Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Myth of Deserving More

"A Path on Level Ground"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

In the midst of all the immigration rhetoric surrounding this presidential election season, I  just had a fascinating conversation with a woman who had emigrated from Mexico several years ago, went through the “naturalization” process, and is now a citizen of the United States. She told me that she strongly agrees with the idea of deporting all illegal immigrants. After all, she had “paid her dues” by becoming a citizen and so she felt that “illegal” immigrants should not have the same benefits of living in this country as she enjoys. She told me, “I deserve more than them.”

I’ve spent the last few days thinking about that one line about deserving more. As I think about it, I suspect that many if not most people think they deserve more than others. Citizens feel they are entitled to “more” than foreigners, rich people generally feel entitled to “more” in life than poor people, educated people feel they deserve “more” than those who never went to college. Many White people feel as if they deserve more than Black or Brown people, and lots of men believe they are entitled to “more” than women. Perhaps the phrase I deserve more than them is a motto that underlies much of the ways people live their routine lives everyday.

When I examine some of the core wisdom of most of the major world religions, the idea that some people deserve more than others is always seen as a toxin in the spiritual life. Jesus' core message promoted the dignity of every human being. He taught that we all stand on level ground, we all sit at a place of equal respect at the table of life and no one deserves more than anyone else. The Buddha taught his disciples to offer equal respect to anything that has being and warned his followers that craving for more and better is a poison for the soul. He said:

From craving is born grief.
From craving is born fear.

As I see it, the great wisdom teachers promoted this sense of equal dignity and pointed their followers to live a life of mutual respect for all beings, because, in essence, this is how the natural order works. Everything and everyone exists in a web of dynamic, mutual interdependence, no one better than the other or deserving more than the other. So, when we buy into the myth that we deserve more than them, we live a life that goes against the very grain of the natural order.

I came across this very articulate observation written by a retired Jesuit priest who argues against the "myth of deserving more:"

We need conversion from the prevailing consciousness
that views reality in terms of separateness and hierarchy.
We need to end the worldview that structures reality
into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate
We human beings cannot be fully ourselves
without being in communion with all that exists.

When it comes to the banquet of life, there is no head table, we are all sitting together at a place of equal dignity and we will never find a deeper peace until we can all live lives that models and fosters this reality.

As I sit outside in my garden on this glorious late-summer morning in the desert, I am reminded of a beautiful passage in the Hebrew Scripture:

God raises up the poor from the dust,
And lifts the needy from the ash-heap
To make them sit with kings and princes
and inherit a seat of honor.

Amen to that!


  1. Dear Paul, your selection of the word "retired" to describe Bert Thelen is a surprising understatement of his decision. I found his story and his letter a wonderful add to your blog today.

    As always, thank you for your insight and your dedication to this blog. Peace.

    1. Ken, as always I am grateful for your wisdom and your comments. Yes, "retired" is indeed an understatement.

  2. You make a valid point about Bert Thelen and his comment 'who argues against the "myth of deserving more.' This is a lot to think about dividing into groups and assuming that everything is black or white. Grey is a wonderful color.