Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Undeserved Rant, Perhaps

Lots of people have been getting good news lately—yay, good news! But in the congratulations, I've seen the following phrase come up a lot:

You deserve it.

This kept standing out to me, and it got me thinking. What does it mean to "deserve" something?

Okay, I know what it means. Somehow by our character or actions, we qualify to receive whatever we've gotten. But it kept bugging me.

In ASL, we generally use the same sign for "deserve" and "earn," and in a lot of cases, they feel pretty interchangeable. So why does something tell me they're not the same thing this situation? Maybe it's this:

What does not getting it mean?

If some particular good-thing hasn't happened for me, does that mean I don't deserve it? (And of course, this doesn't just go for me, but anyone who hasn't gotten whatever that good-thing is.) Please don't say that's true, because I'm plenty good at beating up on myself already. ;)

Or then there's this:

What if someone doesn't deserve it but gets it anyway?

Clearly if there's any real meaning to "deserving" anything, it's possible to be undeserving. So if there are people who deserve but don't get, there are likely people who get but don't deserve.

But what does any of that mean? And how does anyone decide? What is it based on?

What's the point of saying it? Maybe everyone deserves everything, or no one deserves anything. Either way, the statement feels empty to me.

Personally, I'm going to stick to the following:

I'm so happy for you!
This is so exciting.
Good luck on the next step.

Or something along those lines. Because maybe they deserve it, maybe they don't, but it doesn't matter. They got it.

Whatever "it" is. :)


Richard said...

I think your ASL gives you a possible answer: your deserve something you've earned. You've earned something you worked for. Telling someone they "deserve it" is quite appropriate if you feel they've earned it.

Brent Stratford said...

I'm not sure how I feel about "deserve." I just want some of "it." Whatever "it" is. I'd love to be able to say "I've got it."

Mike Lewis said...

I believe Richard has hit on something. It really depends on how familiar someone is with someone else.

When I hear Person A say "you deserve it" to Person B, it sometimes strikes me funny as well. I think it may be because I suspect one or several of the following reasons:

- A thinks B is just a gosh darn nice person.
- A has a crush on B, and will therefore say anything to flirt and flatter.
- A thinks B has had some kind of hardship or trial in life, and that reason alone justifies success for B.
- A knows B had worked really hard at some other unrelated thing in life and therefore deserves success in ___________ [writing, in this case], regardless of the actual effort put into _________ [writing]. (E.g. B has volunteered twice a week for 20 years at the local soup line, therefore, B deserves a publishing deal, right?)
- Any other thing that A can think of that might be completely unrelated to _______________ [writing].

I could go on, but I've already had to re-do this comment 3 times prior to submitting.

If, however, you know the person well, and know that they have made serious effort in _____________ [writing], and know that they have made personal progress in this thing, then by all means you should be able to tell them, "You deserve it," when you feel they have earned their success.

Short of it: Make your compliments genuine.

R.C. Lewis said...

Richard, upon further consideration, I think I figured out why my brain's telling me that "deserve" = "earn" doesn't work in this case. I can earn a college degree by fulfilling set requirements. I can earn my salary by performing the duties included in my job description. To me (and it may just be me), "earning" ties to having set criteria defined. Do X, Y, and Z, and you will earn _____.

With publishing being an industry so fraught with subjectivity, I have a hard time applying the word "earn" to much within it ... other than earning out an advance and earning royalties, because those have fairly well-defined criteria.

Brent, me too. :) And it looks like you're my 100th follower! Thanks for that!

Mike, I think what you outlined had a lot to do with my initial irksome feelings. But as I think about it, I don't think I'd even tell Mindy McGinnis she deserves her publishing deal. I know her well. I know all the work she put into her writing over the past years. I know what she went through to get here. Yet to say she deserves it (in this subjective business) seems to imply that anyone who isn't where she is *doesn't* deserve it.

But like I've said, this is all probably just me. We all have innocuous things that get on our nerves. I guess this is mine.