Is life fair? Are teenagers right? Well, it might be helpful if we knew what it means to be fair. So here is an exploration of fairness.
For me the first thing that comes to mind is “fair of face”. Fair hair is pale hair and a fair face is supposed to be a pretty one. Is paleness pretty?
This is probably a hangover from the days when a tan was something to look down upon, especially in women. Peasants who worked in the fields all day had dark skin. Only high-born ladies could afford to stay out of the sun. In Eastern kingdoms such as Arabia and India the women were even locked away. A harem or seraglio was a display of wealth by a lord, and he could afford to keep fair skinned beauties who never pulled a plough or harrowed a furrow.
Fair hair is an oddity. In a world of brown and black hair the blond tresses of northern Europe are an anomaly. It is the rarity of fair hair that makes it interesting (outside of Sweden). In this sense the teenagers have it right, the world is not fair. The world is black, brown and mouse.
So, is it good if the world is fair? Well, I guess it is when fair is a positive thing. We all like to pay a fair price and if we do a fair days work we want a fair days pay.
A fair fight is one where each side has the same chance. The promise of the US Army to its soldiers is “we will never put you in a fair fight” which for a soldier is fair enough.
If someone is a fair judge we think him to be balanced, dispassionate and even-handed. We would like a fair judge unless, of course, we are guilty.
But fair can mean more than proportionate. Someone earning a fair income is probably earning more than me. She probably has a fair chunk of change. A fair feed will leave you full and a fair few drinks will leave you three sheets to the wind. In this sense “fair” seems to be shorthand for “fairly large”.
In sailing parlance fair certainly means good. Fair weather denotes a dry day absent of gales, storms, squalls or other nasty things. But it does not mean “flat calm” because that has negative connotations for sailors and yachties. We love a fair wind because that will allow us to make a fair speed. A fair wind is a combination of a brisk wind and one in the right direction. A brisk wind against us is a headwind. Nothing fair about headwinds.
A fair is also a good day out. Fair days in rural communities were traditionally the planned days for selling and buying of stock. Cattle fairs, horse fairs etc. To serve the needs of the farmers and herders a fair day was served by all manner of eateries where you could get a meal. And because a man who makes a big sale deserves a drink or two there was always a party atmosphere at a fair. Kids could bank on getting a few pennies to spend on sweets, and often, for rural families, it was an opportunity to stock up on clothes, goods, shop bought foodstuffs and the little luxuries of life.
Most real stock sales have moved from fairs to marts. The stock fair has turned into the County Fair. Modern fairs have all manner of competitions, judging stock, baking, home crafts, food preserves etc. Larger ones have carnival rides and stalls.
The fair has evolved into the fairground, a big attraction for the teenager. So if you say that life is not fair, does that mean you don’t want to go, or you don’t get to go to enough fairs?
Fair can carry negative connotations too. A fair weather friend is not worth much in the great scheme of things. Parents are seldom impressed by teenagers who receive a “Fair” on their report. We would much rather see words like Good, Very Good, Excellent, Outstanding, Distinction etc. “Fair” is only camping on the doorstep of “Poor”.
So what is fair? We haven’t even spoken of the added confusion of Fare which could be food, a fee or indeed anything served up to us. I hope you have found this particular fare to be fair, whatever that may mean for you.
She Moved Through the Fair; lyric (part) by Padraic Colum
My young love said to me,
My mother won’t mind
And my father won’t slight you
For your lack of kind.
And she stepped away from me
And this she did say:
It will not be long, Love,
Till our wedding day.
She stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there.
And then she made her way homeward,
With one star awake,
As the swan in the evening
Moved over the lake.
The people were saying,
No two e’er were wed
But one had a sorrow
That never was said.
And I smiled as she passed
With her goods and her gear,
And that was the last
That I saw of my dear
Last night she came to me,
My dead love came in.
So softly she came
That her feet made no din.
As she laid her hand on me,
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
‘Til our wedding day.