Chapter 14

The Siren Call of Good, Right and Fair

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Note: These days, the issue of fairness is a political hot topic, but the controversy isn’t just about determining what is fair and what isn’t. The bigger question is, should the world be made to be “fair” in every instance? My position is that the world is inherently unfair, that we’re all different, and since that is the case, there is no “global solution” to this natural order of things. Each of us already has an inherent “personal fairness filter,” there are cultural expectations, and we have laws, so let’s just leave it alone without further legal or social manipulations and punishments. Here’s the part of this positioning that is especially hard to explain without sounding callous: The “fairness” thread has always weaved its way throughout our culture. It’s a critical consideration and a good thing, but that doesn’t mean fairness should be the prime go-or-no-go criteria for routine decision making, and taking this position doesn’t mean the decision maker is “unfair.” Trying to make everything fair would require external management of every nuance of life by some preselected watchdog authority, and it’s a profound understatement to say that this is an unworkable proposition.

Here’s the Systems Mindset mechanical take on this: If an outside overriding criteria such as “fairness” is inserted into a decision about a particular system improvement, we’ve introduced foreign interference into the decision making that has nothing to do with improving that particular system. The end result of this? There will be a bad decision based on exterior criteria that introduces inefficiency, rather than improvement, in that particular system. (I’m being a bit snarky here, but maybe we should change the term “System Improvement” to “Fairness Mandate” as we introduce a new “fairness litmus test” to every decision?) It’s so hard to explain this in a way that doesn’t make me sound unfair!


I want to be fair and feel good about myself. How does that fit in with your dispassionate “fix the machinery first” methodology?

It doesn’t fit! Look, you don’t want the tail wagging the dog. Here’s your ticket to nowhere: making decisions by judging whether or not your decisions are “fair” or for that matter, “right,” per some external governing standard. Most people go way out of their way to be fair and good, and for that matter, thoughtful and polite. But these days it seems those qualities won’t appear unless someone “does something.” I find this overarching politically driven nanny-state theme vexing.

Here’s some equally nonsensical tail-wagging-the-dog criteria: making a decision in an attempt to feel better. Ask yourself: In getting a system headed in the right direction and executing efficiently, do you really believe there is a direct connection with how “good” you think you should feel and what you need to do to get that system operating efficiently? It’s not that trying to be a good person is not admirable. It is, but making decisions based on subjective fairness, goodness, or self-gratification has nothing to do with getting a system to produce what you want it to produce. It’s the same with having good intentions. Systems can’t be improved via good intentions: Something has to happen! When I’m in a media interview and this good-intentions point comes up, I say, “This isn’t the third grade, and your dog didn’t eat your homework.”

But here’s the quandary in dropping fairness or goodness from your decision-making equation: There are people who will be outraged when you explain that you don’t make decisions based on those criteria alone. Tell them this, and they will automatically deem you unfair and/or insensitive, or worse, a “bad person!” The correct decision-making benchmark question is this: What adjustment must I make to my machinery to get it to produce the best results? Making your decisions via this common-sense stance doesn’t make you unfair, and it doesn’t indicate you don’t care about others.

Will you deliberately set up your machinery to “work the system,” to manipulate and hurt the people around you? I hope not! It turns out that with the Systems Mindset stance, you’ll naturally find yourself doing your best for others. It’s a consequence of the Mindset in which you  naturally add value to the people you deal with while consciously filtering out those who would drag you down. That’s not being unfair; that’s being smart.

It’s a good time to interject some lines from Work the System:
“In the slang sense of the term, someone who works the system
uses a bureaucratic 
loophole as an excuse to break rules in
order to secure personal 
gain. But winning the life-game
means following the rules, for if we 
don’t, any win is a ruse . . .”

Without being distracted by short-term feel-good emotionalism, you always want to make system decisions that will propel you toward your ultimate goals without causing harm. In the short term and in the long term, taking advantage of other people is the antithesis of the Systems Mindset Methodology.

This is it in a nutshell: We’re talking about mechanics here. The world is filled with people who think the better they feel about themselves, the more certain they will accomplish their goals. (Or that, if they don’t reach those goals, maybe they’ll score goodness points somewhere.) That’s dead-end reasoning, because it’s based on a false premise, one that’s exactly backward. We covered this in chapter 8 but it bears repeating: There is a connection between feeling good and accomplishment, but the accomplishment comes first while the “feeling good” tags along behind as a by-product. It’s not the other way around because the machines that produce the results don’t care about how “good” you are or how “right” any particular decision might be. The systems of the world are dispassionate and nonjudgmental. They just want to produce what they have been designed to produce, and they don’t give a hoot about the moral fiber of the operator. Systems are indifferent. This is why we sometimes see people with truly ruthless intentions in high places.

There’s one thing about this, though: Good intentions notwithstanding, systems will attempt to produce what they were designed to produce, but if a person’s intentions are devious—their system of operation is bucking the overall primary systems of the world— those powerful primary systems will work to neutralize the interloping system and its propagator. It may take some time but, one way or the other, manipulative people and nefarious systems will be exposed and then removed.

So, “get mechanical” about reaching your goals, but of course play by the rules while going out of your way to be generous. Remember the words of Cinderella, “Be courageous and be kind.” Work on your machinery and become successful enough to become a contributor to those around you and to the world in general. Then you’ll feel good about yourself.

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