Question: Do you truly deserve success, health, and love, or do you just crave them?
Someone once said to me, “Imagine someone born with autism, in a third-world country, to an irresponsible parent. Who then goes on to learn mediocrity, suffers malnutrition and never gets an education. Do you think a bright American born to responsible and wealthy parents have bragging rights over this guy assuming the first turns out a failure and the latter a success?”
Questions like this make you take a step back to think critically about what it means to even deserve in the first place.
What Does It Mean To Deserve Something?
In the simple sense, to deserve means to possess a certain level of merit or value that should attract a reward. For example, if you study hard for an exam and answer most of the questions correctly, you deserve to pass. But, it can also mean being responsible for an action that violates or falls short of a standard or value which warrants a punishment. For example, if you did not read for an exam, and failed to answer most of the questions, you deserve to fail.
However, deservingness is not limited to effort…
3 Forms of “Deserve” and Their Implications for Deservingness and Worthiness
There are three primary forms of “deserve” that are commonly discussed in ethical and philosophical contexts: moral, desert-based, and entitlement-based.
- Moral Deservingness: This argues that the standard or value necessary for receiving certain outcomes or rewards is inherent in every individual. For example, everyone deserves to live and be happy.
- Desert-Based Deservingness: This argues that the standard or value necessary for receiving certain outcomes or rewards is based on an individual’s efforts, achievements, or contributions. For example, you deserve a thousand naira for each car you wash.
- Entitlement-Based Deservingness: This argues that the standard or value necessary for receiving certain outcomes or rewards is based on the status, position, or entitlements of the individual. For example, the prince deserves the throne.
Despite their differences, these three forms of deservingness are often intertwined and can overlap (or contradict each other) in complex ways. For example, an individual may be considered entitled to a certain outcome or reward, but may also not be seen as deserving of it due to their lack of effort or contribution to society.
Since the standards and values are all made up, standards and values may not be fair to everyone in every circumstance. But, what does it mean to be fair?
What Does It Mean To Be Fair?
Fairness refers to the quality of treating people in a way that is unbiased and just. But, what does that even mean?
It is commonly believed that in a fair system, individuals should be rewarded based on their efforts and achievements rather than their social status or other arbitrary factors. However, this is largely subjective and varies across different cultures, places, and circumstances.
For example, if one student had a health challenge, do they still deserve to fail? Does a student with a physical disability deserve to be put on the same scale as a normal student? Situations like these lead to special treatment, and different grading systems.
Plus, in the presence of privilege or systemic inequalities, uneven playing fields emerge. For example, a kid born with a high IQ and into a peaceful family may have more opportunities to pass an exam than a kid born with a low IQ and into a broken and turbulent home. In this case, determining who deserves what based solely on their individual efforts may not be fair.
But then, it gets worse
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Does Anyone Deserve Anything?
In Matthew’s Gospel, there was a story of a vineyard owner who hired workers at different times throughout the day. Some workers were hired in the early hours of the morning and worked all day, while others started later and only work for an hour. Yet, regardless of the number of hours worked, at the end of the day, the owner paid everyone a full day’s wage.
As expected, the workers who started early complained that they should be paid more since they worked longer. To which the owner replied, ‘Friends, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?… Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
The story challenges the idea that worthiness or deservingness is determined solely by effort or achievement. And reveals that worthiness is arbitrary, and can be based on other factors, such as agreement, or mere whim.
But, if 9 hours of work was rewarded equally as 1 hour of work, does that mean the student who didn’t study can also pass an exam? As a matter of fact, yes. There are countless instances where a student can be made to graduate even when they failed a course or more. For example, it is often the case that marks are added so that the rate of failure will be less (and in some cases, marks are not added to high-performing students since they have already hit the pass mark).
Deserving or worthiness by its very nature is subjective. In reality, there is no such thing (aka. “Life is not fair”). There is either success or failure. For example, a lion doesn’t go out thinking it deserves a deer. It either succeeds or fails, feasts or starves, lives or dies. It doesn’t matter if the lion’s genetic makeup, the weather, or some other factor tilted the balance for or against it.
If anything, the concept of deserving or being worthy was invented by individuals and society (intentionally or unintentionally) to make sense of the world and promote positive behavior. However, this idea of deservingness can sometimes lead to non-positive behavior. For instance, a study found that children who believed they deserved a reward were less likely to share it with others in need.
Furthermore, since it is largely subjective, everyone is either deserving or not deserving depending on who you ask, and the context – culture, circumstance, or place. This also means their behaviors can vary drastically.
Since the issue of deservingness is not straightforward, it is important to understand some biases and limitations that accompany it
Potential Biases and Limitations in Assessing Deservingness
Understanding who deserves what can be a challenging task, as several potential biases and limitations get in the way. Some of the most common biases and limitations include:
- Personal biases: Individuals may be influenced by their own beliefs, values, and experiences, which can lead them to overvalue or discount certain criteria. For example, an employee may grant a job to someone with whom they share a common religion or ethnicity rather than a more qualified but distant candidate.
- Cultural biases: Different cultures may place different values on factors such as merit, or privilege, which can lead to different assessments of deservingness. For example, some cultures may value physical size and wealth more than intellect and integrity when choosing a leader.
- Incomplete information: Without complete or sufficient information, it is difficult to be fair. For example, a teacher may think it is fair to punish a student harshly until they learn the student is coming from a distant village.
- Systemic inequalities: In some cases, the criteria for deservingness may be influenced by systemic biases and inequalities that put certain individuals or groups at a disadvantage. For example, some people may be born as slaves, or into a lower cast or varna order which deprives them of a lot of opportunities and privileges.
Understanding how complex and subjective the issue of deservingness is can help us to be better people, or at least make better decisions.
The Importance of Understanding The Concept of Deservingness
Understanding the concept of deserving and worthiness is important in your daily life for several reasons. Some of them include:
- Better Perspective: It can help you put in more effort in recognizing and appreciating the contributions of others, rather than obsessing about what they got. This in turn helps you see people in a more productive light – i.e. you stop putting privileged morons on the pedestal while celebrating those who do important work.
- Better Decisions: It can help you make more informed decisions about how you allocate your time, energy, and resources. For example, knowing that even though hard work is important, worthiness can be influenced by other factors such as status and privileges, can help you make more equitable and balanced decisions, or at least not take an “unfairness” to heart.
- Better Attitudes: It can help you develop greater humility and compassion. By recognizing that worthiness is not always straightforward, you can avoid being boastful, falling into the trap of negative self-talk, or even judging others harshly.
- Better Recovery: A research found that individuals who perceived their misfortunes as undeserved were more likely to experience a decrease in self-esteem and engage in self-defeating behaviors compared to those that felt they deserved it. However, it’s important to understand that the idea of deservingness is not always clear. Realizing this can help you avoid thinking in black-and-white terms and instead focus on how to alleviate your suffering (or those of others).
“Is Fate getting what you deserve, or deserving what you get?” – Jodi Picoult
Tips and Strategies For Improving Deservingness and Self-Worth
Feeling entitled is one thing, struggling with feelings like imposter syndrome, low self-worth, or undeserving-ness is another. Below are some tips and strategies that can help improve your sense of deservingness and self-worth.
- Practice Self-reflection: Take time to reflect on your values, strengths, and accomplishments. Remind yourself that it is not about the rewards, but rather who you are and what you are doing.
- Avoid Comparison: Don’t unfairly compare yourself to others because everyone has their own strengths and luck, achievements, and shortcomings. Cultivate self-love.
- Practise Positive self-talk: If negative self-talks are having a non-stop party in your head, kick them out by consistently (and audibly) telling yourself things like, “I am worthy and capable”, “My time will come”, “The work I am doing is important and has helped X, Y, Z persons”, and so on. You can think and write down all the ways you are valuable to society on a piece of paper and remind yourself daily.
- Set Achievable Goals: Sometimes, you may feel undeserving because you haven’t done enough to convince yourself otherwise. So set realistic goals, and then work hard and persistently towards achieving them. Accomplishing your goals can help boost your sense of deservingness and self-worth.
