By Tim Hayes

“Life isn’t fair,” said Mr. Cooper, our high school sophomore English teacher.  It was his standard comeback when you received an essay with a grade you didn’t like, or when the class would go off on a tangent about the injustice of current events.

Decades later, I’ve caught myself telling my own kids those very same words, and the memory of Mr. Cooper comes flashing back into vivid living color.  Of course, he was right back then, and he’d still be right today.

But that doesn’t mean we have to passively accept the notion that “life isn’t fair.”  All that does – or all that should do – is define the terms of engagement.  In the world of leadership communication, that means knowing that there will opposition to any position you take, so preparation in anticipating and overcoming it evens the odds.

Think of the killer question ahead of time, the one you’d rather not have to answer, and have a credible answer ready anyway.  Build into your remarks explanations of as many points of contention as possible, thereby heading off your critics.  When you don’t know, say so, but promise to get an answer quickly.  Strong opposition to what you believe as true, good, and credible may not be fair, but if you’re ready to defend it, you’ve at least evened things out. 

Then there are times when the unfairness of life can just go off the rails completely, and a rational response becomes a super-human, Herculean, gargantuan challenge.  Like an infamous called third strike at a community league baseball game a few years ago.

I had rushed home from a day of seeing clients to make it to the last half of my son’s game.  If they won, they’d make it to the playoffs, which is a big deal for a bunch of 5th and 6th grade guys.  The coach of the other team was one of these boorish, pushy, loud knuckleheads who thinks he’s constantly playing the seventh game of the World Series.  His son was pitching, and by some fluke of scheduling (yeah, right), his other, older, son was umpiring behind home plate.

As the game progressed, I could see ahead to a scenario where my son could end up at bat with two outs in the final inning, the game on his shoulders.  Sometimes I wish I weren’t so good at seeing ahead, because that’s precisely what happened.  We were down by one run with two outs, one runner on base, and my kid walking up to home plate.

He fouled one off, strike one.  He took a couple outside, two balls and one strike.  He swung and missed, two and two.  Next came a brush-back, high and inside, full count.

“Please, God, let this be a hit or a ball, but let him get on base,” I whispered from the little set of bleachers off the third-base line.  What happened next could have straightened even Mr. Cooper’s curly blond hair.  In the annals of life not being fair, this one goes into the Hall of Fame.

The pitch came in low.  So low, in fact, that it hit the dirt in front of home plate.  In FRONT, mind you.  It even kicked up a cloud of dirt into the air, almost to prove the point without a doubt.  My kid saw it and didn’t swing, naturally.  Everybody saw it!  How could you possibly miss it? Ball four, right?  Batter take your base, right?

“Strike three!” called the ump.  And I thought I would jump out of my skin in anger and shock.  In full impress-the-client regalia, suit, tie, wing-tip shoes, the whole deal, I shot off of those bleachers, ran up to that punk umpire and shouted things that would make my mother say she’d never met me.  Our team’s coaches had to pull me away before there was an all-out bench-clearing brouhaha right there in our idyllic little neighborhood playground.

What did I say before about adults being boorish, pushy, loud knuckleheads?  Well, at least our side had one that day, too.  I guess that made it fair.

Copyright 2012 Transverse Park Productions, LLC