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The PRIMER Blog

Entitlement Thinking: We are paying for it now!

GS Don Morris, Ph.D.

'I studied really long hours-I deserve at least a 'C.''

'Everyone has one, when in the next 24 hours are you going to get me one?'

'Just look at me, why shouldn't I be with that person?'

'I put in my time, I come to work everyday, I do most of what you ask of me, why am I not getting the raise?'

Across the spectrum of life in the USA you probably have heard these and other comments stated by those among us who feel entitled. We have even coined a term for the next group of young people-the 'entitlement generation'. Many of us have observed and witnessed individuals who believe that they are deserving of or entitled to certain privileges simply because'¦This is not a new behavioral phenomena-it has been with us for several decades. In terms of behavior people actually believe they should have some material object, e.g., a new car, the latest fashions, the new 'tech toy' or admission into a school, a club or program simply because they exist. Is this too harsh a statement-no, it is the truth. All one has to do is look around, listen to what people say, watch their reactions if and when there is not immediate gratification (possession of any of the previous items). The external behavior one observes is one of anger, upset, whining, blaming, and most assuredly complaining.

'It appears that a great deal of suffering in the world is the direct result of feelings of 'entitlement.' We often feel entitled to things over which we have little or no control. Not obtaining what one feels entitled to is often the foundation for anger. Most acts that violate another human being involve the violator feeling entitlement to the victim. A thief, a rapist, a murderer, a molester, a bully, all in some way feel entitled to violate their victim. Most feel victimized themselves and are therefore 'justified' in their actions. On a smaller scale people feel entitled to make derogatory remarks belittling others publicly, or spreading lies, and other common cruelties. It seems that these assumptions of entitlement create individually distorted concepts of justice. What are we entitled to, if anything?'1

Here are some other comments shared with us when asked about entitlement:

'Being entitled means you have a right to claim something for yourself. Therefore, people who have selfish, distorted worldviews will naturally think they're entitled to more. Especially, if they've been trained to from a young age. Then again, there's a certain degree of healthiness in asserting your rights.'

'My mother instilled in me that "you get what you earn". Because of this I was rarely handed anything and I have had to work for what I get. When I look at many others in college, they get a huge amount handed to them for practically no work. Their parents pay for their college education, a new car to drive around campus, a weekly "allowance" that is similar to the amount I make working, and many other perks which they do not have to work for. With this attitude, it is not surprising that many college graduates feel entitled to much more than in the past. Their parents have given them everything and, in many ways, they do not understand the value of money and the necessity of hard work in getting certain things. In many ways I think this is because they are born into a position of affluence and so base their lives on these standards, feeling entitled to many things others in less fortunate situations do not.'

'"The more you have the more you want"- In Psychology, there is something called the "baseline standard". The "baseline standard" is a way by which we judge our current situation and what we feel we should have. For example, every time we get a big raise at work, a new car, a bigger home, etc. for approximately 6 months afterwards there is a general increase in satisfaction and we can really appreciate the increase in our life situation. However, after 6 months the situation becomes the norm, the new "baseline" by which we judge our lives, and often there is a new desire to get even more. In this sense, the more you have the more you want. This is particularly true of those who have the most. Their baseline standard of living is so high, it seem unimaginable for many of them to have anything less.'

Let me offer a brief synopsis of these assorted comments. Entitlement thinking is acquired, learned and reinforced in our greater USA culture. This occurs over time. Entitlement beliefs, behaviorally reinforced, over time produces a person who is a member of this newest generation. By no means does this apply only to the young-this has been occurring since the 1960's-some would argue for a longer period of time than this. What has occurred is the exponential impact one decade of behavior has wrought upon the succeeding decades. It is not surprising or should I say no one should be surprised that in the year 2009 we find our greater USA culture abound with this kind of thinking and external behavior.

The concepts and dare I offer values of yesterday seem to' have gone a wandering.' The ideas of hard work, due diligence, effort, perseverance, and delayed gratification are some that do not lead to entitlement thinking. You hear people, including national leaders say we must be more personally responsible-nice rhetoric but what does it mean? For me it means one willingly accepts the consequences of one's actions/behavior. The operative word is 'willingly! I suggest this is no longer the majority behavior in America. Thus, we have created an entitlement mentality.

The result of this is playing out before our eyes. Given my generation is now 'in charge'; we grew up in a world of 'entitlements'. Beginning in the 1960's with all the Great Society Programs and continuing up to this very day, Americans have grown up with real and actual 'entitlements. The American perception, the American psyche is abounding with entitlements and they have become our reality.

The Democratic Party has represented itself for decades as the Party that cares for the 'little people and the underserved and underrepresented'. Code for 'you have been abandoned and abused by those rich, self-serving Republicans. You deserve what they all have (class envy) and we are the Party to get it for you-and we have.

Thus, we arrive in today's world. The past 5-8 years this sense that 'you should have what every one else have' escalated to include home ownership. Promises were made and wouldn't you know it, those who could not have a home found themselves in a home just like the others. Of course, they had been lied to, they could not afford the mortgages and economics is an equal opportunity (to succeed and to fail) provider. With entitlement comes expectations; these people ended up with unmet expectations. We are witness to the behavioral outcries of so many.

A compassionate Party, a compassionate leader would have seized upon this as an opportunity to empathize AND educate. Regrettably this has not happened. The very behaviors that are consistent with someone who does not get what he believes he is entitled to, blame/anger/denigrate others are now being used by our current government leaders. Additionally, given the absolute numbers of Americans who have fallen prey to this belief system, there is no surprise with the front page of the USA Today that has a headline 'Most Americans OK with Big Government, at least for now' and reports that even though many Americans are supportive of what President Obama has done so far 'by 55% to 32% Americans still say they worry more about Big Government.' Lee Heffner of Temple, PA, who supported Obama's bailout of the auto industry, told USA Today: 'it seems we're on the trend of nationalization for a lot of things. Once the government gets into something, it's very seldom they back out of it.'2 The people have 'accepting' of this mindset and truthfully they have abdicated their responsibility as a citizen and as a parent.

Some of life's difficult lessons include failure, disappointment, and envy, to name but a few. Rather than 'make' failure a bad outcome, use it to buoy up a person's courage and motivation to persevere and put forth additional effort. The old adage of: 'When you get knocked down, it is what you do when you stand back up that counts' should be re-taught today. Instead, out of mis-placed sympathy, our culture rushes in to protect the fallen and comfort them to the point that they become incapable of doing for themselves. Thus, they become dependent upon others-does this not sound familiar? Americans have an obligation to the next generations to change-yes there is that word again. I suggest we return to the values, behaviors that enabled and ennobled our parents and grand parents. Focus upon what allowed us to become THE country in the world that people from around the planet aspired to move to-and they still do. Inspiring, authentic leaders, would have us change from a group of dependent people to a group of independent people choosing to work and live with one another and therefore benefiting the American people. We were once such a nation and can be again! I close with these 10 lessons whose time has come again:
  1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
  2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
  3. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
  4. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
  5. You cannot build character and courage by taking away mans initiative and independence.
  6. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
  7. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
  8. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
  9. You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
  10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.
  11. End Notes

    1. Philosophy Forum: April 12, 2009
    2. USA Today-April 15, 2009
    3. Written by the Rev. William J. H. Boetcke in 1916



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