10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them

“Who ever said life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.” – Grandpa, The Princess Bride

Life’s not fair. Our thought processes are controlled by brains that are not always strictly rational. Social and economic forces beyond our control can toss us like plastic bags in the wind. Physical appearances play as large a role, if not larger, in the way we regard others – and the way others regard us. It’s just not FAIR!

With a little thought, I came up with 10 things that just aren’t fair, and some ideas about how to deal with them. I’ve deliberately avoided things having to do directly with race, sex, and other forms of discrimination, hoping instead to focus on more universal unfairnesses. Maybe I’ll come back with a follow-up dealing with those issues at a later date.

1. Packaging makes food taste better.

Strange but true – the way food is packaged, from the label design to the size of portions to the texture of the box, affects our perception of how it tastes. (If you’re academically inclined, you could look at this study of how packaging and taste interact.) Roughly speaking, we identify with certain values the packaging conveys, and that predisposes us to feel more or less favorably about what’s inside.

What to do about it: This is fortunately one of those things where knowing is more than half the battle. Comparing similar foods free of labeling is one way to deal with it – that’s what wine tasters do to avoid biases. And just reminding ourselves not to judge a book – or a food – by its cover helps a lot.

2. People prefer to do business with people they have relationships with, rather than the ones offering the best deal.

We’ll drive miles out of our way to support a local store or a friend’s shop because of the relationship we have with the proprietors. We’ll spend more money on services from friends of friends rather than coldly evaluating all the possible vendors. Again and again, social relationships balance and even outweigh other considerations like cost and convenience.

What to do about it: Develop your social network! While you should certainly focus on providing value in every other way, developing social relationships will often be the thing that gives you the edge over your competitors.

3. Many jobs are never advertised. News travels through social networks instead.

Obviously related to #2 above, this is of major concern given the rough state of employment at the moment. Only a small percentage of jobs are advertised in newspapers and online and even when they are, getting them can still rely heavily on social contacts.

What to do about it: Again, get to work on that social network. Use online networking sites like LinkedIn and niche sites in your field (check out the various networks at Ning) as well as attending (or organizing) local events in your industry. Make sure you announce your availability through every channel available to you – most people will at least try to think whether they know anything suitable for you if they know you’re looking.

4. Attractive people are considered smarter, nicer, and more moral than unattractive people.

“Attractive” is, of course, subjective, but even so: when someone thinks you’re good-looking, they’re more likely to think you’re a good person than if they find you physically unappealing. And vice versa – you’re more likely to think highly of a person you find handsome or pretty than one you find ugly or even average. (Here’s what psychology has to say about our assessment of attractive people.)

What to do about it: Well, one option is plastic surgery, dieting, working out, make-up, etc. but that seems pretty pathetic just to get people to think more highly of you. Since confidence is a big part of what makes people find you attractive, work on projecting confidence in yourself. And, of course, make sure whatever you do has merit in its own right. As far as your opinion of other people, try finding ways to see others as attractive whatever their appearance, and remind yourself when you think poorly of someone that you can easily be mislead by the way they look.

5. We trust other people, even when we think they’re wrong.

Oh, the trials of being a social animal! Far too often , we’ll go with the crowd, even when we think the crowd is wrong. The classic example si a psychological study in which several people, only one of which is not in on it, view three lines of different lengths and asked which is the longest. Everyone says the shortest one is longest, until they get to the actual subject, who knows they’re all wrong but agrees with them anyway so as not so make waves. Other examples include people’s willingness to join lines even when they’re not sure what the line is for, and people’s unwillingness to enter restaurants that are empty.

What to do about it: It’s easy to say “don’t be a sheep” but it’s part of our social nature. We don’t generally want to rock the boat – it’s socially dangerous, and can even be physically dangerous at times. The best we can do most of the time is ask ourselves what, exactly, we have to gain from following other people’s leads. The point isn’t to avoid doing what other people are doing, but to avoid doing it because other people are doing it. If we can determine that we’d do something whether or not others did it, then enjoy!

Be sure to check out part 2 when it’s posted later in the week for more unfair facts of life, including the difference that height makes! And tell us below about the unfair situations you’ve dealt with, and what you did about them.

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