I work a white collar job for which I sacrificed many things to get. I went to college and graduate school, paid for internships, worked for free, slept on office floors and in my car, turned down vacations and trips to work for candidates and office holders who if I looked at them objectively I wouldn't have wanted to be within 100 miles of existence. I traveled the country for interviews in far away places that would pay shit (if I even got the job). I put off buying medications or going to doctors so I could pay for gas for interviews. I did the equivalent of standing outside of offices like Lloyd Dobler with a copy of my vitae above my head waiting to be picked. Now that I have a good job, I can safely say I deserve it.
But, in reality, that last sentence: it's total shit. I don't deserve it, because no one deserves anything. It's nice to get, and I'm experienced and these experiences added up to my being selected for my job, but I don't deserve it: it's nice to have, and someday I won't have it. Let me explain...
I am the first person in my family to go to college (and it was up to me to pay for it). Like every person at every college, I struggled. I didn't just struggle with the usual suspects of college (relationships, who I am, how the fuck do I live on 5 bucks a week, etc), but also with if I deserved to be there.
Now, in the ensuing 20 years since I went to college, I have built an entire philosophy just around the word "deserve." As for most things in life, "deserve" has nothing to do with anything. People work hard and when they achieve something, some title, some milestone; they are told, and tell themselves, the reward is deserved. I used to think this myself: I deserved happiness, I deserved the job, I deserved the scholarship, whatever it was. When I got sick, I said I didn't deserve it, that at heart I am a good person and I don't deserve this life of difficulty. I started out life with so many strikes against me, that I only deserved the good things for which I worked SO hard.
But then one day, a thought came over me, and I never used the word "deserve" again. I saw a little girl who was obviously going through chemo. She had the little surgical mask and everything. And I thought that baby doesn't deserve the pain and isolation of that disease. She deserves to run and play and be everything she wants and to never have to contemplate that she is different and may not have decades of life in front of her. From that point on, 'deserve' never passed my lips again.
Deserve becomes our moral paintbrush. Cleveland fans deserve a championship (damn straight). But when it becomes deeper, that is when deserve becomes maddening. The people who died in 9/11 did not deserve it, but the people who survived: did they deserve it?
If 2 soldiers are walking a patrol in Afghanistan and an IED detonates, did the one who survives to tell the tale deserve to live? No one would ever say the dead soldier deserved his fate.
The Karadashians have a multi-million dollar empire, while there are schoolteachers changing lives everyday for a yeoman's wage. Who deserves what in that scenario?
I work in politics. People love the word deserve. If a politician is caught in a scandal, every pundit, every enemy, every passerby states "they deserve what they get." As if they had planted bad seeds in a cosmic garden that have now yielded the crop of destruction that the offender deserves. In my work in politics, I have researched backgrounds on people, and tried to find the deep, dark things that would embarrass them, that would cause them to run from the limelight, that would hurt them, hurt their families, and give my side a victory.
I have told myself this is necessary, that this is what I get paid to do. And while I often say I never judge how others make their living, making your living by hurting others warps every other aspect of your life.
I have heard people chuckle with glee when an opponent has come down with an illness, even cancer, and proclaim 'that's karma!' Sweet God Jesus, why would anyone do that?
For the record, if you cheer for the death of people, even those you disagree with or have been wronged by, you are a piece of shit. As far as we know, this is our only turn on this ride of life, and those who cheer the end of someone else's ride-you're a fuck.
When something happens for or to someone that they have wanted, I make sure to say "I'm really happy for you," not "you deserve this." We have twisted happiness into a commodity that if you wish someone happiness, that you are actually being disingenuous.
But if you know you mean it, then it's true. Be happy for people. Be happy that they saw something they wanted, they worked for it, and it came to them.
But deserve? After we are born, all bets are off on deserving.