After a certain typical college scenario, I started thinking a lot about the idea of “fairness”.

It’s a very American thing, I think, the concept of fairness in division of labor. It’s a reason why people get so angry about communism–what if someone games the system and then it isn’t FAIR? What if not everyone is putting in the exact amount of work?

Of course, I’m not defending communism. I know just as well as you that this system doesn’t work precisely because of the above reason. Unless people have some kind of strong sense of duty towards a group, there really isn’t much keeping them from becoming lazy, except maybe honor, recognition, or some kind of other personal benefit–all of which look less appealing in times of crisis.

However, that is not to say that this system should be ignored altogether. In fact, there ARE groups that DO invoke strong senses of duty–among friends, for example, or family.

When something bad comes up in my family, there is some bickering over who’s to blame, but in the end everyone pitches in to fix the problem. There are things that my dad is better at than my mom and I, or my mom has time for but my dad doesn’t, etc., and THESE factors are what is taken into consideration when labor is divided. In fact, after the initial finger-pointing, there’s rarely debate over whether or not one person’s work is more than the other’s. The important part, I guess, is always that if something is needed to help a family member, it is done no matter how uneven the distribution. You do what you can and what you have to, because you know everyone else will and it’s to your benefit.

And maybe it’s because my parents instilled guilt into my heart early on, but this has never resulted in one family member shirking all work or taking advantage of someone else. When I was busy with schoolwork, my mom or dad would take over doing the dishes for me. But if one of them was sick, I would of course try to help them out as much as possible. I wrote all their emails, and they did almost all of the cooking and cleaning. Yes, this was slightly uneven, but my parents considered my education my main occupation and so took over as needed with no complaints.

Yet most American families don’t work this way, starting from the money system. While there is my money vs. my parents’ money, it all intermingles as it needs to. However, in most American families, even when the kids are responsible about spending there is a clear distinction between the child’s money and the parents’ money. The first time I heard of someone talking about paying their parents back, I was kind of taken aback. It seemed superficial and silly–after all, can you really pay your parents back for ALL of the money that you’ve cost them? But many claim that it’s “the principle of it”–it’s necessary for teaching kids about responsibility and independence.

Yet somehow, responsibility develops in the other system as well. If one person flags too much, then the whole family is liable to hard times. So, instead of the principle of being fair, you learn the principle of working together for a group.

However, it is true that the “communist” style of running a family is much less conducive to independence. In the Western style, fairness is enforced to make sure that one’s own time is not too much intruded upon by “helping others” time. In the Eastern style, your private time and personal needs somehow don’t seem so pressing or urgent that it’s a blow to lose them to helping the community.

Which is better? I would say elements of both, of course, as per my blog title. I will say this, though. In dealing with elderly parents, the Chinese are far more generous with their time, attention, and money than Americans. Maybe if American parents could teach their kids about the value of a dime without squaring every debt with their kids so early on, they would end up with slightly less bitter and more-willing-to-change-adult-diaper kids.