Moral Desert: How the fork should I act?

As a husband, it is culturally expected that I provide the needs of my wife and future children. I should prioritise their welfare and happiness in life. They deserve to be safe and healthy under my protection and care. So, in return, I am expecting that I deserve to be followed and respected and have the right to act as their provider and decision maker. However, what if my wife and children doesn’t appreciate the hard-work and sacrifice I do for the family? Is it fair to tell them that I deserve to be treated better because I am the breadwinner and head of the family?

The mindset of expecting my wife and children to treat me extra special because I have been an excellent husband and father is called MORAL DESERT. It means that if you’ve done something good, you deserve something good in return. According to a reddit discussion under the subject political philosophy, username TychoCelchuuu said that “Moral desert is deserving something in moral terms for something you have done. So, for instance, if I murder someone, we might think that, morally, I deserve to have something bad happen to me. Or if I help someone out, I deserve to be rewarded.”

Moral Desert, as a concept, struck me when I heard it from the outstanding comedy series The Good Place when, Eleanor, the protagonist of the story, tried to change her behaviour by doing good things after her near death experience and expected some type of a cosmic reward that would make her feel fulfilled and happy. Unfortunately, Eleanor realised that life is unfair – the rush of happy feelings we get in doing good things doesn’t sustain a morally perfect lifetime. In the afterlife, the judge mentioned the following lines to Eleanor and her friends…

“I still believe that the only reason that you improved in Michael’s Neighbourhood (fake good place) is because you thought there was a reward at the end of the rainbow. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO GOOD THINGS BECAUSE YOU’RE GOOD NOT BECAUSE YOU’RE SEEKING MORAL DESERT!” -The Judge, The Good Place, Season 2, episode 12. 

This made an impact on me because, as I analyse my previous experiences in life, I’ve always counted on Moral Desert. I always wanted to be rewarded for my good deeds and to be “the good person”… at least in my own perspective. Suffice to say, no matter how hard you try, not everyone will behave and treat you the way you want them to be. We are all different. That is why.. Some people will interpret your actions as either good or bad. Some people will see you as sane or insane. Some people will put you in a box because they think that you deserve to be placed in that box.

I am not an expert on moral philosophy but I find it interesting how we make decisions in justifying our situations and behaviours with other people? How do we know if people deserve something? How do we know if we deserve it? Who decides?

As part of my own personal growth, I acknowledge that I act and judge people, even my own self, based on Moral Desert. I guess we all do the same thing. We decide the friends, the type of job, material things and other aspects of our lives that we think we deserve. As our reward, we expect to finally have the best friend we never had, the promotion we long waited for and the MacBook Air Pro laptop we’ve been eyeing for awhile. However, all of these sounds very selfish and borderline narcissistic. Truly, it becomes really hard to decide what we really deserve in life.

In an article written by Anand Soni entitled,”Do We Deserve?”, he discussed that we deserve something or someone because of our own BEHAVIOURS and ABILITIES because these two things can either be learned overtime thru hard work and perseverance or it comes naturally because we are born to be that way.

“Whether it is a job or someone’s love, we work hard to get it. Whether it is respect or social status, we work hard to get it. Consistently. Intently. Because this is the behaviour that makes us worthy. This is the behaviour that makes us deserving…” 

He added, “The ability to understand and appreciate makes us a deserving friend, the ability to do good earns us the respect that we deserve, the ability to love someone unconditionally earns us their love (that we deserve), in turn.” – Anand Soni

Based on his statements, it is pretty clear who decides if we deserve something or not. Whether it is good or bad, IT LIES ON OUR OWN HANDS. We are the one who gets to decide how others treat us. We get to decide who we want to be. We decide on how we interact with others. We shape our own lives. On the other hand, we cannot decide for our family, friends or strangers because we cannot control their behaviours and abilities. 

If I may add to Anand’s idea, I think aside from working hard to modify and improve our behaviour and abilities, it is equally important to consider our own WISDOM to discern what is right from wrong. We all deserve to have a GOOD life. Therefore, we should have the wisdom to determine what is Good versus Bad. A judge in the court must have the wisdom to decide whether the accused person deserved to be incarcerated or not. So, the decision to say whether a situation or behaviour is fair and just depends on how we see it. I believe we should use our wisdom in line with our good behaviours and the best of our abilities to make a difference. 

Finally, the last question I want to ask myself is… If I know my worth as a person… If I know what is good for me… If I know what I deserve, HOW THE FORK SHOULD I ACT? 

I guess.. I should not only act as a good person but BE A GOOD PERSON who doesn’t seek anything in return. Moral Desert is very egocentric. I shouldn’t be the person who I was once before who craves for validation to know if I truly deserve what is given to me. Why should I question my abilities? Why should I complain about the opportunities God gave me? Why should I care about the negative and false things people say about me? I deserve to have a good life and everyone I love. We all deserve something good in our lives. God gave us the gift of FREE WILL and we should all be morally responsible in making use of it to shape our lives thru the use of our wisdom, good behaviour and God-given abilities. 

“You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says,’Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”  James 2:20-24