Thursday, December 19, 2013

Taking Advantage of [Unfair] Advantages

Unfair Advantages

Today surfing Linked In, I came across the proceeding article that discussed having an unfair advantage in order to out-maneuver the competition and essentially, stay relevant.

While the advice is worth considering, it got me thinking.

Is there really such a thing as an “unfair” advantage?

I think, resoundingly, the answer is no.

Advantage is defined thusly, courtesy of (just the first four):

1. any state, circumstance, opportunity, or means specially favorable to success, interest, or any desired end: the advantage of a good education.
2. benefit; gain; profit: It will be to his advantage to learn Chinese before going to China.
3. superiority or ascendancy (often followed by over  or of  ): His height gave him an advantage over his opponent.
4. a position of superiority (often followed by over  or of  ): their advantage in experienced players.

An advantage is an advantage, regardless of how it was come by. Can the advantage be termed as “immoral”, “unethical”? Sure. But unfair?

I am roughly 5’5”. My brother is 6’1”. If we play basketball, my brother might have the advantage of his height. If I practiced and played more, I would have the advantage of skill. Because I’m smaller, I might have the advantage of better maneuverability, and he the advantage of looming over me or shooting a longer, better basket, etc, etc.

Now with these things in mind, are they unfair? Is it unfair that I may (I don’t) have better shooting skills? Is it unfair that he’s taller than me? Not really. They’re more the circumstances or better yet – the variables to be taken into account by the subjects in the example. It is what it is, not what we want it to be, nor how we project it to be, or how we’d like it to be, but what it is. I’m average height and he’s tall. He’s overweight and out of shape, and I’m not. He’s played more basketball than me. All of these things work in tandem, with and against one another to produce certain outcomes – one a winner, a loser. Maybe a draw.

Using the word unfair in this context is akin to stating that somehow, the world works on this basis of rules where everything is meted out “fairly”, people get what they deserve (more aptly, what they want or they think they deserve), through hard work or not, and somehow, there is a just God who ensures these things happen for our benefit because we will it.

But then there’s that niggling adage of “Life’s not fair,” which comes full-circle to the concept that again, there is something unfair, overall, about life.

Which, in case you’ve been trapped in an air-tight plastic container lately, is true.

The rich are still better off than the poor. Big businesses still angle out little businesses. Short people are still short, and maybe without the aid of step ladders or growth hormones aren’t sprouting a few more inches. The strong triumph over the weak. And so on and so forth, ad nauseum.

The point is, fair is an ideal we strive for, not necessarily a reality. We can’t just expect someone to serve us a free lunch. That doesn’t happen. 

As the Obamacare debacle has shown, things are definitely not fair, because apparently you can’t keep your health insurance.

But I digress.

Fairness is some fantasy land do-gooder’s wistful promise of placating our anxieties and hurt when things don’t go our way; or when businesses lose money; when someone dies and taxes suck up everything left in the inheritance; when some punk steals your crayons or glue just as you were about to use them.
So it’s unfair.

Don’t whine. Or complain. Or get even.

Suck it up and accept it. Advantages or not, people have what they have, and make the most of it.
Mike Rowe could teach a thing or too about advantages
Be clever and play smart to win/triumph/earn that medal/certificate of participation. Or the merger, deal, job interview. Whatever. Opportunities knock everyday and learn to recognize them.

Play it smart. Because fair is for those who expect things to happen by whining and daydreaming, not for the makers and doers who break the box finding another way that’s better, smarter, or just cleverer. And you can’t be upset that those people thought of it before you. You just need to figure out how to cleverly utilize either what you've got or what's around you.

Find your angle and out think them. It’s tough, but just rip the band aid off and stop whimpering about it.

And then the rest is up to you.


  1. This post has been making me think about advantages and "fairness" since reading it. I appreciate your arguments that perhaps there is no such thing as an unfair advantage. However, can there be an immoral advantage? When someone with wealth and power uses that wealth and power to give themselves extraordinary advantage (for example, bribing a Congressman to pass laws that specifically favor you or giving someone charged with regulating your business money to "look the other way"), is that unfair? Or is it immoral?

    Along those same lines, I also wonder if there is a difference between natural advantages (being born white and rich in America, or being born with unusual talent in a particular area) and unnatural advantages (having a rich parent buy your way into good college, and an even better job - George W. Bush, I'm looking at you!)?

    Earlier this week, I read a piece by Robert Reich that touched on these same issues His argument is specifically about economic fairness issues in the US; but I think he makes some interesting points. He argues for equality of opportunity. Is that a goal towards which we should work? Should we work towards giving the less-advantaged opportunities to make the most of themselves? For example, should poor children have the benefit of a great, free education - which they can either make the most of, or disregard - but at least the opportunity is there? Or should we funnel funds towards the people who will send their children to the best schools and give them even more of an advantage than they already had? Should we have a minimum living wage standard, so that anyone who is willing to work can afford to feed their family and live in a decent, if not extravagant, home? Or should we continue to allow the current income inequality run unchecked, because life isn't fair?

    I appreciate your thoughtful piece. Good work!

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It is a difficult thing to decide, what is fair/unfair, immoral/moral. But I find that trying to qualify it and then tell other people what they should do is almost worse. Who gets to make the decision that something is fair/unfair? People have the opportunities that they have; whether with a silver spoon in their mouth or with absolutely nothing. It's really just what you decide to do with what you're given.
      Have a great day, and please share the post with others. Thank you!