Goodbye Grumblings

Find the good

It’s better to be kind than fair

I believe that letting kindness guide my actions, rather than focusing on whether or not things are fair, will lead to fewer visits from Grumblings.

I’ve often thought that I place too much emphasis on fairness when it comes to small things. I’m not talking about society, justice and the law. I’m talking specifically about day-to-day housework, a frequent trigger for Grumblings to appear.

I remember Mom’s answer to my complaints about life not being fair: “Life is real, and life is hard.” I hated that phrase. However, I can admit as an adult that life often isn’t fair. And I have no control over that. The only thing I can do, day in, day out, is behave with fairness myself.

But is fairness enough? What does it mean to behave fairly? Sharing the household work equally, dividing up the last piece of pie equally. But is that really fair? What if one person has more free time in which to do the household work? Should time spent volunteering be considered free time, since we choose to do it? Volunteer work will expand to fill as much time as we let it. If one of us allows it to take up vast quantities of our free time, is it fair to expect others to do more of the household work? Dividing the pie right down the middle seems fair at first, but what if one person is a hundred pounds heavier than the other? Should we first calculate how many more calories one person needs per day to survive than the other and then divide the pie accordingly? Or do we consider the pie is for taste, not survival, and divide it equally because we can’t calculate who enjoys it more or who deserves more enjoyment?

The thought of applying formulas just to ensure absolute fairness is exhausting. I’m sure it’s do-able. I even know people who could figure it out, and might enjoy the mental exercise. But is it worth the effort? Would it help avoid Grumblings, because then, finally, everything would be fair? I doubt it. I suspect it might cause more strife, not less. I can imagine arguments about the details, the degree of fairness, the factors taken into account. Would such extreme fairness really help bring harmony to a household? I think not.

I need to jettison my desire for fairness in day-to-day life — and focus on kindness instead.

Fall in our household is busy with Scouting, and the only chores that get done many evenings are the basics: food, dishes and laundry. When someone gets home from work after 6 p.m. and spends two hours at a meeting, there’s little time for anything other than basics. A few times in the past few months, I’ve even chosen to leave the dishes for the next day in favour of going to bed at a reasonable hour, chatting with a friend or writing. Lightning didn’t strike and no-one revoked my licence to do housework (more’s the pity).

I have noticed recently that, when I find a few minutes of time and start tidying or doing some kind of housework, sometimes Husband starts to help. It tends to be when I’m doing the work with a matter-of-fact attitude. When we’re relaxed and talking.

Other times I start, and no-one helps. Then, I start thinking about it, and I find myself getting cranky about doing it all myself. Grumblings comes roaring in. The thing is, if I’m doing dishes with a dark cloud over my head, judging people for not doing what I think they should be doing, why would anyone want to join me? Another expression of Mom’s comes to mind: she often said I’d catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar. I disliked that one too, come to think of it. But I can’t argue with the fact that I feel more motivated to help someone who’s doing chores with good humour than someone who’s stomping around trailing thunderclouds.

I’m working on focusing less on what other people are doing to contribute to the household and more on what I do. I’m thinking less about what I or anyone else should do, and more about what I choose to do.

If Husband and Thing Two and I all arrive home at the same time, late, me from exercise class and them from a Scouting meeting, I will sometimes make supper for us all. I need to eat anyway, and after years of practice, it’s very easy for me to figure out a quick meal. This also gives them time to work on whatever tasks they acquired during their meeting. I get to make food that I approve of (i.e., something containing some vegetables), and I also get to do a good deed.

Now we come to my dark side of doing a good deed: expecting acknowledgement.

It’s an ingrained habit for me to acknowledge a kindness, but I cannot dictate how others behave. I know that sometimes people are just plain distracted, and their lack of acknowledgement comes from this, rather than from some devious attempt to be mean or take anyone for granted. I also know that not everyone has the same habits.

In a previous draft of this post, I wrote, “Is it counter-productive to try to prompt acknowledgement of a kindness?” The answer seems obvious now: unless I’m teaching a young child about manners, prompting a thank-you is either needy, patronizing or immature, or some combination of all three. Ouch! If someone is just saying thanks because I urged them to, what is that thanks worth? It comes back to the fact that I can control only my own behaviour and no-one else’s. Kindness done for the purpose of reward or acknowledgement feels somehow less kind.

I do fear that if I use kindness as a guide for my behaviour, I’ll lapse into old habits and start thinking I’m the only one doing any chores, and I’ll succumb to Grumblings. It’s embarrassing to think that this kind of thinking is a habit, and that I’ve wasted hours and hours over the years on it. The good thing, though, is that if it’s just a habit, I can change it.

I need to start a new habit, a habit of doing what I choose to do out of kindness, without concerning myself about whether or not others are pulling their weight or acknowledging my efforts.

My behaviour is not conditional upon anyone else’s. Being kind is good for me and for others, so the only risk is that I’ll lapse into obsessing over fairness. If that happens, I can simply remind myself to try again to let kindness be my guide.

I know it’s possible for me to act with kindness, and I proved it just this week. I went out this Thursday to a comedy club with co-workers for a fundraiser evening. Husband, Thing One and Thing Two spent the evening preparing for a Scout camp they were all attending this weekend. When I got home at 10:30 p.m., they were still in a flurry of finding and packing things, and the supper dishes were still undone.

Strictly speaking, it would have been fair to leave the dishes for them, since they ate at home and I didn’t. And I did consider going to bed and leaving them to deal with their stuff. Instead, I started on the dishes and helped package up some food for the weekend. Admittedly, making sure the coffee pot was washed and ready to go for the next morning was what got me started. See? Coffee is good for me! I got to chat with the three of them as they hunted and gathered gear. I went to bed late, but did so with a sense of well-being that came from hanging out with and helping three people I love very much. Doing some chores that could be considered not my responsibility and being short on sleep was a small price to pay.

I think being kind to others strengthens our connections, and it’s better to be kind than to be fair. Of course, they’re not mutually exclusive. I’m sure kindness can fit in my bag of holding. What do you think? And does having siblings lead to an extreme sense of fairness? Leave a comment or send an email to susan at


About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

6 Replies

  1. Lise Gagnon

    I love your posts Susan – la beauté et le bien-être de ta sagesse. Thank you for putting into beautiful words what some of us might feel. xx

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Merci Lise! That’s very kind. 🙂

  2. Kathleen

    I love this!
    There’s a lot of wisdom in there – not just “be kind”, but don’t look for acknowledgement. That’s haaard, as my sometimes-whiny inner child would like to complain.
    But definitely worth the effort, isn’t it?

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thank you. It is hard, isn’t it? An ongoing practice, I think.

  3. Bradlee

    Yay Susan! I am so very proud of you! I feel refreshed after reading each post and I rarely miss one! I too find that focusing on fairness leads to unhappiness and it is blissful to have moments where I choose kindness for myself and others. At other times, I love the young one inside of me who emerges occasionally or frequently and who just always seems to see things through pain and a feeling of why me ; )

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Hi Bradlee, Thank you for your comment. I love my inner child too. She helps me feel things more strongly. When she makes noise I know I often need to look more closely at something and decide how now-me will react. (-:

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