12/17/2015 05:41 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2016

When Life Just Isn't Fair

"We have no right to ask, when sorrow comes, 'Why did this happen to me?' unless we ask the same question for every joy that comes our way." Philip S. Bernstein

There are certain lessons we seem to learn our whole lives through. Patterns, habits, thoughts and actions that we fall into again and again. As we recognize these patterns, we sometimes feel like giving ourselves a smack on the forehead as we think in exasperation (or despair), "Didn't I learn this last time around?!"

Many of us live with the idea that life needs to be fair to us. When something isn't fair, we experience numerous reactions: childish petulance, outraged hurt, anger or we find ourselves falling into despair, anxiety, fear, a whole spiral of negative emotions.

When our sense of fair is tampered with, we often lash out at others, at God or at ourselves.

But where does this sense of entitlement come from? This idea that we must always be treated fairly?

There are many things in life, the world and history that aren't fair. Horrendous things happen to good and innocent people and good things happen to misguided, cruel, and evil people. Why are we surprised anew by this as though the world has always been a haven of fairness and justice and our experience is the first of its kind?

Perhaps because we were created with a deep craving for justice? Created with an innate sense of dignity that in a perfect world would always be respected and valued? Or less lofty but worth mentioning, because we are essentially selfish beings who have difficulty rising above a situation that hurts us, looking at it from angles other than "it's unfair"?

It isn't wrong to think things like "why me?" or "it just isn't fair." However, it can't end there. Those thoughts need to be the beginning of a journey toward a broader and more enlightened understanding of the situation. We can choose to step out of the role and mentality of being a perpetual victim and into one of maturity, grace, and acceptance.

Perhaps overcoming the idea of unfairness is a lifelong battle and we all have our own individual triggers. For example, I didn't feel it was fair when shortly after learning that my husband and I would never have biological children, I read an article in the news announcing that one of Canada's most infamous female serial murderers was pregnant. The absurdity of the the idea of fairness struck me most intensely then.

In my own grief over our infertility, I had taken to telling myself that I didn't deserve children and that I wasn't fit to be a mother. I told myself all sorts of hurtful, self destructive things to be able to bear my own feeling of it being so terribly, achingly unfair. It struck me reading this piece of news that if this woman can get pregnant and have a baby, then fairness really had nothing to do with it and obviously then, neither did the notion that I somehow wasn't fit to be a mother.

Eventually I reached a place where fair and unfair took on different and more perspective definitions. We decided to adopt and as we progressed in our first adoption journey, I came to understand fair is a far bigger picture than what I can see and understand. Instead of thinking "Why us? Why will we never have biological children?" I slowly began to think "Why anybody? Why this mother in Sri Lanka who has to give up her child? Why this little boy? Why this hurting broken country?" None of it was really fair. The issue was so much larger than my initial "why me."

Letting go of our sense of what is fair helps us to think outside of ourselves, to open our hearts in compassion to others and eventually, to work through our personal grief as we understand that life is both fair and unfair and we will certainly have our share of both. We may deserve one thing but get another. We will watch those we love struggle and suffer and it will seem unbearably unfair.

Fair and unfair are not illusions. They are subjective but real concepts. However, we can't allow ourselves to be trapped by these ideas. We need to try to move forward, even in the face of great and grave unfairness, to a place of imperfect understanding and acceptance and ultimately, healing.