Deserving: Credit, Entitlement, Earning & Reward

by on April 21st, 2013
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Credit, Entitlement, Earning & Reward

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

deserve |dəˈzərv|
verb [with obj.]: to do something or have or show qualities worthy of reward or punishment.

The topic of deserving doesn’t come up much in my (herbalist, activist, nature lover, outdoorsman) circles, though it is an important issue in a number of ways.  We may sense that what we do deserves more respect that it gets in the larger society.  Someone may feel that they deserve to make a decent income from their able work… or more often, feel undeserving of the title of “herbalist” or “activist” or “mother” even though they’ve experience much, learned a lot and served many.

We are – it must be said – undeniably deserving… every one of us, no matter what our faults might be.  We deserve a pat on our back for our good intentions as well as how much effort we put into fulfilling them, and we deserve any benefits or rewards that come of it.  We deserve both the rewards and the consequences that arise from all that we manage to do, and from whatever we either fail to do, or choose not to.  We deserve credit for all that we are proud of, and for for what we are less proud of as well.  Credit is not about boos or applause, so much as an assignment of personal responsibility and public accountability.

credit |ˈkredit|
noun: public acknowledgment or praise, typically that given or received when a person’s responsibility for an action or idea becomes or is made apparent.

It is a natural human need to be credited and acknowledged, and a healthy society hinges in part on an accurate crediting of its members.  Credit is an attribution of responsibility, recognizing that someone is responsible for an omission or deed, including misdeeds as well as to successes and accomplishments.  It is important that we be credited, meaning that we be given both the personal affirmation and difficult reality checks that we all need.  It is also important and healthy that we give credit to others, not only praising each other for truly praiseworthy characteristics or acts, but also holding each other accountable.  After all, for it to really matter, both the credit given and the accredited person much be credible.

The words “credit” and “credible” both originate with Latin credere, meaning “to believe, to trust.”  We need to be able to trust the value of what we credit, and not undermine it with exaggeration, flattery or pretense.  And those we give credit to, need to be able to trust the sincerity and accuracy of the credit given.

“Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.” –Aristotle

entitlement |enˈtītlmənt|
noun: the fact of having a right to something.

Herbalists, activists, artists, teachers and parents (to name only a few!) generally deserve more credit and appreciation than they receive from a public that’s increasingly learned to take things for granted, and that often seems to feel entitled to services.  It is common for people to expect on the spot herbal consultations as soon as they hear someone is an herbalist, or think they can automatically expect help with their broken car if they find out an acquaintance is a mechanic, stopping them in store aisles or the middle of a sidewalk, and often being offended if told they need to email a request or schedule an appointment.

Entitlement means having title, and hence a right.  No one has title to us, our time or our knowledge, nor do they have a right to our services.  We can make a choice to provide assistance, advice or care at any time, whether for money, barter, or free… but we do not owe it to anyone, and they are most deserving our our help when they see its value, and credit and honor the source.  This is at least in part a class issue, since it shows up most often among the middle and upper classes, and is so seldom found in the attitudes of those living in rural areas close to the land, or in conditions of poverty.

Our community contains a lot of middle class folks, and we too need to be on guard for any creeping entitlement in our own attitudes and the ways that we interact with people.  Nobody owes us praise, as much we may desire it, and only in the “good manners” of kingly courts is it required that we feign praise for what we have no love or respect for.  We’re not owed help, it’s a gifting, nor are we obligated to help or heal anyone else… instead, we choose to!  We’re not entitled to have a teacher, though a teacher may accept us based on our interest and commitment.  No one is entitled to a teaching slot or book contract or job unless it’s actually been promised to us.  We have no inherent right to make a living income from herbalism or anything else that we might love to do, what we have is a splendid opportunity to do so… replete with difficulty and impediments, years of learning and financial risk, blessings and satisfaction.  And we are not automatically entitled to our titles… only by virtue of our growing wisdom and worthy work.

“It takes long practice, yes. You have to work. Did you think you could snap your fingers, and have it as a gift? What is worth having is worth working for.”
-Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials

earn |ərn|
verb: gain or incur deservedly in return for one’s behavior or achievements.

The key to earning, is effort and achievement that we deserve to gain from.  It derives from the Old English earnian, “laborer,” and refers to the benefits received for our labors.  Anyone can be the recipient of an hourly wage or false praise, but it is our character and actions – and how honorably, thoughtfully, effectively, powerfully, artfully we act – that earns us the most credible of credit, the esteem we can trust… our own self respect and self love.

The root of the word “deserve” is the Latin deservire, meaning “to serve well.”  We’re deserving, deserving of the rewards and satisfactions, whenever we’re well serving this world.  And it is through all kinds of service to our families, to our communities, to the wild earth and our most precious priorities and ideals, that we can trust our life, titles and gifts are deserved.


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Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales, Practicing Animá Lifeways


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  • Lauren Stauber

    What a short, sweet, thought provoking post, Wolf. It snuck by me the first time ’round.

    It is a beautiful vision that we might create communities where each person’s strengths can shine from childhood on, and we can be challenged and “reality checked” in the ways we most need, such that learning and growth are nourished, not crushed. But as most of us know, we do not live in a just world, and often people are not treated according to who/how they are in the world, for better or for worse.  It is so important, as you expressed, to fortify that core of self-honoring, with honest acknowledgement of weakness and strength alike, and a fundamental love and respect of essential self that carries us through the muck.  Sometimes we have to scrape ourselves up from some pretty lowly, lonesome places and carve that self-love out of a compost heap.  But it might get us through the day long enough to act the part and cultivate a real inner garden over time. And yes, there is so much fertile ground for growth to be found in certain relationships – the reflection of a dear friend reminding us what we forgot about our own light, or darkness…supporting us in integrating both. And even an interaction with a complete stranger can be of utmost value in more deeply understanding who/where we are in the world. It may be that there are certain kinds of self-knowledge that can only emerge in the face of another, in that endless dance of interconnectedness. That dance may be with a person, or a group of people, or an animal, or a tree, or a mountain, or a river, but it is a relationship with give and take.

    Another thing that comes to mind is the importance of discernment in this dance – not always easy when there is great inner or worldly confusion. The reflective surfaces, whether found in the eyes of another or our own mind, inevitably have their distortions.  In my own experience, there is a valuable check and balance that occurs when I dance wisely between self perceptions and those that others offer me.  If I linger too long in my own mind, or in what others (seem to) think of me, I get easily lost.  But gathering information from many places, within and beyond, and returning again and again to those most trusted places of inner knowing and my closest allies and mentors to help navigate, truths do tend to emerge – if I am open to seeing them.  Learning how to trust, who to trust, and most importantly, to trust myself, has been a hugely difficult and worthwhile venture, and along the way, I am slowly learning to fill my shoes, and own the footprints I leave in this world – the beautiful and the ugly.

    There is so much more in what you wrote than what I responded to, but these are the thoughts that came up for me. The entitlement piece is a huge conversation unto itself. I think about this not only in how people interact with each other, stuff, services, experiences…but also in how we interact with our plant friends. Working in an herbal apothecary, I find myself in the position again and again of reminding people that the herbs they see in the jars grow in the earth and go through changes just like any of us, sometimes having more or less to give, sometimes needing more from us than we do from them, depending on so many things… So when the jar is empty, gratitude and curiosity, rather than annoyance and anger, is a far more appropriate response for cultivating a healthy and mutually beneficial long term relationship.

    Thank you again for provoking thought. You got me rambling!


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