THE BLOG

Why You Don't 'Deserve' Anything

08/03/2016 10:26 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Last weekend I had a delicious pizza delivered from a great local Italian restaurant. I'm writing this blog on a very shiny (when I clean it) Macbook Air. I have an iPhone, I regularly eat out, get takeaway coffee, go to theatres and concerts, meet my friends in the pub (which, in London, is never a cheap experience). But I've earned it, right? I spent years studying at school, then college, then University. I've worked very hard at lots of rubbish jobs when I was younger, and now I have reached the point where my life is pretty comfortable. The idea that I deserve any of these things is entirely false. And it's ruining us.

No-one wants to hear that they are undeserving of things they have worked hard for. The problem is, once you think that you have a right to the things you have, it can turn you into a rather horrible person. I watched a great TED talk by Paul Piff, who talked about an experiment they did with Monopoly. At the start of the game, a coin toss decided that one person would start with twice the money of everyone else, and would get to roll the dice twice on each go. Of course, they won. What was interesting is their behaviour and their response to their win. They were far more likely to slam their pieces on the board, to gloat over how well they were doing. And after the game, they didn't attribute their success to the coin toss. They said they had a good strategy, or they were showing personal skill, not that they were taking part in a rigged, unfair game. People cannot conceive that their success is, in a large part, attributed to entirely random forces outside of their control.

Apply this the real world, and studies have shown that people that drive more expensive cars are less likely to stop for people at pedestrian crossings. Richer households are less likely to give to charity. Having money removes us more and more from the rest of society (no bus, no shared accommodation) so bit by bit we find ourselves less empathetic, less charitable. And we don't deserve it. The world is a rigged game of Monopoly.

Just look at recent statistics related to privately educated people in the UK. Only 7% of the population attends fee-paying schools, and yet they make up 74% of high court judges, 61% of doctors and half of the entire cabinet. The same is true for creatives. 51% of journalists and 42% of award-winning actors were also privately educated. No-one likes to think that there is someone who is just as good as, or even better than them, at their job. But the truth is, they're out there. Hundreds of potential actors or journalists who couldn't afford to stop working to write or to take unpaid work. Thousands of potential judges and doctors who simply couldn't afford to run up thousands of pounds of debt in education.

Yet we console ourselves with these ideas, that people get what they deserve, probably because the alternative is just too terrifying. And politicians and the media use this to their advantage. Think you deserve your earnings and your house? Absolutely right, so we won't put up nasty taxes to improve healthcare for all, to allow museums and libraries to stay open. You earned that money, you keep it. These people that are struggling, they deserve it, right? Never mind the fact that they were born into a low income family, or a disadvantaged minority, or the wrong gender, or into a war-torn country. The main reason a vast majority of people struggle is because they weren't born into a privileged group.

Take this a little further and things get even more worrying. Theresa May is going to let refugees state their case to be allowed into this country. To see if they 'deserve' our help. Or the young woman in Pakistan, who 'deserved' to be shot in the head and thrown in the river, because she dishonoured her family. When we start to associate ideas around being 'deserving' to belief systems and economic policy, all of a sudden we realise that only a tiny minority of the world benefits.

There is a possibility of change. Another part of the study showed that people of all backgrounds were more willing to give their own money, or to help others, after watching a short film about child poverty. Just that little bit of exposure reminded them that, through something as random as a coin toss, our place in the world is decided, and luck and chance play a far greater role than we want to admit.

You don't deserve anything. Not a job, a family, happiness, a house. It's a frightening thing to admit, but once you've embraced it and realised the truth behind it, you will be far more willing to share some of that time and money. We're all human, we just started off with different pieces on the board.