Billie and I used to devour a full New York strip steak each. These days we split one. She observed me being very careful to divide it absolutely equally and cracked, “don’t you have a micrometer in the garage.” I cut the steak muttering about being “surrounded by wiseacres.”

Later, Billie, perhaps smoothing my ruffled feathers, asked me where I got my value of ‘fairness.”

Thinking about it, it came from my mom, Nan Culler Here are some memories that had an impact.

When I was three and a half my parents moved from Boston to a country town that became a wealthy suburb. Once on a car trip back into town in the back seat (pre-seatbelts or car seats) I closed my eyes and buried my face in the seat.

When my mother asked what was wrong I said “I don’t want to see the shabby houses.”

My mother had my father stop the car and we walked the street with triple-decker wood frame homes needing paint. We talked to people living in this neighborhood who fawned over me…

“People are people, honey. It doesn’t matter how much they have. Remember that.” I have.

My mom went back to work when I was about eight. I know she wasn’t happy about it at the time, but she put on a brave face. When my sister Connie asked why,  I remember her answer.

“We need the money and your father has been trying to keep it up with overtime and that’s just not fair.”

She started by substitute teaching. She was a math whiz and she was subbing for a high school calculus teacher on maternity leave. One day a man in a suit observed her class.

“The class had been going well and I thought he might be from the town board of education evaluating me. When he asked me if I was interested in a job thought he meant to replace the teacher who was having a baby. ‘That’s not fair’ I told him, but he looked confused. I told him she was just off having a baby and she would be back, but he interrupted me to tell me that the job was to be a computer programmer for Raytheon.”

My mother told me this story in answer to how she got into programming in 1956. “I told him I might be interested in discussing it if I could be certain that the school had “someone to replace me as a sub. That would be fair.”

I was the last kid at home and my mother told me stories that my older sisters missed because they had left the house by then. One other story came from my mother’s days later in her career, when she worked at Honeywell.

She was still a programmer. “Years ago when all you kids were still home they kept trying to promote me to manager. I kept declining and finally, they asked why so I told them “I have three children at home and a husband who hasn’t figured out that he is no longer a child. I do all the management I am interested in doing. Thank you very much, but I’ll just keep writing code.”

“But they kept asking. And now I’m a lot older than many of those I work with. But I still don’t want to manage people.”

“Why Mom? Wouldn’t they give you more money?” I asked.

“Probably, but it wouldn’t be worth it. For instance, there are these two Chinese boys. I know I shouldn’t call them boys; they’re in their twenties, but. . . . Well they came back from lunch giggling and I asked what they were laughing about. They proceed to tell me how the woman at the cash register had given one of them a twenty-dollar bill in change for a ten… Well, I told them they needed to go right back down there and give it back because the cashier would have to make up that shortfall at the end of the day…

’Bad luck for her; good luck for me!’ one said. I told him that wasn’t fair and he said ‘life isn’t fair.” And I told him, well life may not be fair, but people should be and if he didn’t take that twenty back down there right then I would tell his supervisor. He laughed, but he took the twenty back.

That’s why I won’t be a manager. I simply do not have the patience to deal with a lack of common sense.”

We live in a time when life is increasingly unfair.

The richest people in the world, the top 0.1% or about 520,000 people, each of whom has at least $19.million, own 11% of all the global wealth of 8 billion people.

CEOs in the US earn more than five hundred times the lowest paid worker; In Europe, it is two hundred times, and in China more than one hundred.

Homelessness and refugeeism are increasing.

Discrimination, hate crimes, climate disasters, and financial crises affect the least fortunate among us substantially disproportionately.

I hear my mother say, “Well life isn’t fair, but people should be.”

What can we do?

I contribute and volunteer where I can. I politically support those who are trying to make a difference, in education, in business, in infrastructure. But it doesn’t see enough.

What can we do? Think with me. . .


Alan Culler
Alan Culler
Alan Cay Culler is a writer of stories and songs, his fourth career (aspiring actor, speakers agent, change consultant, storyteller.) He retired after thirty-seven years as a leadership and change consultant. Alan was an executive coach, a leadership team facilitator, trainer, and project manager for innovation and improvement initiatives. Alan’s point of view: "Business is all about people, customers, staff, suppliers, and the community - pay disciplined attention to these people and rewards follow; ignore them and success will not last." Alan is “a seeker of wisdom from unusual places.” He is currently completing three books: Wisdom from Unusual Places, Is Consulting Wisdom an Oxymoron?, and Change Leader? Who me?. Alan earned a BA in Theatre from Centre College, an MBA from the London Business School, and a post-graduate certificate in Organization Development from Columbia University. Alan also builds cigar box guitars and wood sculptures, hikes, travels with his wife Billie, and gets as much grandchildren playtime as he can.

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  1. Life is becoming increasingly unfair. I see it in the numbers of homeless on the street corners here in San Antonio. At first it was only men. Now men and women are standing on the corner, sign in hand. 15 years ago they were not there. I keep cash in my console to hand out to them. I hope it provides some help but I never know.

    Job losses and lack of low cost rental housing are contributing factors. Minimum wage in the U.S. has not kept up with inflation and that impacts those who are physically disabled, or have learning and cognitive deficits. What about them? They are on the bottom end of the economic spectrum. Decades ago, their parents or siblings could help them. In our current times, the parents and siblings may be struggling.

    What is very disconcerting – the homeless and those on the street corners have become “invisible” and society as a whole no longer acknowledges them.

    Like you, my wife and I volunteer. We donate to organizations that can help. We vote for those who appear to be willing to address the problems facing us.

    I am not sure where it will end. But I have an idea it will not end well as there are far, far more of them than those who are well off.