Fair Thee Well

[I know it’s “fare thee well.” It’s a gimmicky pun.]

I’ve noticed that most people are way more concerned about being treated fairly than they are with being treated well – or with just having a good life in general.

Furthermore, this mentality often seems coupled with a dire short-sightedness. People who are extremely concerned with “fairness” tend to only look at the fairness in a single encounter or exchange, even if that means huge sacrifices in potential upside elsewhere.

For instance, imagine you’re a shopkeeper, and a semi-regular customer is a dollar short on his $21-dollar purchase. You’re within your rights, of course, to refuse the sale and/or demand the extra buck. But doing so, while focusing on fairness, may easily lead to a marked decrease in that customer’s loyalty or desire to do business with you. You could lose a customer entirely, plus maybe others who witnessed the exchange or hear about it later. Meanwhile, spotting that guy the dollar could be a cheap way to buy a lifetime customer (who may even just hand you back the extra dollar the next time he sees you, as often happens).

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a thousand possible exceptions or counter-reasons in the above scenario; as in most things, context matters here. But it’s a demonstration of how caring about getting a “fair deal” can actually mean you get a very bad deal.

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