all, but you might learn better empathy towards this person and know how to skew future decisions in a way that better consider his or her needs.. Good listening skills will help you in many, many aspects of your life.
  • Take Opportunities to Make Decisions: Sometime we avoid decisions and let others do it for us. When appropriate, take the initiative yourself whenever you have the chance (at least when working on this virtue). Use self-reflection when you make these decisions and judge your own fairness, and if you are questioned about any decision take care to be honest when giving your reasons. Exercise is always one of the best ways to improve yourself, so exercise your decision skills!

Your Record

If you ever make a decision that is unfairly biased or dishonest, then you are at "fault" for the day. If you fail to take time to carefully consider an important decision when time could be afforded, then mark yourself at fault. When focusing on this virtue, make goals using the above activities as a guide, and if you fail to keep up on an activity or fail to meet a set goal, then mark yourself at fault.


Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States

Fairness is what justice really is.

Porter Stewart, American Judge, an associate justice with the U.S. Supreme Court

Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.

H. Jackson Brown, author of Life's Little Instruction Book

Golden Mean

Unfairness, injustice, prejudice, discrimination

Recommended Reading

A Field Guide to Good Decisions: Values in Action — by Mark D. Bennett and Joan McIver Gibson

This book provides tips as to how to make better decisions with sound ethics and values in mind. While the book doesn't single out fairness as a focal point of the book, making decisions with an ethical and moral foundation will naturally bring you to fair decisions.

Justice as Fairness: A Restatement — by John Rawls

John Rawls, the author of this book, put forth the idea that justice equals fairness. While some people have disagreed with his ideas, he acknowledges and counters those arguments in this book, and the Universal Value system closely links fairness as an integral part of justice. This book is more of an education of justice and fairness than a self-help guide, but if you are interested in the subject this will be a good book for you.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.