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What's fair and what's not

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

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We were all surprised to see my daughter on TV. It was just a local-access cable station. But still, there was something exciting about watching her recent school play on the air.

My other daughter, however, was furious. She burst into angry tears and sat with clenched fists on the sofa.

"Why isn't my class's play on TV?" she demanded.

My wife and I didn't know. Both daughters were in second grade at the same school, but only one class showed up on the broadcast.

"It's not fair!" my daughter kept saying. At first, I'm afraid, we just ignored her pouting. I even got angry with her for being so petty.

"Life's not fair!" I barked back.

But I knew that wasn't really going to help or to answer her question. As I thought more about her anger and unhappiness, I realized this was a situation that called for healing, not cynical judgments.

"Madeline," I started again, "you know the Commandments."

"I'm not stealing, Dad."

" 'Thou shalt not covet,' " I reminded her.

"I don't want her stuff," she said. "I just want my play to be on TV the way hers was. Everybody at school is going to be talking about it, and it's not fair!"

"Why do the Commandments say not to covet?"

A silent groan spread across her face, in preparation for "A Lecture on How To Behave." But I pushed on.

"The Commandments don't just tell us not to do things that are bad. They tell us how to live a happy life. And coveting - insisting that you've got to have what someone else has - will make you unhappy and unkind ... as I think you're discovering right now."

I could tell she understood this. But the sting of envy was still troubling her.

Madeline's turmoil got me thinking about what's fair and what's not. I had to confess to myself that I've felt envious when I've read yet another story about another twentysomething Internet millionaire. Several months ago, Newsweek ran a cartoon cover that I could relate to. The picture showed a harried man grabbing his forehead and screaming, "Everybody's getting rich but me!"


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