All is fair…


My mom likes to joke that the first words my siblings and I said were “It’s not fair!” Other than one of the first words of character we learn in elementary school, what is fairness? According to the dictionary, it’s being free from injustice or bias. However, we know that there is an opinion about that everywhere and that the facts are somewhat lost.

Melissa Harris-Perry, a commentator of African American politics, stated that “Psychologists have found that people’s belief in a just world helps explain how they react to innocent victims of negative life circumstances. People become cognitively frustrated when presented with stories of victims who suffer through little fault of their own. They can deal with this frustration in two ways: they can conclude that the world is an unjust place, or they can decide that the victim is somehow to blame. Most people reconcile their psychological distress by blaming the victim. Even when we know that suffering is undeserved, it is psychologically easier to blame the victim rather than give up the idea that the world is basically fair.”

Wow. It is psychologically easier to blame the victim rather than give up the idea that the world is basically fair. Why is this our reaction? Why do we blame the clothes she was wearing? Why do we think he let it happen? Why is it their fault for feeling that way? We get nothing from blaming the victim. Things happen everyday, and when we see that bad things happen to good people, we lose hope.

In experiments, we have found that the more unfair the situation, the more others look down on the victim. This is called the Just-World Theory. Dr. Melvin Lerner, the creator of this theory, made participants evaluate victim stories about domestic violence to car accidents to mental illness. He says that things happen and that we try to understand a pattern. Life is unpredictable, so we try to adjust our security and comfort by persuading ourselves that we aren’t like the victim, so that event won’t happen to us.

Dr. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman made participants looked at distress and sorrow in their lives. The results showed that the female population with depression blamed themselves more. They made the bad events seem more controllable and they could have avoided it.

Zick Rubin of Harvard University and Letitia Anne Peplau of UCLA did surveys seeing if people view the world as fair. People who had stronger beliefs of a just world were very religious, more authoritarian, more conservative, and had negative views of the underprivileged. They also admired political leaders and social organizations, which I found interesting. This is not unexpected, but people who believed the world was just reported feeling happier.

Notice that the news also includes stories of volunteers and heroes who help strangers. That’s the evidence that people want the innocent to not suffer. In a way it “restores our justice”.

It’s scary to realize that the world is not fair and that anything can happen to you even if you don’t do anything wrong, but we need to embrace it because it will make us more fair and better people. So is it true? “What goes around comes around?” Are we naturally selfish creatures for thinking this way? And for the people who believe that the world is just, what about their empathy?


Edited by: Kim Rooney


  1. Andre, Clare, and Manuel Velasquez. “The Just World Theory.” The Just World Theory. N.p., n.d. Web.
  2. Christian Ritter, D. E. Benson and Clint Synder Sociological Perspectives 33, No. 2 (Summer, 1990), pp. 235-252
  3. Janoff, R. “Erratum.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin7 (1997): 787. Web.
  4. Melvin J. Lerner, The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion, (New York: Plenum Press, 1980).
  5. Melvin J. Lerner and Sally C. Lerner, editors, The Justice Motivce in Social Behavior: Adapting to Times of Scarcity and Change,(New York: Plenum Press, 1981).
  6. Zick Rubin and Letita Anne Peplau, “Who Believes in a Just World,” Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 31, No. 3, 1975, pp. 65-89.

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