Our upside-down confusion about fairness
Our society tolerates gross unfairness every day. It tolerates misogyny, racism and the callous indifference to those born without privilege.
But we manage to find endless umbrage for petty slights and small-time favoritism.
When a teacher gives one student a far better grade than he deserves, and does it without shame, we're outraged. When the flight attendant hands that last chicken meal to our seatmate, wow, that's a slight worth seething over for hours.
When Bull Connor directed fire hoses and attack dogs on innocent kinds in Birmingham, it conflated the two, the collision of the large and the small. Viewers didn't witness the centuries of implicit and explicit racism, they saw a small, vivid act, moving in its obvious unfairness. It was the small act that focused our attention on the larger injustice.
I think that most of us are programmed to process the little stories, the emotional ones, things that touch people we can connect to. When it requires charts and graphs and multi-year studies, it's too easy to ignore.
We don't change markets, or populations, we change people. One person at a time, at a human level. And often, that change comes from small acts that move us, not from grand pronouncements.
Happy birthday, Martin.