This is a question that has been aired quite a bit, and I don’t intend to tread any more of its well-worn ground than I have to. Nevertheless, there’s an aspect of it that seems to almost always get left out of any such discussion, so I’m posting my insights here. I hope this adds something substantial to the topic for those who read it.
“Do I Deserve Love?”
This topic is plagued with what I’ll call, “definition failure.” There’s more than one type of love, and some types require effort on our part to be worthy of reciprocation. It’s therefore inappropriate to answer the question at all without first describing what kind of “love” we’re discussing. Since herein I’m discussing all the various types (that I know about), I’ll use the definitions as both descriptions and theses.
For reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love
“Agape love” (“uh-GAHP-ay”) is unconditional love. Many consider this the philosophically highest, purest form, but it’s unique and fills its own “niche” in human existence, and as such, can’t be reasonably thought of as “the” kind of love in question. This is the kind of love that Christ advocated in the New Testament when he asked, “Lovest thou me?” and continued with the admonition, “Feed my sheep.” We all deserve this no matter what we do or fail to do to deserve it. Mahatma Ghandi and Adolf Hitler both “deserve” this kind of love. If we, individually, seek to embrace “agape love,” we must (try to) show unconditional love for all people (and perhaps all creatures) equally, regardless of what they do or fail to do by way of “deserving” it. This kind of love cannot properly co-exist with moral/ethical judgment. (Please note that this is quite apart from the rule of law and similar concerns, where social/criminal justice must be enacted to keep order and protect people. This is a very complicated topic that I won’t be discussing further at this time.) “Agape love” doesn’t fill the role of any other kind of love, as described below.
“Eros love” is romantic love or passion (which are, themselves, different things that I’m grouping under a single heading for the sake of the present discussion; culturally, I think we’ve largely forgotten the distinction and should try to remember it). We must earn this by the various (and somewhat enigmatic) means whereby we get into and support romantic relationships. Ultimately, I think we all deserve to have this kind of love, but in order to have it in any particular instance (i.e. with any particular person), we must take steps to give it appropriately. There’s no guarantee or requirement for the other person to reciprocate it, and it’s not our place to demand such reciprocation outside of some kind of “(semi-)committed” relationship (another complicated topic, in itself).
“Philia love” is love/loyalty for/to friends, community, family, etc. It’s not exactly familial love, but instead has to do with friendship and loyalty. This is definitely “earned” in most contexts, but I gather that a family relationship automatically starts with some amount of it. It might more aptly be described as a desire to be with, or be associated with someone or something (like a country or friend) because you enjoy being so associated. If you don’t like someone or find their company problematic, you don’t have “philia love” for that person. (“Philia” seems to be the root of the “-phile” suffix in english, as applies to everything from the understandable “audiophile” [love of music/sound] to the much more distasteful “pedophile” [you already know what that means].)
“Storge love” (“STOR-jay”) is natural affection–the automatic kind that appears the moment a child is born (i.e. love between parents and children). It’s another kind of unconditional love that has less to do with good-heartedness (such as “agape love”), and more to do with long-suffering affection. Even if your brother/sister/child/parent is a complete jerk to you, you still love him/her. This has also been used to describe the relationship between ruler and subject, in terms of the subject having long-suffering affection/loyalty for the ruler even if he’s a schmuck or incompetent. (Notably, this is more apt in a monarchy than a democracy, but still applies to both. This is another thing I think Americans, specifically have forgotten–if for arguably-good reasons.) This kind of love isn’t “deserved;” it’s automatic.
So, in summary (and to more succinctly answer the question at-hand), we only “deserve” some kinds of love whereas others we have to earn. We seem to automatically “deserve” “agape” and “storge” love (though the herein-active definition of “deserve” is somewhat different from the usual one), while “eros” and “philia” are varieties that we only “deserve” based on what we do or fail to do–but as human beings, we can be reasonably thought to “deserve” these in the abstract, “everyone-deserves-to-experience-them” context. Also, there’s no guarantee that “eros” or “philia” will be reciprocated, no matter how much we (think we) deserve that reciprocation. Finally, it bears noting that there might be other varieties of love that neither I nor the ancient Greeks thought of.
So, perhaps the next time someone asks the question, “Do I deserve love?” or some variation thereof (“Does he/she deserve love?”), you’ll be better equipped to gather exactly what this query is asking, and how to respond helpfully/knowledgeably–including when you’re the one asking it. Well, that’s assuming I’ve been helpful/knowledgeable in this post…