On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I was heading home from work during the epic Rochester rush hour. At the intersection of Elton Hills Drive and Assisi Drive, I found myself at the end of a long line of cars. We were all waiting for the left arrow to turn green.
The left arrow finally turned green, and something in me turned a green, too. Like The Hulk. As the long line of cars crept slowly forward, I became irritated. "Come on! