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Deserving

... or not

I stated in a recent interview that, in life, I do not believe I am deserving of anything for which I have not worked. On reflection, there is a corollary to this – a reverse scenario – which implies that I believe I am deserving of that for which I have worked. Therefore, in terms of implications, the first suggests, with due Protestant, work ethic flair, that work will attain its desired ends while, the second, that ends necessarily result from the means committed to achieve them.

Both notions are entirely false: they are based on an expectation that, by placing oneself in a certain situation through thought or action (work – in a broad sense), a desired, external result will be visited as a reward.

This represents a positive cast on the theme – that of expectation of achievement - but, of course, there is also the negative cast. What comes to mind immediately – eschewing more grave and, potentially inflammatory, examples - is: 'You deserve a smack for behaving like that at your Grandmother's, young man!' Just the writing of it is comical and I believe I might have heard like admonitions many times as a child. Nevertheless, what is clear from the example is the expectation of a result (a smack) due to previous actions; in this case, the child's supposed poor behaviour. If I was that child, I would not be anticipating seeing my father come in from the garage.

It is clear to me that, in our lives, we are all hoping for a gold key; a kind of 'passe-partout' or 'all areas access' at the concert of life. The reason it is clear to me is because of the proliferation of cure-all solutions by which we are continually inundated in the media – everything from acai berries to cure our antioxidant woes, to devices designed to simplify our lives. I think of the famous 'Atkins diet' – so highly touted – and then of Dr. Atkins unfortunate end by heart attack. Evidently, some things do not result in the way they are expected which returns us to the point of being 'deserving' or not.

Fundamental to this discourse is that the result 'deserved' is not within an individual's power to action – it is externally provided. One would not say, for example, 'I deserve to do the washing up'. Well, one could, after having enjoyed a good meal but, it does come out a bit odd. It is not, in reality, the expected, external reward from the action of enjoying the meal. One would, however, say, 'I deserve a vacation', which implies that, after a due period of dedication as an employee, some time off seems, to the speaker, what the company (external) should, as a result, provide.

Herein, I perceive that there is a conflict, for, while it is necessarily obvious what benefits can be had by working toward a self-realisable goal, how can one place expectation upon an outcome which is entirely beyond one's own control? Is that not, in the end, wishful thinking?

In my own universe – the one which I perceive and, in part, share with others through common experience – I do not believe particularly in order. I do, however, believe in randomness and independence in a probabilistic sense. I certainly do not believe in a beneficial onlooker who doles out – like candy to well-behaved children – the successful fruits of labours. In my experience, the events which occur in our lives through no input of our own, are essentially random and may be invested with the value label of 'good' or 'bad' with, very roughly, equal frequency, depending on the disposition of the individual to acceptance.

Where one feels deserving, one is also placing their confidence in the outcome of a completely independent event. This is akin to tossing a coin and, when it comes up 'heads', expecting that the outcome of the toss of a second coin will be related to that of the first – perhaps, also coming up 'heads'. This runs against intuition and against our scientific and experimental knowledge of independent events: you can try to predict the second result from the result of the first but, it will not work.

Nevertheless, we, as 'thinking' organic blobs continue to expect certain results to accrue from our own actions and, yes, to feel deserving of the favourable outcome of series of actions which are completely divorced from us.

Returning to the 'vacation' example, above, will make these last passages clearer. At the moment in which the employee feels deserving of a vacation, a great number of assumptions have already been made. Perhaps the most proximate is that the employee's manager has been told that a certain number of vacation days are available to top performers. It is also predicated upon such things as: someone being there to fill in; the bottom line; good business in a bad economy and so many other things as to create a whole network of eventualities in itself. This 'deserving' is beginning to sound a little flimsy, isn't it?

At the same time, evolution has taught us to be shrewd – almost card-shark shrewd and, I think that the analogy is a good one. A good player knows, based on cards in hand, what are the probabilities of a winning hand. Based on that knowledge, the player will ante-in or fold and the game progresses or ends. The cards dealt are completely beyond the player's control so this situation is similar to that of expecting an outcome of something which we cannot influence; in life, we, likewise, ask for cards based on our experience and our perceptions of what we have in hand.

From another perspective, I see that feeling deserving is not entirely different from 'hope' and, maybe, the two are not entirely dissimilar. In hope, one is also expectant and positive regarding the outcome of a scenario but, it is also more resigned to the wish of a positive outcome, whereas, 'deserving' feels entitled to it.

This has gone on but, unfortunately, with no other result than to expose some of my own views on this topic. Perhaps, you, as reader, deserved better. This I do not know.

I do know, however, that, if you ever ask me whether I feel deserving of something, I will likely respond:

'I'm not sure – that's a whole discussion in itself, isn't it?'

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