Guest Column: Learning to be Fair…An Important Part of Growing-Up

Sen. Mike Padden

By the time we are three we all have a pretty good idea of what fairness means. This is the age when our parents tell us to go to bed early and we notice they get to stay up all night. As we grow older, the injustices just keep coming, like when we are told we have to finish our homework before we can have any fun, even though the kid down the street gets to use the Xbox whenever he wants.

But once we reach our teenage years we begin to realize this business of fairness is more complicated than it seems. We might even admit our parents and our teachers have a point. Learning to be fair is one of the most important parts of growing up, because it forces you to look beyond yourself and consider the views of other people.

The principles of fairness stay the same when you get older, even though the subject matter gets more difficult. I represent the Spokane Valley in the state Senate, and before that I was a district court judge. In the courtroom and the Legislature we often consider complicated matters of law. But when we make a decision, it applies equally to everyone. We know some people may not be happy with what we do, but what matters is that we do what is right. 

As a judge, I used to hear small-claims cases – meaning lawsuits in which less than $5,000 is at stake. I would warn that neither side might be pleased with my decision, and they would probably be happier if they settled their argument themselves. But if they left things to me, they could be sure I would base my ruling on the facts and the law, and I would do my best to do the right thing.

In the Legislature our decisions are even more complicated than they are in the courts, because legislators are the ones who write the laws. Certainly we try to be fair. But we also ask tricky questions, like “fair to whom?”

Some people think the fairest decisions are the ones that give large groups of people an equal outcome. And there are others, like myself, who think it is more important to give every individual person an equal chance. This is really a political argument, and many of the battles we have in the Legislature deal with this single issue.

Luckily most of the decisions you will ever have to make are not about the law. Most issues you will deal with are simpler. When you are involved in an argument, you should ask yourself how you would feel if you were the other person. Would your solution seem reasonable then? You need to examine yourself the same way you do others.

When you are asked to decide an argument between other people, fairness means you should listen to both sides and try to understand the whole picture. Your decision should be based on the facts of the case, not friendships or loyalties or anything you might have to gain. And you need to be very careful in thinking you can ignore your own interests – often it is better to find someone both parties trust, and allow them to make the decision.

Someday you will have kids of your own, and you can be the one who tells them no dessert before dinner. And when they say, “No fair,” you’ll know this is your turn, and it is the fairest thing in the world.

Mike Padden is a state senator representing the 4th Legislative District, including the cities of Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake.