Entitled: What Are We Entitled TO?

<Jan. 2009>

Pretty much everyone I know (with very few exceptions indeed) leads a very, very comfortable life – physically & materially comfortable (if not always emotionally so). We lead lives of privilege.

We live in warm & comfortable & well-furnished houses, we have plenty of food, lots of nice clothes, most of us have a car (or two), we take vacations to neat places, & we have never had to worry our pretty little heads about where our next meal is going to come from.

Surprisingly, I’m not sure most of us are particularly grateful about our comfortable, privileged lives. An awful lot of us seem to do an awful lot of whining & complaining. We want more. We’re always raising the bar on our desires. I think it’s because we have come to feel entitled. We’ve led comfortable lives, & now we feel entitled to the comforts & privileges we’ve come to take for granted.

Entitlement is nothing new, of course. It’s been around as long as hierarchy has – & since I’m no historian, I’m not going to estimate how long that’s been. Patriarchy (the belief that all things “male” are superior to all things “female,” & that males should “run the show”) is estimated to be 5000 years old – & perhaps hierarchy is even older; who knows? – but in other words, the sensation of entitlement – I’m “owed” such & such just because I am male/white/a tribal leader…has been around for a pretty darn long time.

Entitlement is a pretty serious scourge, it seems to me. It’s at work at all levels of human endeavour, for sure. People who have lots of money & power seem to think they are “entitled” to all kinds of special privileges. Some folks with special letters after their names seem to think they are entitled to special privileges too. Sometimes, people who had very tough things happen to them in their childhood seem to think they are “entitled” to some kind of neurotic payback from friends & loved ones for the rest of their lives. And some people who were for whatever reason over-indulged as children seem to think the same thing. “I am special; the world owes me…”

I’ve been musing on what we are really & truly entitled to on this voyage here on Planet Earth.

Are we really entitled to anything?? Just because we were born, are we entitled to… any kind of anything at all?

Am I any more entitled to a life of privilege than any of the other 6.5 billion souls on the planet?

Hmmm. I really don’t think so. Or even, when it comes right down to it, that I am entitled to …. life & breath, as far as that goes.

I think it’s more the case that I owe…the Earth? the gods? the Universe?... profound gratitude for my life – & for my comfortable circumstances, & for this life of privilege that I have somehow been given due to no particular achievement or wonderfulness on my own part.

John F. Kennedy famously suggested that we “Ask not what my country can do for me, but what I can do for my country.”

I suspect we’d all do well to take a page out of his book, muse for a while on this phenomenon of entitlement & ask ourselves occasionally, “What do I act as though I am entitled to – & am I really?” & how might we turn this phenomenon on its head?

Tuli Kupferberg said, “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” A little pattern-breaking might not be such a bad thing right about now, hmmm?

Janet