What do we deserve?

Even after having thought about this particular subject for some many years, I’m still not sure how to articulate it adequately.  I’m sure you’ve said, or heard someone else say “I deserve…” or, “I really don’t deserve…”.  These pleadings are usually offered within the context of something the person really wants, like a vacation, or amidst a personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one, a sudden illness, or string of bad happenings.  But I’ve always wondered what kind of mindset would cause in someone to think they deserve anything more or less than what they have.

How does someone make the leap form “I really want that day at the spa” to “I deserve a day at the spa”?  How do you get from “I wish this bad thing didn’t happen to me” to “I don’t deserve this bad thing”?

When we speak in terms of deserving or not deserving, we are making a rather bold statement, I think.  We’re essentially saying we are owed the thing we deserve, or that we are being actually wronged by having the bad thing happen.  But who owes it?  Who owes it to be otherwise?  How have you earned what you think you deserve, and what have you don’t to think you should be protected?

Personally speaking, I’ve never felt like I was ever owed anything.  Whether it’s an inheritance, a new car, a nice house, or anything.  There’s a long list of tools and books on my Amazon wish list.  I’ve never felt like I deserve any of them.  I’ve never had a massage, ever.  I could really use one.  But I’ve never felt I deserve it.  When both my grandfathers died within six months of one another, I was devastated.  But I never did it occur to me that I didn’t deserve to lose them both so close together.

Perhaps I’m making larger something that’s really trivial.  But it’s always something I think about whenever I hear someone say they deserve or don’t deserve something.  I know I’m definitely thinking more deeply about this than the person who uttered the plea. However, people don’t think deeply enough about what they think and believe about themselves anyway.

So, how do you determine what someone does and doesn’t deserve as it pertains to life’s amenities and trials and tribulations?  Is it something we should think about, or is it just a trivial figure of speech?


  1. You’ve made leap I don’t quite understand. Why does saying “I deserve” something necessarily mean that something is not only owed, but owed from an external source?

    So illustrate using one of your examples; a vacation. If I’ve gone through a highly stressful period, where I’ve been unusually active and/or involved with happenings, at the end of it, I might say, “I deserve a vacation.” Why? Because, through my activities, I earned a respite. Does anyone owe it to me? No. If I feel I deserve a vacation, I’ll book and pay for it myself.

    Which probably explains why I’ve never gone on vacation.

    I don’t equate that sort of thing with personal tragedy or illness. They’re not the same. Yet, after a particularly difficult time, I might still say, “I deserve a vacation.” Why? Because a respite is good for one’s mental and physical health. Does that mean someone owes me that respite? Of course not. If I need a respite due to personal tragedy, I am fortunate enough to have family members who recognise this and do what they can to help me.

    (As an aside, my family once decided I deserved a day at the spa and booked me for 3 hours of pampering. While I’m glad to have experienced it, I never want to do it again. I discovered I really dislike being pampered in that manner. Especially considering how much it cost!!)

    I think there is a need to differentiate the context on how people use the term “I deserve” something. One can deserve something because they earned it in some way (e.g. an employee who works above and beyond expectations deserves a raise or some other reward), or because they feel entitiled to it (e.g. an employee demands a raise because they’re friends with the manager).

    In the employee examples, the reward is granted externally, but only the employee that earned the reward through measurable standards has any legitimate claim to being “owed” that reward; however, no employer actually owes anyone a raise. They would do it if they want to keep good employees, but it’s not a requirement.

    When it comes to someone *not* deserving something, your examples include personal tragedy. Again, it depends on how the term is meant. Of course you didn’t “deserve” those losses, however these are not things that happened to you as punishment for something you did, so I don’t know that the word “deserve” is even the right word to use in that context. Someone who regularly drives drunk does not deserve to have a driver’s licence; this is based on their actions and the fact that having a driver’s licence is a priviledge one must quality for and earn.

    In the end, I don’t think it’s a matter of being a trivial figure of speech or not, but more that I think the term is used very loosely and requires definition and context.

  2. I think it’s appropriate in some cases to say, “I don’t deserve” or “I do deserve,” depending on the situation. Not necessarily that God owes you anything, but saying it in general out of complete frustration.

    Say, for example, your neighbor is a real dirt bag, a guy who wouldn’t give you a drop of water out of his pond if you were dying of thirst. A guy who treats everyone with disrespect, a real sonuvab*tch, ya know. And say this guy seems to have everything. He has money, a nice house, no health issues, and so on. Would it be wrong to say, “I treat people good. I always help people. If anyone deserves those nice things, it’s me, not him.”

    I don’t think it’s inappropriate in situations like that. You seem to think that everything in life, including success, is dished out according to passion and hard work. It just isn’t that way, John. Some people don’t deserve the things they have, good and bad alike.

    • T

      That’s what I’m getting at. How does one go about objectively (if possible) assessing what we do and don’t deserve, if anything? When I say objectively, I mean we are usually emotionally connected to the situation and could be assessing based on our own selfish desires.

      I could say I don’t deserve cancer. But don’t I? How could I know I don’t? Maybe I do, maybe I dont. Do I deserve $10k? Maybe, maybe not. I’m wondering how we could know?

