The Role of Fairness in Society

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A slight mis-match in splitting a piece of pizza between two children and you will get to know what it means to be fair, you will be met with a phrase that is so common when talking about fairness “That is not fair”. This is where one can extract the definition of fairness and understand the level of dissatisfaction that goes with unfairness. Humans have a tendency of being dissatisfied especially when it comes to being given rewards or a share of something whether rightfully or as a favor. The most amazing fact about them being the fact that even if it is a favor being given to them, they often tend to see it as their right and hence in most cases would demand fairness when being issued with the favor. Frans De Waal in “The Age of Empathy” describes how humans view the aspect of fairness differently as well as associating fairness to even animals such as Chimps and Apes who also depict some sense of fairness when subjected to experiments with rewards. “The Ethic of Compassion” by The Dalai Lama reflects on the role that compassion plays in the process of ensuring fairness in the society. This paper therefore analyzes the ideologies of fairness as depicted by the two sources as well as a comparison and a contrast between their ideas with regards to fairness and compassion.

Thesis Statement: Fairness is a multi-faceted issue; what one person considers as fair does not necessarily mean that another person will view it as fair as well, fairness is viewed differently by the have and the have nots.

Frans De Waal’s piece of art “The Age of Empathy” presents an analysis of human behavior in relation to fairness as well as presenting a comparison to how animals such as chimpanzees and bonobos depict the aspect of fairness. (Waal 43)  He indicates that many primates demonstrate an intuitive sense of fairness especially when it comes to work and rewards precisely when the animals under study are given what is termed as less than a fair share in a distribution. The source also analyzes the risks that accompany fairness as well as how the society can be manipulated to make it as fair as possible to its habitants.

According to Frans De Waal, our sense of fairness is a result of self-interest, no one can say that he/she does not want the larger proportion of a share to come his/her way. The author also highlights the human reaction towards an act of unfairness is being resentful. As a matter of fact, people will tend to complain if fairness is not adhered to in a process involving some rewards and the complaints will go on and on until fairness is arrived at by fair distribution. During a distribution of rewards of shares, the party that is given the relatively bigger share than the other goes home without raising a voice whereas the ones that have the lesser share tend to be the ones raising the loudest voice to the distributor. This according to the author explains the difference in view of fairness between the haves and the have nots.

Empathy also plays a crucial role understanding fairness as we as humans tend to empathize with others such that we seem to care about others and the desire for a harmonious society makes us encourage fairness. However, we are often overwhelmed by our egocentric nature in us that we only encourage fairness not because we really want it but because we want to create a harmonious environment for all of us (Waal 56)

Fairness according to the source comes about when a comparison is stricken between what is given to us and what is given to others which explains why one will decline an offer which is less than what his/her friend is given. The main reason why humans seek fairness according to Frans De Waal is to prevent negative reactions from others. a good example is when money is issued to be shared by a group of people and the one being issued shares it equally between the members because he/she fears negative reactions from the group if he/she share it unequally. One hilarious thing about humans though that the author highlights is that we tend to have a sense of fairness when people are around us but when this people are withdrawn from our sight, the inner egocentric nature of us comes out that is when if a share was to be distributed equally between two people you will find one scooping a larger share for himself/herself since no one is on sight watching. The source highlights a very vital aspect of fairness that is a nature of humans, the fact that one will tend to offer a sense of fairness to people they are familiar with but tend to be unfair to those strange to them or people who are perceived as new.

The Dalai Lama’s “The Ethic of Compassion” on the other hand highlights on the role compassion and love plays in ensuring that fairness is achieved. The source is basically a response to how humans that realize and practice fairness. The source emphasizes on how our ability to enter into and to some extent, share others’ suffering often referred to as empathy plays a role in achieving fairness. The author highlights on the other hand that when one has too much compassion, they tend to dedicate themselves entirely to helping others overcome their suffering. If this compassion is however aimed at achieving recognition it becomes selfishness and it is not regarded as fairness when our actions are because we hope to win something in return or get a good name, then it ceases to be fairness but selfishness. The author also advocates for humans to avoid impartiality if they are to attain fairness (Ricard 38). The empathy that comes with seeing a disable person and lack the same empathy towards a wealthier person according to the sources is partiality and in order to achieve fairness, we should treat all people equally.


Both sources recognize the role that empathy plays in the attainment and realization of fairness. The sources appreciate the fact that humans engage in acts of fairness to empathize with others. The view on the idea of humans being egocentric and self-interested in achieving fairness for their own sake is also dominant between the authors, both of their sources agree to the fact that humans are by nature egocentric and therefore their interests comes first and not others. Frans De Waal and The Dalai Lama both acknowledge that partiality seems to be a portion of human perception on fairness, we tend to be partial in terms of defining fairness and we fail to recognize that all people regardless of gender, color or status deserve Fairness. Fairness according to the two sources should not be as a result of sympathy but should be taken as every individual’s right and therefore we have no excuse but to ensure fairness and impartiality. Compassion on the other hand seems to be a factor that also unites the two sources, both of the acknowledge that indeed compassion plays a role in man’s quest for fairness as most act of fairness is done out of compassion and caring for one another’s welfare.


Frans De Waal’s source basically highlights the justifications and the perception that fairness is part of humans, he does so by presenting examples of primates and how they respond to rewards in an act to show fairness is being deprived of them. The source is basically confined to understanding the concept of fairness. The Dalai Lama’s source on the other hand is a complete recipe of how and what humans ought to do to achieve fairness. It is like it provides a framework to how fairness can be achieved by humans. The source does not provide a description of how the aspect of fairness is manifested in humans, it basically revolves around how compassion and love as a nature of humans contributes to their portrayal of fairness.


Basing on the analysis presented in the study above, it is evident that understanding fairness, one has to consider quite a number of aspects of the nature of humans. The understanding of nature therefore is dependent of an individual’s nature though we cannot ignore aspects such as compassion, love and partiality/self-interest that are by nature part of us. However, we should always strive to be fair not only to ourselves but to others in every manner possible.

Works Cited

Ricard, Matthieu. "The Dalai Lama: The Ethic of compassion."International Journal of Wellbeing, vol. 1, no. 2, 2013, pp. 274-290.

Waal, Frans B. M. The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. Souvenir, 2012.

December 12, 2023

Life Sociology



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