Not long ago, my kids began claiming “It’s not fair!” whenever anything didn’t go their way. Trying to curb the habit, we are constantly reminding them what “fair” actually means.
The rule is that if you finish your dinner, you can have dessert. When only one child finishes dinner and gets dessert, the others cry, “It’s not fair!” Actually, the problem for them is that it is exactly fair. The result is perfectly in accordance with the rule. The children without dessert wish to be treated unfairly, that is, wish that the rule applied differently to them than to others.
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Recently I was reading a discussion on different student loan payment programs. As you probably know, several payback plans for federal student loans offer loan forgiveness after 10-25 years of payments, depending on the plan. One poster in particular grabbed my attention.
He was enrolled in the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program, where the payments are set at 15% of discretionary income and any remaining unpaid amount is forgiven after 25 years. A newer program called Pay As You Earn (PAYE) sets payments at 10% of discretionary income and forgives any remaining balance after just 20 years. The poster was complaining that the PAYE program was just not fair because he did not qualify for it.
This irked me. Of course those programs aren’t fair! If you’re in them, you better be thankful that they are not fair. The only FAIR thing is to repay the loan that you took out, in full and with interest, on the original schedule you agreed to when you signed the dotted line. That is JUSTICE.
Understanding that education is expensive, the job market isn’t always so hot, and student debt is a huge problem for young people, the federal government has decided to extend MERCY. Mercy comes not because you deserve something, but because someone (or some entity) is giving you another chance, tempering the strict, perfectly fair, demands of justice.
All of us sometimes wish for MERCY, for a less strict application of consequences than JUSTICE would require. The feeling that you deserve mercy, that you have somehow been wronged by being held to the standard of justice, is at the heart of the sense of entitlement that younger generations (including my own) are accused of. The problem with such a feeling of entitlement is that it allows you to escape a feeling of responsibility for your actions and acceptance of their just and fair consequences.
When you’re getting out of paying thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of dollars that you borrowed fair and square (as the entitled poster was), can you really play the “not fair” card?
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Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for the programs the federal government has for paying back student loans. We’re thankful that through IBR we don’t have required monthly minimum payments (though we’re still motivated and determined to pay off our debt in full as soon as possible). I’m just not a fan of the “It’s not fair!” and “I deserve” attitudes that I sometimes see when people discuss their hate of debt.
I hate having debt too, but I take full responsibility for it (well, joint responsibility, we’re a team, remember?). There is power in taking responsibility.
It’s Your Turn
- How has taking responsibility for your debt and finances helped you feel empowered?
- How do you avoid “It’s not fair” and other thoughts of entitlement?
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