It’s Not Fair

Yesterday my daughter sent me a picture of an answer she wrote on one of her school assignments. The assignment posed the question, “Is it fair?”

My daughter wrote in her answer to that question based on something she has heard me say dozens, if not hundreds, of times: “Fair has nothing to do with it.”

Truthfully, I use variations of this term. “What does fair have to do with it?”

“What’s fair about life?”

“Fair is for levels of Kool Aid you pour for your friends, nothing else.”

And so on.

When I posted a picture of her answer, I had friends and family chime in on their own favorite versions of this idea. My cousin noted a line from Dirty Harry, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

A friend who is a coach noted he often says something like, “The fair is in July with fattening food, scary rides, and lots of games….that’s the fair. This is life.”

We all seem to have our own version of how we explain that life isn’t fair, and we all seem to get it. Fair has nothing to do with life. At some point, instead of seeking fairness, most of us who get along pretty well evolve past fair to reasonable, sensible, just, correct, and other more applicable terms for life.

At the heart of the matter, most of us probably want some version of fairness, but our own version should really be titled My Way. Sometimes, like when pouring Kool Aid, when our level reaches our friends’ levels, we are cool with stopping. Other times, we believe we deserve more, or we simply want more. We see ourselves as deserving; therefore, we believe it would be reasonable, sensible, just, correct….fair…..for us to have what we want.

Unfortunately, reasonable, just, deserved, and correct often don’t have anything to do with life either. Perhaps the best we can realize is that life is perfectly aligned for the results it gets.

If you want change, you will have to change. Change yourself. Get better. Get more active. Get out of your own way. Show more love to others. Show more kindness. Give more. Help more. Seek reasonable, sensible, just, deserved, and correct for others. If you do, you are changing the system that is currently aligned against what you want.

I have to remind myself of this every day. Sometimes, changing the system means I need to get better. Other times, my actions are certainly good enough, and change simply means I need to get different. At all times, fair, reasonable, sensible, just, deserved, and correct have nothing to do with it. That’s life.

The Physics of Inside-Out

A couple of friends and colleagues had some excellent thoughts and comments on a few of my recent posts. I want to address those over the next few days. I’m warning you, today’s post is a bit geeky, but I think many of you will find it helpful. Tomorrow’s will be more practical.

I want to clarify what inside-out means (to me) and the physics of the issue. Inside-out a term that has a certain meaning. It isn’t necessarily the best or only term, but it seems to be a term many people connect to and understand.

Inside-out means our experience of the world is created in our thoughts, and this is what we feel (emotionally). Our beliefs, moods, feelings, and other internal states determine how we interpret and experience the outside world. The inside reactions determine how the outside situations and stimuli are experienced. The flow of the experience is from inside to outside.

Inside reactions ———–Determine how we experience———–> outside events

For example, from a low mood in which we are feeling doubtful, we may believe we can’t achieve certain personal goals. In a good mood, the same goals might look highly achievable, perhaps even simple. Same goal, but our different momentary thought characteristics make us experience the goal differently.

Now, inside out is just a term to describe how the internal states create our interpretation of the outside states/situations; However, I want to be clear about the physics of this. Lights, sounds, and other signals clearly reach us from the outside-in. Light, sound, radiation, cell phone signals, radio waves, microwaves, etc., are traveling in various directions all the time. We can register some of these physical signals reliably and accurately in our awareness (using our senses, such our eyes, ears, and underlying nervous systems, including our brains), but others we are not aware of in the least (unless we have a phone or radio handy).

Sometimes, we as humans have very reliable reactions to certain stimuli, like loud, sudden noises. For most humans, under many conditions, our typical nervous system will respond with a startle reflex when loud, unexpected noises are detected. While the physics seems outside-in (noise travels from the source to our senses from outside-in), the typical startle response requires certain functioning on the part of humans who are hit by the sound waves. Just to name a few, it requires intact sensory functioning, a certain attention level (must not be prepared for the sound to occur), and even a certain lack of conditioning to loud, sudden noises. Then after a startle response occurs, there is thoughtful interpretation that depends on human thinking. This interpretation then determines the entire felt experience of the moment.

If a tree falls in the woods, it will definitely produce waves that can be interpreted as sound, but a human has to be present to actually hear it and understand it as a tree falling. The human sensory and thought system (inside) determines the personal experience (inside) of the tree falling (outside).

Humans tend to have reliable sensory systems. It is what allows us to see patterns, learn, and interact with the world in consistent ways. As a whole we respond in highly reliable and similar ways to certain stimuli; however, few, if any, stimuli produce invariant responses in 100% of humans.

Individuals also have certain relations to particular stimuli and situations, and often when we react to sensory stimuli in the same way over and over, we start to believe the stimulus makes us respond this way. However, it is rarely if ever the case that our responses can’t change. They can, and it’s often deceptively simply to get different responses out of ourselves.

One example that comes to mind is the trains that barreled through the Albion College campus when I was a student. For the first week of football camp for four years, I woke up once an hour to a train rattling down the track, blowing its whistle. After about a week, my subconscious got used to it (habituated to it), and I no longer woke up to the train. I was no longer startled awake in response to the train noise.

Don’t get hung up on the physics of it. The sound and vibrations definitely traveled toward me, from the outside-in. However, the change in my experience of the train happened internally. The internal change (getting used to the train and understanding it wasn’t threatening) determined how I experienced the outside stimulus (train noise and vibration), which didn’t change. This is why it is called inside-out.

Inside-Out Nature

We’ve been taught that the outside world has people, things, and situations (called stimuli) that make us think and feel certain ways. We’ve even been taught that certain stimuli can make us act a certain way. Certain stimuli are supposed to create certain responses from us.

While this seems accurate, the truth is, we aren’t controlled in such a way. Yes, we tend to develop consistent reactions to certain stimuli, but these are internally conditioned responses, not automatic outside-controlled reactions. Our beliefs and expectations play large roles in these responses.

What really happens is that our beliefs and momentary thoughts create our experience of the people, things, and situations of the outside world. Our feelings and actions flow from our momentary thoughts. Therefore, our feelings and actions are not a direct result of the conditions of the world. Rather, our reactions are results of our thoughts about the outside world.

The flow is from inside us to the outside world (this is where the term inside-out comes from). The outside world does not make us think, feel, or act any certain way. Our thoughts and feelings never work from the outside-in. It only seems that way sometimes. Outside-in is an illusion we believe in from time to time.

Our thought, feeling, and action responses vary from automatic to very slow, but they are always subject to change. Thus, we do not necessarily control our response, but we probably have some influence in our response, especially by influencing our beliefs, which help form our momentary thoughts (beliefs along with moods help form our response…more on mood later).

When we believe in the outside-in illusion, we close ourselves to other possibilities. We then think, feel, and act as if we are controlled by the outside world. This is part of the conditioning I mentioned earlier.

When we see the inside-out nature of our experience accurately, we gain clarity of thought and freedom from the outside world. When we gain clarity and freedom, we begin to understand that so many of our conditioned reactions are based on our false belief that we need to battle the outside world’s control over us.

As we begin to understand that we are free from the outside world’s control, we begin to open up to the possibility that we can influence and change our responses to suit our desires. In this clarity, freedom, and possibility, we begin to battle ourselves and the world less, and we begin to flow from our heart, soul, and spirit more.

The Mood Roller Coaster

I have yet to run into someone who doesn’t admit to an up and down pattern in their moods. Yes, some people are typically up, and others are typically down. Some of us have very steep up and downs. Others have more gently rolling ups and downs. Others have a mix depending on where we are in the ride.But nobody has ever told me that they are in the same mood all the time. We all ride some type of mood roller coaster.

Here is a key to understanding our moods and this ride we are on. We often think of moods as feelings, but I find it is more accurate to think of moods as a characteristic of thought. Moods are highly linked to our thought capabilities.

Think of it this way: We feel our thoughts, and when we are feeling our moods, we are feeling an indicator of whether our thoughts are up or down.

Like the high position on a roller coaster, up moods are characterized by a high perspective, being able to see more.

As we plunge, our focus is more and more narrow, more stuck on the low point in front of us.

As indicators of our thinking, up moods are characterized by more openness, can do thinking, confidence, security. Down moods are characterized by more narrow-mindedness, can’t do thinking, doubts, insecurity.

Rather than seeing our thoughts and feelings as something we catch from the outside world, think of them as characteristics that ebb and flow naturally within us. We then project them into the outside world based on our position on the mood roller coaster.

States like passion, tenacity, enthusiasm, and happiness aren’t things we catch from the outside world. They are lights we shine upon it while we are up.

Anger, frustration, and irritation aren’t feelings the outside world forces upon us. They are projectiles we hurl at it from a low mood.

This ebb and flow of moods is very natural, and one thing that seems to provide most people comfort in their low points is to remember that no matter how low we sink, the ride always rises again.


Be curious, not judgmental.

-Walt Whitman

I see wisdom in this Whitman quote.

When we are judgmental, aren’t we waiting on a certain outcome? Depending on the outcome we get, with judgment, don’t we ping pong between happiness, sadness, embarrassment, anger, and other emotions? Or don’t we employ denial to undo the obvious implications of the outcome? Don’t we reason and cast blame unnecessarily?

With judgment, aren’t we constantly jumping about between the past, present, and future, hoping we can land on a time that suits our wishes?

When we are curious, aren’t we more open? When we are open to what can occur, don’t we tend to experience wonder, interest, humor, and even excitement at what happens? With curiosity, don’t we engage in the present and watch it unfold, accepting the results as they come in? As we watch curiously, don’t we adapt and adjust to what is, further experimenting curiously if we must?

Perhaps most importantly, when we catch ourselves being judgmental, instead of blaming ourselves and forcing ourselves further down the path of judgment, can’t we simply be curious about how the mind works at times?

Judgment, although not optimal, is normal, and curiously enough, it’s not necessary to add further judgment to it. Is it?

Thoughts on Snakes and Fear

Piggybacking off the last two days posts about fighting monsters (Fighting Monsters Part 1 and Fighting Monsters Part 2), I have another example of how we often view our fear inaccurately.

If you and I touch a hot stove, we are both going to feel heat, and if the stove is hot enough, get burned.

This is how the physical world world works.

We tend to believe that world of thoughts and feelings works the same way. We receive sensory input, and we react to it. But thoughts and feelings do not work that way. There are far more variables at play, a few which include attention, mood/mindset, and beliefs.

Here is an example of how it really works. My wife would say that snakes scare her. This is a perfectly reasonable, logical statement to make. She doesn’t like them, and feels a bit of fear around them. However, it is technically inaccurate.

This summer she was gardening. She was pulling weeds, dead grasses, and leaves out of one of the beds in the yard and putting it in one of those large brown paper yard waste bags.

About halfway into the job, she turned from the bed toward the bag, and to her horror, a small snake was slithering on the rim of the bag. She was startled, and a little scared. After all, she believes snakes scare her.

Now, this was a pretty tiny snake (in the world of snakes and yard waste bags at least). It would not have been big enough to get into the bag from the outside. So the implication was that it arrived on the rim from crawling up the yard waste as it accumulated in the bag, which means my wife actually had it in her hands at one point and put it in the bag herself.

Here is the key to understanding fear: If snakes could actually scare her, as stoves can actually burn us, why was she not scared when the snake was closest to her, when it was actually in her hands? It wasn’t because she had on any magical gardening gloves. It’s because she isn’t literally scared of snakes. She’s scared of her thoughts about snakes.

This is useful, accurate information to have. Because we aren’t scared directly by outside stimuli but rather our scared through our thoughts about them, we have two pathways to change. One is to understand that thought content always evolves, which is why we aren’t scared forever after being fearful or startled. The fear always subsides.

The second is that we are free to change our thoughts if we can, which may lead to less fear. However, it’s been my observation that when fear is understood accurately and is understand as a normal state, it isn’t further feared, which typically creates less anxiety and fear about fear, which reduces how much fear appears in the first place.

Fighting Monsters: Part 2

Yesterday, I posed a few questions: When a child, say 3 to 6 years old, is scared of the monster in their closet, what do we tell them? How do we react?What do we point to about the nature of fear? Where does it come from?

So how would you deal with this situation? Would you tell a child fears are not OK and must be dealt with swiftly?

Would you hand a child a magic potion or a protective amulet and expect it to work long-term to help them understand fears?

Would you send a child to boot camp to train them to increase strength and toughness to defeat monsters?

If you moved to a bigger house with bigger closets, and the child assumed the bigger closets held bigger monsters, would you then send them to more boot camp to get even stronger and tougher?

My guess is that you would respond very accurately and logically by smiling, telling the child that monsters do not exist, and reassuring them that the fear will disappear.

Monsters do not exist. Something that does not exist certainly has no power to scare us, so fear cannot be caused by monsters. What causes children fear areĀ thoughts about monsters.

Fearing monsters may seem silly to us, but we do the same thing when we believe a score on the scoreboard is causing us to feel pressure or the pile of work on the desk is causing us to feel stressed. Nobody (literally no body or living thing) and nothing (literally no thing or situation) can cause a specific thought or feeling response in all of us. Our individual and momentary thoughts about those people and things are what cause the feeling.

If you believe something outside you causes you fear, there is a very high likelihood you are going to remind yourself of that belief in that thing’s presence and feel fear. The thing is not causing your fear. Your thought/belief is.

If you believe something outside you causes you stress, there is a very high likelihood you are going to remind yourself of that belief in that thing’s presence and feel stress. The thing is not causing your stress. Your thought/belief is.

Fear is a normal feeling. It naturally follows worried thinking, surprise, confusion, and uncertainty. Further, it doesn’t have to be dealt with or trained out of existence. It will disappear without any intervention, and the better we understand the source of the fear as thoughts rather than some outside source, the less we will believe we are in the grips of an outside force that has control over us.

By exposing this illusion of external control, we gain freedom.

By remembering that we are imperfect and will forget the nature of fear from time to time, we gain freedom over the belief that we must be perfect and in control of ourselves. It is perfectly fine to let thoughts and feelings arise and subside as they will. Doing battle with them is what exhausts us and drives us to distraction.

There’s no need to fight monsters or our own reactions.

Fighting Monsters: Part 1

This blog topic is going to be posted in two parts. I’d like you to consider the questions I pose, perhaps even converse with others, or post a response, before moving on to tomorrow’s second part.

When a child, say 3-6 years old, is scared of the monster in their closet, what do we tell them?

How do we react?

What do we point to about the nature of fear? Where does it come from?