Entitlement is a funny thing. Hard to recognize, especially in ourselves. Difficult to escape.
It’s not just a mindset we develop during our best times. Not only a set of behaviors adopted out of carelessness. For some, it’s like a religion, or an inheritance. A way of life passed down from father to son. Some marry into it. Some spend their lives trying to get away from it, only managing to trade it for a different type.
In this country, entitlement wears many faces. It can be the wolf in tailored designer wool, prowling the floors of Wall Street. A college student who worries about debt while partying with their friends on a weekend’s worth of tips, because rent is covered and they have no one else to feed. The public school teacher who skips classroom prep, because most of her students probably won’t take advantage of their education anyway. The congressman on his fortieth year of tenure, who considers the suggestions of lobbyists as a normal part of balancing his obligation to the people against the financial demands of his lifestyle. The journalist who doesn’t check his sources, who fabricates a story, knowing people will believe whatever he tells them. The rapist who argues that his victim’s dress spoke for itself.
The best way I can explain the feeling of entitlement, to someone who hasn’t given much thought to this topic before, is what happens when you attend a party.
How secure do you feel, when you walk into the room? Maybe you’re personal friends with the host, maybe not. Maybe you’ve been there a ton of times before, and you know your way around. Maybe you’re on a first name basis with everyone in the room, or maybe you’ve never met a single person. Is your clothing appropriate for the occasion? Did you have sufficient time to get ready? Are you looking your best, or having a bad hair day? Does the host’s mother like you? Maybe you’re co-hosting the party, helped pay for it, or worked hard to decorate it. But it’s still not your party–not really. How comfortable you feel in that party setting is entirely based on how entitled you are to be there. If you feel like you deserve to belong, whether people accept you as one of their own, or not. It’s a double edged sword, because you often have no control over the reception you get. But you also tacitly accept treatment according to what you feel you deserve. And what’s worse, you tend to exclude based on that feeling, treating others who are less (or just differently) entitled as Less Than. Less familiar. Less special. Less welcome.
Why does this happen, in the party that is our society? When did contributing to the party make you less–instead of more–obligated to treat every guest with kindness and respect? How did “great power” somehow come to mean “less responsibility,” instead of greater?
Though it’s not always directly, obviously, or immediately harmful, entitlement slowly blunts our ability to empathize with others. It blinds us to their motives, their dreams and desires, turning them into a faceless and inhuman Them. Turning us into Us, a club of fellow similarly entitled people whose motives are always unquestionably above reproach.
Simple and effective, these degrees of entitlement remove complications when deciding the following questions: Which stranger will you most likely get along with? Who can you trust? Who would you hire? Whose children should be allowed to play with your children?
Who deserves a vote? Who deserves freedom? Who deserves to live?
Entitlement is a funny thing. A dangerous, selfish, near-sighted thing. If we aren’t careful, it will blind us, and we will fall.