I recently got into a discussion about the concept of “deserve” thanks to the person who sends out emails for me, who dropped the “D” word in a recent subject line about a program I’m leading next week in North Carolina. If you missed it, the subject line read:
“You Deserve Your Best Life.”
Ugh. From a marketing point of view, I can see why this would have appeal and why my admin support person chose this title. Don’t we all want to see our needs met in life? And trust that our needs will and can be met with ease—with empowerment and support in doing so? What’s not to like?
The reason “deserve” has appeal is because, in effect, so much of our culture is constantly telling us that we are not deserving. We are not smart enough, talented, thin, young, good looking, rich, hard-working (fill in the blanks!) enough to warrant getting what we dream of and desire in life. Yuck! (That’s my response to this belief!).
Implicit is a concept of scarcity (that there is not enough to go around). And once we have bought into the idea of scarcity–that there is not enough for everyone–who is the one who gets their needs met? Who is “deserving” or “worthy”?
And that’s where the concepts of reward/punishment comes in, and right/wrong thinking. And then we can feel even worse about ourselves and further judge others. We also can avoid uncomfortable questions. Why is it that some in the world have food on their tables and others are starving? If one person eating today and another going hungry is based on “worth” (“I worked for what I have!”) then it’s easy to avoid our own human discomfort with the fact that another sentient being is suffering. With “deserve” we can easily bypass our feelings (sadness, grief, despair) around how resources are shared in the world today—and also avoid looking for new solutions.
In terms of punishment and reward, there also is the idea implicitly in “deserve” that we are deserving (worthy) for some choices/behavior, and not others. But as that old saying goes, are we not all a child of God (or the universe–the carbon and stars of which we are made?). I prefer instead what I heard Marshall Rosenberg ask repeatedly: What will make life more wonderful? For everyone. Yes, for every being on the planet? In classical rhetoric, this was referred to as the “greatest good.” And we are all “deserving” of it! And all “better” for it.
Thinking in this way can become dizzying and overwhelming. How do we hold everyone’s needs with care? And this is the radical question that Nonviolent Communication (NVC) asks. Yet luckily, the practice of NVC also focuses on specific circumstances. What is happening right now that I’m noticing (observation)? What feelings and needs does this stir for me? And what choice/action would best hold everyone’s needs with care?
In my opinion, there are far-ranging benefits to this kind of thinking. I see it for myself, and with the coaching clients I support in achieving their dreams. And I see it also with the managers and organizations I work with. Once we acknowledge that there is no right/wrong and no punishment/reward (or value in extrinsic rewards) we become motivated in a new way–and curious–about what will really meet our needs. We start to collaborate with others in new and creative ways.
It also, in my experience, brings us out of our heads and into our bodies. Because the joy of meeting our needs and contributing to others is truly a joyful, enlivening, and palpable experience. Our bodies recognize it. All life has this desire and direction– from the trees growing towards the sun to a baby’s first steps– to embrace and generate life and abundance, understanding and acceptance.
So what would my preferred subject line be?
“Making Life More Wonderful—for Everyone!”
Let’s do it!
If you are interested in reading about how NVC is radical and takes a “third way” of looking at human experience, I encourage you to check out the interview I did years ago with Marshall Rosenberg for the Cleveland Free Times.