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Sway: Fairness

June 14, 2010

I have been reading the book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman. The kind I like. Chapter 6 deals with what is called procedural justice. It is the notion that we all have of fairness. Everyone everywhere believes in fairness and justice. Obviously God hard wired it into us. What I found entrusting was how our ideas of what is just and fair is influenced by our culture.

The authors point to the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and how it plays out in different cultures. You remember the show don’t you? Regis Philbin was the original host. They offered multiple choice questions paying larger and larger amounts for every correct answer. One of the unique parts of the show was the ability to phone a friend or poll the audience. Well the research that they focus on in the book is some interesting facts about polling the audience in different countries.

Since the show was so popular they introduced it across the world. What they found was the show played differently in different cultures depending on their perception of fairness. You see in Russia when you poll the audience they give you the wrong answer. It seems they don’t think it would be just or fair for you to win money when they have not had the same opportunity. In France if the audience believes the question is easy and you are not smart enough to get it, well they are most likely to give you the wrong answer. They don’t think it would be just or fair to reward an idiot.

In America you may have guessed the audience gives the answer they think is correct. They consider that to be fair. Your thoughts? Do the Russians surprise you? A country steeped in communist thoughts of equality? You may consider the Russians jerks and yet your attitude is totally shaped by your culture.

What does this have to do with church? Well the next time you are thinking about justice and fairness ask is that true or is it my culture speaking. If we are to be countercultural should’t we try to allow God’s word to shape our understanding of fairness? Is it really fair to help someone win money on a game show when they really don’t know the answer? How are you with being just and fair?

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