  3. John,

    The same would hold true for people who have everything they want, and more. Just because they have it doesn’t necessarily mean they deserve it. It’s not possible to decide such things with any degree of objectivity.

    I can give you a real life example as an outside observer.

    Woman A graduated high school and went on to become a nurse. Before she was 21, she married a guy she knew in high school. He didn’t have a job or any money, so she paid for him to go to school, and then turned over her weekly checks to him. And while she was home watching their one child, he was using her money to take women out on dates. She was married to the guy for 10 years before she found out. He took a job as a hospital administrator, using the education that Woman A paid for, and then divorced her. She wound up with another guy who had no education, no job, and no drive to do anything. She also wound up with cancer twice, and a litany of other medical problems that put her into severe debt. She lives with her son now because she was evicted from her last place of residence.

    Woman B dropped out of high school and took a job at a fast food restaurant. She married a soldier and then cheated on him with his best man. She divorced the soldier and married the best man, who made a lot more money than that lowly soldier. Today, she lives in a nice house, drives a nice car, and has never had any health problems outside of the occasional migraine. She can buy whatever she wants and doesn’t have to worry about eviction notices.

    According to you, this is justice.

    • I’m not really speaking of justice. I’m asking an epistemology question.

      • John,

        Your position seems to be that people have no right to expect a better situation based on their actions. You say because there is no objective measure. It’s sort of a “let the chips fall” philosophy that either: a). doesn’t care about justice; or b). believes the end result is always just.

        Is that your position? I’m simply guessing by this statement:

        Personally speaking, I’ve never felt like I was ever owed anything. Whether it’s an inheritance, a new car, a nice house, or anything. There’s a long list of tools and books on my Amazon wish list. I’ve never felt like I deserve any of them. I’ve never had a massage, ever. I could really use one. But I’ve never felt I deserve it. When both my grandfathers died within six months of one another, I was devastated. But I never did it occur to me that I didn’t deserve to lose them both so close together.

        • T

          I’m asking why people think they deserve more or less out of life. How do they conclude that they actually do deserve it. On what grounds? Preference? I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.

        • John,

          I get what you’re asking. But my concern isn’t answering the question; my concern is the result of that sort of thinking. I don’t know the answer. But I know that choosing to believe everything is just and okie-dokie is folly.

  4. You asked me how we can know if we deserve the things we have. Well, we can’t really know But we can look at situation with our common sense and empathy, and honestly say, “Boy, that just don’t seem right.” We don’t have to look at it from a cosmic point of view. Our eyes can’t see that far anyway.

    And this brings to mind a problem I have with atheists who hope God doesn’t exist. They see situations like I described above and say, “Oh, well. Just the way it goes.” They don’t want their to be any ultimate justice because they don’t want God to exist. I can mutter all day that Woman A got hosed, and be generally pissed off about it. But I believe in God, and that ultimate justice will prevail one day. And that thought helps.

  5. I think we can say we deserve what we get based on our actions. That is, if I live a careless life, I deserve the consequences a careless life might bring. It doesn’t mean we will face those consequences, but should we face them, our actions beforehand make those consequences deserved. The same can be said for doing things the right way and enjoying the consequences of having done so. I have the nice home because I worked toward affording it.

    However, if I do the right things and still can’t get the nice home, do I have the right to whine about not deserving the crappy home in which I’m forced to live? My response would be, what would be the point? It doesn’t help in acquiring the nice home.

  6. paynehollow says:

    I come at a life with a, “It is what it is” attitude, at least to some degree. Am I balding? Well,that is what it is, t’ain’t much that can be done about it. Didn’t get the job I wanted? Ah well, life goes on, it is what it is. Que sera sera.

    So, to a degree I think I can agree with some of your sentiments, John. I certainly don’t feel like I “deserve” (or want) to be crazy rich or anything like that. And there is a part of me that finds that sort of attitude to be reflective of an unhealthy greed.

    On the other hand, if a fella has been working long, hard overtime days for months now and thinks he deserves a day off and, so, goes to his boss and says, “I deserve a day off,” it’s just a healthy way of saying, “Man, I’ve been working like a dog. It would be healthy for me to take a day off.” The single mother who has been tending her children – in addition to working a full time job – who asks the grandparents, “Can you all take the kids for the weekend? I deserve a break…” that seems to me to be a healthy thing.

    It’s just noting the reality that sometimes humans need Sabbath rest, and too often in our world, that is not built in.

    I think, in that spirit, one could argue that God teaches (in the Bible) that humans deserve a regular rest. God, in fact, insisted upon it, one could argue. And thus, God built in the Sabbath as a day of rest, for EVEN GOD rested, as the story goes.

    So, I think there is a healthy and an unhealthy way to go down that “I deserve…” road. Most people I hear use it in the healthy sense, and good on them for it!

    One man’s thoughts.


  7. I keep thinking of William Munny just before he unloaded that last Spencer round into “Little Bill” Daggett’s face…”‘Deserve’s’ got nothin’ to do with it.”

    I love that movie.

    Sometimes as I alluded earlier, it is clear to note that we got what we deserve by the actions we took or didn’t take that led to our current situation. Perhaps, John, you’re referring to something much less specific? One who insists they deserve what their actions and decisions could not have brought about? A kind of wistful lamentation provoked by ongoing suffering to one degree or another. Is that where you’re going?

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