about birth order and the perils of being first

I have an ongoing conversation/friendly debate with a friend about the idea of “fairness”. For him, there isn’t such thing as fairness. Or maybe more, we do no favors for folks by trying to level the playing field and make things fair for everyone. From this point of view, those who are at more of a position of disadvantage have an opportunity to make things better for themselves while those who are in more of a position of advantage have the responsibility to take care of those who do not have the same level of privilege.

He, like me, is an oldest child. And, I remind him of this fact when he talks about the idea of fairness being misinformed. While I probably agree with a lot of what he is saying, I think it is important for him to acknowledge his own position as the opinion holder.

In other words, I think it is easy to think fairness is stupid when you are already in the position of advantage. That isn’t to say his worldview is wrong, but maybe needs some perspective.

My wife is a middle child and she is much more concerned with fairness than I am. She wants to divide her attention as fairly as possible between our two boys. Sometimes as a first child I wonder if this is a good use of energy. But from her point of view as one who came after two older siblings in the birth order, knowing that she would be treated fairly would be much more important. I’m sure as a younger child it is easy to feel neglected or that life was harder as a younger sibling.

I would have no idea. Because, I am an oldest child.

With being an oldest child, I have to acknowledge the world views I carry with me. I tend to want people to show self-reliance and be independent. For me, having to depend on someone else for my livelihood or to even ask for help is kind of a nightmarish idea.


Yet, I think this points to something deeper about those of us in positions of power and influence. Living in the most powerful country in the world, it would be almost inconceivable to live in a country needing aid or under siege by an oppressive regime. I think of countries like Iraq and Syria who have been overrun by ISIS militants, taking over towns and villages raping, beheading, and destroying everything in their path. What would it feel like to be completely powerless?

As citizens of the first world, and of the first nation in that world, we struggle to think about these things and sometimes default to the idea that because we were born in this first nation that somehow we are deserving of the things we have. Or even worse, that because we live in this nation with our great wealth and power – that God somehow has more favor on us than others.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew is very un-American. The idea that everyone gets the same wage, no matter how hard they work is quite unappetizing for the free market. To think those who seem to be undeserving of a full wage might actually get the same as one who worked all day long looks more like welfare than capitalism if we are honest.

Just as the oldest child could use some perspective on what it is like to be in the younger child’s shoes, so should we search for some ways to find greater perspective from those who suffer and have less.

How do we gain a more healthy perspective on who deserves what in this world. Let me propose a few things.

  1. We need to check our beliefs about God. Do we really believe this is how God think? When God says the last will be first, is this really true, or just a cutesy phrase? If we don’t really believe God’s heart is with the least and the powerless, then we will never really know true empathy for those in lesser positions. We will continue as those who feel like we deserve more and more, while those who have less continue to have less.
  2. Admit our own heart issues where it comes to what we feel like we deserve. What areas of your life do you feel entitled? Why do you feel like this? How could it be different? What would life look like if you didn’t have advantage?
  3. Finally, evaluate your relationships and how much time you spend around those in disadvantaged situations. Do you only hang out with folks that look like you? Or, do you spend any time with people who have less opportunities?

We can’t help where we were born or what we might have been given. But, we do have a fight against entitlement and feeling deserving of things, whether we earned them or not. Let us focus on ways to can broaden our perspective and know those who have much less, actually have much more.

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