the injustice of it all

Today I want to tell you two stories. (Short ones.)

Story 1:

Tom and Jack are participating in a psychology study. Tom is given $10 but he’s only allowed to keep it if he splits it with Jack. Tom is given the power to decide how to split it. Tom, being a strategic man, suggests he should get $9 and Jack should get $1. Jack, rankled by the injustice of it says no, and neither of them get any money.

Here’s another story:

Story 2:

A man is offered one dollar. He doesn’t have to do anything except take it. He says no.

Isn’t it interesting how your perspective changes based on how the information is framed? In the first story, Jack’s reaction seems absolutely understandable. It’s not fair that he was only offered a dollar while the other guy was going to keep nine dollars for himself. It’s not like Tom did anything special for those extra eight dollars.

And so we think Right on, Jack. Tom shouldn’t get a dime.

But why does it matter what Tom gets? Why do we care so much? The bottom line is that Jack could’ve gotten money without doing anything and he said no. What if it had been $100 or $1000? Would we feel differently?

The thing is, we like justice. We want things to be fair, and we try to make them fair, even if it’s at our own expense. But is that really pursuing justice—making sure someone else didn’t get what they wanted because they didn’t give you what you wanted?

In a society that values justice and equality, do we see battles everywhere, opportunities to make a point? Is the appearance of justice what matters most?

I highly doubt Tom’s dealmaking tendencies were dramatically changed by Jack’s rejection. And given the power to make a deal like that, is it so horrible that he wanted to go for the most he could get out of it? We encourage people to go for what they want, to make strategic choices. Salespeople are a great example of that. We expect people to pursue what they want, and we don’t seek to penalize them for it.

Nothing was taken from Jack. He wasn’t asked to give up anything, he was simply asked to accept less than he thought he deserved.

It makes me wonder, at one point does one person’s pursuit of what they want become injustice?

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