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The Question of Entitlement

April 19, 2010

I’ve been reading some posts around and about recently that discuss people with an unjustified sense of spiritual entitlement, and express great surprise at some of the attitudes and extremes of behavior exhibited.

I agree some of the examples are shocking and frustrating, but I don’t find that this issue is coming up more of late to be surprising.

I think a large part of the entitlement issues cropping up more often is the result, in America at least, of a whole slew of cultural factors interacting together in unforeseen ways. Communities are fractured, families are spread out across the country, membership in groups is voluntary and can be terminated at will, isolation runs rampant. Relationships are transient and easily discarded when problems arise. All too often media is the most consistently present and influential entity throughout people’s lives.

I believe that the modern school of advertising came of age in a time when it was assumed that media was trying to get a comment in edgewise between the wholesome messages being promulgated in people’s lives by their families and communities. It was targeted more at adults, because adults are the ones who have money. Sure, it was ok to go over the top in presenting what their product could do, why it was urgent to get it as soon as possible, because they were trying to sway people who had inherent resistance to the message. They probably understood that Product X was not actually going to dramatically change their life for the better; even if they were eventually convinced otherwise, they weren’t likely to go buy something large on impulse with money they didn’t have.

Well, unless they were raised in their most impressionable years spending far more time with the TV than with well-adjusted responsible human beings.

Fot at least the last sixty-plus years, people have been being told what they want to hear (that they’re special and deserve the best things in life and shouldn’t have to wait or work hard for them) at earlier and earlier ages, with fewer competing messages, fewer connections to other human beings, reality, etc. They haven’t been told this for their own benefit or well-being, but for reasons of sheer economic exploitation. It’s dismayingly effective. The exploiters grow increasingly powerful, and the number of places/realms of endeavor that the attitude has seeped into keep growing. If you tell people this they don’t want to listen, because they’ve heard so often from so many others a much pleasanter message, that their ego has become wrapped up in believing.

It is not people’s fault that they have had an attitude of entitlement inculcated within them before they are really self-aware and capable of rational choices. I believe that we’ll only see more of this as time goes on, and the general level and saturation of self-aggrandizement in the overall population will likely only increase. I think this is one of the greatest factors in the current generational divides, and each succeeding generation seems to be of shorter duration and more extreme.

What can be done?

For me, step one is to find and battle my own sense of entitlement. This isn’t something to be ashamed about, it’s something to be mindful of, and continually hold myself accountable. It’s very worth remembering that there are many valuable benefits and opportunities people can get out of being raised in this society – and that it’s overly reductionist to dismiss the culture’s influence as unmitigatedly damaging. Everything’s got pros and cons, appreciate the pros while counteracting the cons.

Step two is to attempt to model a perspective and a life based on intellectual honesty and acceptance of personal accountability.

Step three is to support individuals and groups who seek to make people aware of the consequences of an ungrounded sense of entitlement and to empower them to break free of that trap.

Step four is to try to do that work myself.

Honestly, I don’t know if I will ever get to step four in a serious way. One and two are really, really difficult for me right now, and I pursue step three by only occasional actions at this point. I will try to carry out step four if a situation to do so comes my way naturally, but I’m not in a place where I’m stable enough in my own rehabilitation to seek out ways to do that work. I also know that spending too much time with people who need that kind of support will be harmful to my well-being and thereby my ability to keep working on the other steps.

The thread of my own orlog is what I have to work with here; with luck and hard work, the way I handle it will be positive and may inspire others.

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