Musings on Entitlement –
Wayne and Co. have discussed the idea of “entitlement” over the years through Into the Centre. Check out the archives and you’ll see his take on it.
In my career, as a social worker and now, as a college teacher, I come across entitlement quite a bit. Entitlement, in its most basic form, seems to come out in the message, “I deserve.”
- “He hit me, so I deserve to apologized to.”
- “My kids are driving my bananas, So I deserve a break.”
- “My marriage is falling apart, so I deserve to seek happiness…through an affair.”
- “I am poor, I have nothing to lose, I deserve a bigger piece of the pie, so I will rob that store.”
- “I am infertile. I deserve to have and raise children, so you will approve me to adopt children.”
- “I was offended by that remark, so I deserve an explanation and an apology.”
- “I am kind and I like to help, therefore I deserve to be admitted to a program that will teach me.”
At the college, a fellow professor and I have been dealing with an interesting phenomenon with the students of the current generation. They come to college with a sense of entitlement. It’s almost as if they have tee-shirts, ball caps, sandwich boards and all kinds of accessories with a boldly stylized logo saying, “I deserve…It’s my right”.
Before I get into this any further, I do want to point out that rights and entitlement go hand in hand. We are entitled to safety, equality, opportunity as enshrined by law. No one deserves violence, no one deserves prejudice and no one deserves to be less equal.
In Canada, we have the Charter and in the States, you go by the Constitution and all its amendments. These are values that we hold dear and make our societies what they are intended to be – a place to be everything we can be. I have done my part to fight to maintain and improve on such rights.
And yet, people still get hurt, people still are discriminated against and you can NEVER convince me that there is any sense of equality anywhere. Pretty cynical, ain’t it?
And what happens when I deserve something and I don’t get it? I get right ticked off. I stamp my feet, whine, cry and … well, you get the picture. I’m entitled to whatever, so you had better give it to me.. or…or…or…I‘ll get mad. And that’s all I can really do.
“And have you ever noticed that an angry man can only get so far,
Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be, with the way things are.”
To me, this song lyric (Don Henley, “My Thanksgiving,” Inside Job, 2001) really captures the problem with entitlement. Entitlement and anger go hand in hand. If you don’t give me what I want/deserve, I can only get mad at you, at the world.
So, then what? I end up getting resentful and angry and bear a huge grudge against you and world because I didn’t get what I want.
And here is where you pour salt in my little old wound… YOU GO ON WITH YOUR LIFE!!!!! I mean, how dare you???? Here I am, asking, begging pleading, demanding something because I have rights and I am entitled and not only do you not give anything to me, you also walk away from me. So, now, I’m left feeling abandoned, angry and resentful.
What can I do? I know… I’ll get over you. I’ll forget you. I’ll leave you out of my life. I’ll distance myself from you.
And then I move on, still angry, and get into other relationships/friendships and then – someone tramples all over my rights and entitlements again. Boy, this is real familiar to me. So, now I get even more mad. Eventually, I stop trusting anyone and make myself a little paranoid… Not only does the world not understand me… Not only does the world not care for me… Not only does the world not give me what I think I deserve… But the world is also out to get me.
You think I’m blowing this out of proportion? I gave a student a 75 on a paper. She told me she worked so incredibly hard on it… and she never got marks like this in high school… and she’s read other students’ papers and thinks their work is awful compared to hers… and what was I thinking when I marked theirs and gave them a better mark… and college profs are just not fair… and maybe I am biased and she deserves better experiences out of college, not a mark that compromises her self-esteem…. how can she appeal the mark… and she deserves more respect than a 75…
I have also rejected couples who want to foster children. Well, what do I know about kids? And don’t I see the love that the couple can offer to a hurt child… and how dare I squash the dreams of the couple to help the children and serve the community… and don’t I see that they take good care of their own kids… and what kind of a social worker am I to reject someone’s application based on one or two meetings… they want to care for children and they deserve the chance to do it and they want to appeal the decision… and they deserve more respect than what I gave them…
Entitlement simply leads to anger and anger feeds into itself. Now, I’m not dismissing anger. It’s a useful emotion because it tells us that something is not right. But when you expect others to take care of your anger for you… that’s just plain irresponsible. Certain wrongs must be righted and when such efforts are made, sure, I’ll concede that it helps you to let go… a little bit. But really now, dealing with your entitlement and anger is not everyone else’s problem.
My bottom line is that I do not deserve anything from anyone. I am not entitled to anything from anyone. I can ASK for things and maybe I will get them and maybe I won’t.
I don’t deserve the respect and affection of my students. I can command it, by doing things that may or may not elicit it. When good things come my way, I am thankful. When they don’t, oh well. I try to move on.
In my marriage, I expect and deserve nothing. Rather, my wife and I make agreements about how we are going to be with each other. When parts of the agreement are compromised, we talk about it (sometimes it leads to emotion), but we take responsibility for our part on the agreement.
I have small children. Parents deserve respect. Not me. I give what I think they need and they CHOOSE to respect me or not respect me based on my interaction with them. I do not demand it, I create a situation so that they feel comfortable, safe and loved. The respect comes anyway.
Like the lyric says, being angry gets us only so far because we are always battling over what we deserve versus what we get. I prefer to let go of what I think I deserve or am entitled to and accept what I get, good and bad. And it’s all good anyway.
So, do I deserve to have Wayne publish this? In the end, it doesn’t matter… and that is freedom.