- Let Go of Perfectionism: The issue might be that you are expecting too much of yourself. Avoid holding yourself to unrealistic standards that make you feel like you’re never good enough.
- Seek support: If you still find yourself struggling despite doing the above steps, then you might want to surround yourself with positive and supportive people who uplift and encourage you. Sometimes, a persistent feeling of inadequacy or undeservingness may be due to trauma or past experiences. In such cases, you might want to take time to heal or seek therapy or counseling from a professional.
- Practice Self-care: Take care of your physical and emotional needs. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as exercise, hobbies, or spending time with friends and loved ones.
“Heir to your own karma doesn’t mean ‘You get what you deserve.’ I think it means ‘You get what you get.’ Bad things happen to good people. My happiness depending on my action means, to me, that it depends on my action of choosing compassion–for myself as well as for everyone else–rather than contention.”– Sylvia Boorstein
How To Get What You Think You Deserve
With that out of the way, there is still room to feel a healthy sense of deservingness for something you have put in time and effort for. So, below are some tips to get what you think you deserve.
- Plan: Unless you hope to inherit money, respect, and a wife (or husband), you will need to plan to get what you want. This might involve understanding what you want and why you want it, setting goals, and deciding on what is important and what is not.
- Develop Yourself: Focus on developing your skills, upgrading your tools, and fixing your mindset. While it’s important to recognize the role of luck and privilege in success, it’s also important to acknowledge the value of hard work, persistence, and determination.
- Ask For Help: Chances are you don’t know everything, nor do you have all you need to succeed. It is wise to ask for help (early) and seek support from (or team up with) people who share a similar vision.
- Keep an Open Mind: It’s also important to stay open-minded and adaptable in a world that is complex and dynamic. This means being willing to learn new things, embrace change, and take calculated risks. Sometimes you may not get what you want, and that is fine. That is life.
“A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.”– Francis Bacon
Responding to Compliments and Criticisms About Your Deservingness
You will eventually get a reward at one point or another, for one thing, or another. It may not be the reward you most want, and it just might be. But, when that happens, some people may or may not think you deserve it.
Whatever the case, below are some tips for responding to compliments and criticisms about deservingness:
Responding to Compliments:
- Say thank you: When someone compliments you on your deservingness, simply say thank you. This shows that you appreciate their words and acknowledge your own hard work and achievements.
- Share credit: If someone compliments you on a specific accomplishment, acknowledge the contributions of others who helped you achieve it.
- Avoid downplaying your achievements: Resist the urge to downplay your accomplishments or attribute them to luck or circumstance. Acknowledge your own hard work and effort.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”– Rick Warren
Responding to Criticisms:
- Listen carefully: When someone criticizes your deservingness, listen carefully to what they have to say. Take a moment to reflect on their feedback and see if there is any truth to it. Perhaps there is, and maybe that is only true based on their subjective values or perspective.
- Seek clarification: If you’re not sure what someone means by their criticism, ask for clarification. This can help you better understand their perspective and respond more effectively (or ignore them entirely).
- Be assertive: If you feel that the criticism is unwarranted or unfair, be assertive in defending yourself. State your position clearly and calmly. But, don’t go fighting with them.
- Use it as a learning opportunity: Even if the criticism is difficult to hear, try to use it as a learning opportunity. Consider how you can improve or grow from the feedback.
Remember, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and it’s up to you to determine the value and truthfulness of comments about your deservingness. By responding in a thoughtful and assertive manner, you can navigate these situations with grace and confidence.
Conclusion: It’s Not About Deserving
While it’s natural to feel a sense of deservingness, it’s important to maintain a humble mindset and remember that rewards are not always a matter of merit.
For different people, rewards require varying degrees of hard work, dedication, and negotiation. And, even though being upset by the unfairness of things is reasonable, staying grounded in integrity and practicing humility and gratitude in the face of opportunities as well as challenges is key.
Ultimately, it’s not about what you think you deserve, but about how smart and skilled you are in negotiating – giving and asking (within the context you find yourself in).
“It’s not about what you think you deserve, it’s about what you negotiate”– Chester L. Karrass.
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)