Last week a World Cup referee made a lousy call and "disallowed" a winning goal scored by the U.S soccer team. The rest of the world shrugged its shoulders and moved on. The Americans, however, are still outraged and obsessing over this.
(Stick with me because this is more about parenting than soccer.)
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There's no doubt the call was a bad one. Instant replays show no reason for the ref to disqualify the goal. But the ref and FIFA – the international soccer federation that runs the World Cup – has offered no explanation for the call. They probably never will. This frustrates Americans even more, especially since the call has the potential to end the U.S. team's chances.
It's just not fair.
As a soccer fan, I'm pissed. But as a parent, I'm perplexed. The belief that life should be fair seems to be a dominant American trait. Our government and way of life – while not always living up to its grand ideals – is grounded in the belief that everybody should be treated equally and fairly. It's a noble goal. People die for it. Our public schools aspire to it. We raise our children to fight for it.
Yet Europe, Latin America and the rest of the world seem amused by our naivete. Their motto seems to be "life isn't always fair. Get used to it." They are amused that Americans just can't accept the call and get on with their lives.
Fight for your rights v. life isn't fair … which view of the world is right? And which one should we be teaching our kids?
It's easy to dismiss the life-isn't-fair philosophy as a sign of weakness. We Americans like to think that some things, like fairness, are worth fighting for. And they are. But in some instances, is it better to simply accept that life isn't fair and get back in the game, instead of wallowing in self pity?
If we raise our kids to go through life expecting it to always be fair, how do we prepare them for the inevitable times when it isn't?
When a major earthquake tried to wipe Haiti off the map earlier this year, one of the striking outcomes soon afterward was the ability of the Haitian people to return to some sense of normalcy, moving on with their lives after their initial shock and grief. An American doctor marveled at a young girl's ability to adjust to a prosthesis after she lost her leg in the rubble. Back in the States, he told a reporter, it takes a month for someone to learn to walk with an artificial limb. This girl was up and moving in a day.
Is the ability to accept that life isn't fair a gift sometimes? And should we give that gift to our kids?
A wise boss one time told me that you should pick your battles. Sometimes the harm you do fighting for a cause isn't worth the outcome. It seems to me that teaching a child which battles to fight for and which ones to let go is the ultimate parental balancing act. You make the call.