Fallacy of Fairness: Cognitive Distortion 8

In fallacy of fairness, we feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us when we’re growing up and something doesn’t go our way, “Life isn’t always fair.” People who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it. Because life isn’t “fair” — things will not always work out in your favor, even when you think they should.

My kids are the masters of “it’s not fair!!”

When they were toddlers, I tried to keep things as fair as possible, but now that they’re older, I am working on things being unfair once in a while. Life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean our desire for fairness goes away. To see unfair situations and remain sane is difficult.


Here’s a story to illustrate Fallacy of Fairness.

Ruth thought it wasn’t fair that she always got passed up for promotion. She worked hard, came in early, stayed late, but in the end, never made the promotion. She didn’t understand how the workplace could be so unfair.

In her annual reviews, Ruth was always told that she didn’t give enough to the team. She kept her head down too much and didn’t contribute as much leadership as the others. The others who were men. The men who could easily form friendships with the bosses who were also men.

It was very unfair, in a very real way.

Finally, Ruth decided she’d had enough. She worked just hard enough. She put in just enough time. No more no less. If they couldn’t see her value, she wasn’t going to kill herself for this job anymore. And to her surprise… no one noticed. How defeating. So, Ruth continued to work at her job. But now, she had more time and energy for other interests.

Ruth started working on herself. She read interesting books. She studied world geography. Ruth took up drawing and made interesting new friends. She became interested in the world and in turn, the world became interested in her.

Now Ruth had something to give to the world. She contributed in a way that people found value, instead of fading into the background. Eventually, Ruth moved on to a job where people did value her contribution. Others saw Ruth for the gem she was and appreciated her contribution.

Ruth realized she couldn’t change her former employer. Unfair and going to remain unfair. But she could change her perspective. She learned new things and when her world-view increased, her self-value increased.


Some un-fair things should be fought against, such as unequal pay or glass ceilings or institutional racism.

But even if there are injustices in the world, that doesn’t mean you should hedge your mental health on them. Part of being in the world is fighting for what you can change and be accepting of what you can’t. And being ok with it even when it isn’t ok.

To hold two opposing views, cognitive dissonance is difficult at times but worth the struggle in the end. To do what you can, when you can, and accept what is, leads to an inner peace worth fighting for.

To hear a great podcast about embracing this tension, Building a Story Brand Episode 85. Binary is the enemy of creativity – Donal Miller.

Two Geese Watercolor Painting
Two Geese Watercolor Painting

As a fun aside, I wonder what these geese might find unfair about their food hunting efforts? There aren’t enough of my favorite plants. Unfair! This water is flowing too fast. Unfair! Or maybe geese just float along the river and accept what is.

Find more art here!

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