Taken from the introduction to Dr. Martyn’s now classic child psychology text–a must-read for Mockingbirds everywhere (especially those with children)–Beyond Deserving: Children, Parents, and Responsibility Revisited, here’s a quick word from one of our esteemed 2009 Conference speakers, emphasis hers:
This phrase, “beyond deserving,” may be a bit puzzling at first glance. After all, the idea of “deserving” permeates our language and is taken for granted in much of our daily life, from grades at school to rewards for exceptional performance – such as whether one “deserved” a gold medal or the Nobel Prize – to our ideas of criminal justice. “He got what he deserved,” we might say about some poor wretch sentenced to execution for a foul crime, or about a child who received a humiliating failing grade in English for plagiarizing his term paper. Or, on the positive side, one might say to a friend, “A nice person like you deserves to have such a lovely necklace.”
My own fascination with the truth that there is something very important beyond our deserving began some decades ago when I heard a sermon on the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), who all received the same pay from the matter, though some had worked a long day, some a half-day, and some just a short part of a day.
The unforgettable gift from that sermon was a new understanding that the major biblical message is about something that cannot be earned. In this parable, “fairness” and “merit” utterly disappear in an in-breaking of a powerful force that transcends “deserving” altogether.
In my decades of working with children and families, the significance of this force has become incarnate before my eyes, as I have seen the superior potency of an approach to a “misbehaving” child that has no element of “this-for-that” implied in it. Thus gradually, over the years, there grew in my head the following discovery, which provides the fundamental thesis of this book:
Parental love, and, by extension, mentoring love, is authentic and effectual in proportion to the degree that it transcends the commonly assumed principle of the circular exchange, that is to say, “this for that.” All true love is a stranger to that kind of thinking. The “justice” idea of reward according to what is deserved is replaced by the much more powerful force of noncontingent, compassionate alliance with the essential personhood of the other, however small that part may appear to be, against the destructive forces opposing that person’s good.