President Donald Trump looks on as he hands out diplomas to Coast Guard cadets at the commencement ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, May 17, 2017 in New London, Connecticut. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
Things are not always fair.
I stand before you today with this important message, inspired by the president of the United States of America, who recently shared his wisdom at the Coast Guard Academy’s graduation.
"Over the course of your life," he told the cadets, "you will find that things are not always fair."
Those are, I regret to say, perhaps the truest words this president has ever spoken.
What does it mean to be fair?
In its highest sense, it means to be honest and impartial, to be honorable and equitable, to be just.
A fair person listens. A fair person shares. A fair person abides by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The fair person is someone others can trust to do the right thing, who takes responsibility for his actions. The fair person doesn’t blame others for his own missteps.
But, as the president said, things are not always fair.
Sometimes you can be doing your job well, with respect for others and for truth, unbowed by those who strong-arm you to do otherwise, and — pardon my French — get screwed over anyway.
Can we get a round of applause for the dearly deposed F.B.I. director James Comey?
Sometimes, too, you can try to play fair only to have your butt kicked because your opponent is playing nasty.
How about some applause for John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, who ran a fair campaign for president against the man who beat him?
Yes, things are not always fair, dear graduates, but you know what’s even sadder?
People who don’t play fair may be richly rewarded anyway.
Now, dear graduates …
I’m sorry, but, young man? Yo. You in the back. Put the fidget spinner down. This is important.
Anyway, most of us imagine that we ourselves play fair. It’s always the other guy who doesn’t, right? We develop this conviction at an early age.
What child hasn’t stomped his foot and shouted "No fair!" because things haven’t gone his way? Too often what the child means is "I don’t like this!" or "I don’t like you!" or "She got more!" or "I want more!"
As the child may or may not concede one day: Just because you call it unfair doesn’t mean it is.
And — the flip side of that principle — just because you claim it’s fair doesn’t make it so.
Let me tell you a little story. There was once a man named Roger who invented a TV network and he called it "fair and balanced" even though calling that network "fair and balanced" was like calling that man, may he rest in peace, a feminist.
That’s an example of what I mean when I say "just because you call it fair doesn’t make it so."
By the way, be wary of anyone who spends a lot of time proclaiming his own fairness. Fairness is not a bragging right or a marketing slogan. It’s a habit of mind and of action. Genuinely fair people are generally quiet about it.
Speaking of quiet, young lady, yes, you next to Mr. Fidget Spinner. Please stop Snapchatting. Life is better when you pay attention.
Fairness is far more than an individual concern. The fair person is concerned about fairness for others as well.
It’s not fair that in this country billionaires live in gilded penthouses while many Americans struggle for decent health care, a good education and a living wage.
That failure won’t be solved overnight, maybe ever, but it helps when the billionaires acknowledge the inequity and try to help.
Thanks, Bill Gates, for showing us how that works.
As I draw to a conclusion, dear graduates, here’s a philosophical question for you:
If others are unfair to you, does that mean you should be unfair to them, that you have to be in order to survive?
I’ll let you answer that for yourselves. Sometimes playing fair means losing, but better to lose a competition, I say, than to lose your soul.
One more question:
If you’re fair to others will they be fair to you?
I’m sad to say, my friends, that fairness isn’t always a fair trade. No matter how honorable you are, there will be people who cheat, lie, steal and otherwise take advantage of you and your good faith. The behavior of others and the caprices of the world are beyond your full control.
But I promise you this:
If you treat others fairly, you increase the odds that they’ll treat you with the same respect, and even when things aren’t fair, you’ll feel better about yourself in the long run.