Photo of a man splitting wood by humanitarian photographer Bryon Lippincott

I’ve been thinking recently about our obsession with what we and other people deserve. It has become more and more obvious as I read, watch and honestly listen to the thoughts circling in my own head that we have a serious problem with what we deserve vs. what others deserve.

In our minds we deserve the best we can afford and quite honestly we deserve what our more affluent friends and neighbors can afford. We have just been slighted by any number of things, or have not been given the same quality of opportunities they have been given.

You see “I deserve” is a deeply held belief system that has, in the best of situations, an equally powerful opposite. In most situations the opposite is even more powerful because it is based on fear.

The opposite of “I deserve” is “They don’t deserve” and it is rooted in our fear of missing out, of not getting what we want and what we deserve, our fear that someone else is getting something and we are not. Versions of it pop up everywhere.

“They don’t deserve welfare – I have to work for my money, they should too.”

“They don’t deserve health care from my tax dollars – they are fat, they eat too much McDonalds, they don’t exercise”

“They don’t deserve aid money from our government,  they aren’t democratic.”

“Why are there so many organizations working in “X” country, what about the people who need help here.”

Whether we acknowledge it or not we have a hierarchy of deservedness. It goes like this. Me, my family, (my tribe, my village, my religion), my nation, people in other countries in decending order based on how much they are like us. Given the range that this covers we can always find a way for us to deserve something and those outside our circle to be undeserving.

As I have been listening to the healthcare debate in the US over the last couple of weeks. I have realized that when we as humans acquire power or control our obsession with deservedness becomes an obsession with retribution. We begin moving to take what we feel people don’t deserve away from them.

In fact we are often willing to take the opportunity of ever having it away from ourselves if it means that people who we feel don’t deserve it won’t get it.

The only way that we can change this is a perspective shift in our own lives. The reality is that me having the ability to publish this and you having the ability to read this means that we have both won a lottery. We were born into a tribe, a country, a lifestyle that we do not and never will deserve. We don’t deserve our wealth, health, safety and comfort anymore than the the millions of people born into the slums of the world deserve to be relegated to a life of bondage and suffering there.

The problem is not necessarily our lifestyle, is it where we draw the line of an average life that we deserve. If we could to take all the people of the world and find a mathematical average the lifestyle, I hope we would realize how far above the average we are. I want to believe we would begin to look for ways to pull others up out overwhelming gratitude for the blessing we have been given. That we would cease trying to knock people off of the ropes as they try to work their way to higher ground out of fear that they will somehow take our place on our pedestal.