Humpty Dumpty. As children we were never bothered by the fact that even though all the king’s horses and all the king’s men worked feverishly to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, they were unable to do so. Part of the reason we could live with Humpty’s situation was the realization that nobody pushed him off the wall. That would have been unfair and unjust treatment. Eggs have no way to defend themselves. Since nobody was to blame for his condition and since everybody from the king’s horses to the king’s men tried everything they could do to help him out, we can tolerate the sad ending. His story may be unhappy, but it is not unjust.
Cinderella. This lovely young woman was raised in a cruel home by a cruel stepmother. Her cruel stepsisters only added to her misery. As you recall, she went to the ball and had a great time, but at midnight the carriage she was traveling in turned into a pumpkin. But that was OK. We can live with that because she was warned about the possibility of that happening. And it’s especially OK since, in the end, she got the glass slipper and lived happily ever after. Justice won out. What we could not have been able to live with is if somehow one of the cruel stepsisters had gotten that slipper. That would not have been just. Cinderella’s foot deserved the slipper. We smile at such poetic justice.
Robin Hood. As a little boy I thought a lot about the tales of Robin Hood. You remember Robin Hood. He was the one who took from those who had far too much, to give to those who didn’t have enough. We had to do a little ethical shuffle with the right and wrong of that when we read this story, but in our child’s mind, that was fair play.
After all, the goods wound up in a better place than where they would have otherwise. The peasants certainly needed them more than the rich. So we applaud Robin Hood. Why? We know that ultimately fairness prevailed – at least it seemed that way in our young minds.
What we would not have tolerated was to discover later on that Robin Hood was really a con man with a Swiss bank account and all that money wound up over there. We could not have handled his ripping off the peasants and building his own empire, then secretly living in a mansion he built from the bucks he siphoned off the rich, all the while playing the role of Mr. Nice Guy.
Sad endings we can handle, but not unjust ones. Suffering makes us sad, but injustice makes us mad. In our childlike minds we still long for fairness and equity. We still want stories to end well so that people can live happily ever after. But life is not that neat and tidy. Only in fairy tales does right always triumph. In real life, the helpless are pushed around, cruel people often get the slipper, and some of those we thought were generous, unselfish givers were actually greedy, self-serving takers.
Quite honestly, I still want life to be just — to be fair — but every day I am reminded that it is not. Justice and injustice, fairness and unfairness, goodness and evil are all coexisting realities of this world. Knowing this and understanding need not defeat me. I can still seek to be part of what is just, fair and good even when forced to accept that life is not always just or fair or good.