I just finished reading my first Murakami novel. I highlighted one thought:

Fairness is a concept that holds only in limited situations. Yet we want the concept to extend to everything, in and out of phase.

Setting aside the implacable unfairness of history (of the people by the people) and the inapplicability of morality to physics and biology, I thought of one insignificant moment of my insignificant life in a common episode of corporate life.

“I am the most productive of your employees, yet my compensation is by far the lowest.” I told my boss.
“I don’t disagree. The problem is that your starting salary was below market and we can only increase it at most by 4% increments during each review cycle.”
“There’s gotta be a way to fix this. How about an off-cycle adjustment?”
“I’m afraid it’s against our HR policy.”
“But, but… this is not fair!”
“Life’s not fair, sorry.”

The episode doesn’t end there. And it is not that the concept of fairness doesn’t hold in this situation. I failed to gamify the situation. Now, with less inexperience (I’m 40 years old) I think I should have viewed my different endeavors as little games, each with its own set of ways and rules and avoid trying to apply a single template of fairness to everything. In school, the more I studied before a test, the higher my score. This rule doesn’t apply proportionately in the real world.

A few other examples come to mind.

  • When I was a kid, the more I told my mother that I loved her, the more she would love me back. That was fair game. As an adult in the dating world, the more excitement I show for someone, the more rejection I receive in return. Not fair? Well, it’s a different game. As George Costanza puts it: “nobody wants to be with somebody that loves them!
  • I work my butt off six to seven days a week in the gym. I stretch, eat healthy, sleep eight hours a night, meditate, take cold showers. Yet if I stop everything for just 10 days, all that was gained in the last six months… everything vanishes like tears in rain.
  • Salary raises and bonuses are decided in December and should be based on my performance of the entire year, yet my boss only retrieves memories of the last three months. Enter Availability Bias.

The Summing Up

  1. Realize we’re playing several games, each with its own set of rules
  2. Learn and internalize the rules of the game
  3. Learn the history of the game and understand how it has evolved
  4. Understand that at any point in time, you own the decision to:
    • Make a play to advance to the next level
    • Find shortcuts (must understand the rules well first)
    • Stop playing and find a different game
    • In certain games, change the rules

Hard-Boiled Wonderland.