Fairness is a Double-Edged Sword

In my work as an Executive coach I usually ask my clients to take the VIA Character Strengths test. The test gives you a list of your top five character strengths or ‘values in action’.

I have observed that strengths can be a double-edged sword. We can overplay certain strengths to our detriment.

For example, those who rate ‘Fairness, Equity and Justice’ in their top five can find that their determination to be ‘fair’ to others means that they can have a tendency to carry too large a workload.

The wisest response to these issues seems to be to dig a little deeper into what ‘fairness’ is. 

Carol Gilligan described three levels of ethical development;

  1. Focus on the self – making sure that my needs get met.
  2. Focus on the well being of others – a desire to do good through self-sacrifice
  3. A focus on ‘nonviolence’  – do not hurt others or self

The first two stages are easier perspectives to make decisions from – is it all about me or all about you? However, the third stage, where both my needs and yours need to be considered is a much more complex decision making situation.

What can help here is a to look at the decision from some different perspectives:

  1. The perspective of the future you – If you repeatedly make this decision, what will your life be like in 10 years time? Is that what you want?
  2. The perspective of a wise person – What would a wise person do?
  3. The perspective of an observer – If someone watched all your choices what would they say were your values? What would they think your life stood for?

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