Deserving. It’s a simple word, with a clear-cut meaning. Yet every time I hear it spoken, it gets under my skin.
I heard it again last night, on television. The context was nothing special – someone talking about a couple who worked hard in their jobs and therefore “deserved” some of the finer things in life when they retired.
I was irked.
I slept on it.
I was still irked when I woke.
What makes one person (or one couple) more “deserving” than another? What makes us so willing to judge? If some are deserving, logically, doesn’t that mean that some are undeserving? Who, exactly, gets to say so?
Most of us like to believe that those who put in hard work will reap the rewards, at least eventually. Likewise, those who do us wrong will ultimately get their comeuppance, right?
You may think of it as Karmic retribution or the universe doling out its just desserts. But we feel better about ourselves – especially if we’re in the position of deferring pleasure or surviving tough times – when we can convince ourselves that our efforts will one day pay off.
After all, we “deserve it.”
And those who don’t take the fall when they cause harm? Those to whom everything is given? We presume they’ll get theirs in the end, or they will live less happily, because that’s the outcome that they truly deserve.
Is our use of ‘deserving’ little more than culturally sanctioned camouflage for disapproval – or possibly resentment?
The Definition of Deserving
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of deserving is as follows:
… having good qualities that deserve praise, support, etc.; worthy…
So what do you think? Do you see yourself as deserving? Are we only deserving if we have good qualities? Or is it a matter of specifying what we deserve?
How about a clean and safe place to live? Healthy food and medical care? What about a decent start to life that includes proper early childhood education?
At the very least, couldn’t we say that all children are deserving?
What about our elderly, our veterans, our responsible and hard-working parents? How about our teachers who put up with our kids (often at their worst), and then have to listen to our scolding them when little Janie is lazy about her assignments? Don’t we love to point fingers when we aren’t pleased?
Deserving of Love
During my twenties when I was single, though I wasn’t looking to marry, I did want a good relationship. I remember wondering why it was that I could go years, literally, without a meaningful connection. That didn’t mean no social life at all and I’m certain it included some poor (naive) choices on my part. Nonetheless, were my good qualities not still intact?
I asked myself – was I undeserving? For some reason, was I not worthy of a man with whom I could share a life? As a woman, was I more prone to feeling undeserving?
In the years after my divorce, as I saw others recovering and without the recurring skirmishes that became my new normal, again I asked myself – was I undeserving? Had I somehow done something to “deserve” this stress, this strain, this crazy situation? What about friends I knew to be good people, going through far worse?
Wasn’t I worthy of fair treatment? Weren’t my children worthy of the same? What about my friends who were struggling?
We Are All Deserving
When I consider my adventures in France at various stages in life, it occurs to me that these questions of deserving… anything… did not arise. Surely, it is at least in part due to the distinctly different cultural fabric and fundamentals – presumed to apply to any life.
When I think about quality of life, I admit, in some ways I’m simplistic. I possess objects that I cherish, yes… but they aren’t your typical material things. I don’t need square footage, a fancy car, or bling on my wrists and fingers.
People, learning, creativity. These are the sources of quality in my life. Beyond that, I crave both quiet and its opposite – socializing with friends. I desire peace of mind, and good things for those I love. Sure – a trip to Paris would be fabulous, but I don’t want for anything… though I hope for continued health, less stress, and of course, time.
These are the elements of a quality life – to me. Time enough for people, for travel, to experience learning and beauty.
Safety, Security, Dignity, Love
So the word ‘deserving’ provokes a stream of thoughts (as you can see), a few recollections, and realization of the importance of basic human values.
Now that isn’t to say that the notion of being deserving is without its merits and satisfaction; those who work hard or pass through difficult periods certainly appreciate the fruits of their labors or perseverance, and we do find them ‘deserving’ of praise, don’t we?
But we all have a right to safety, security, dignity, and love. Perhaps we could reconsider our use of language, which may be deserving of greater precision in our choice of words.
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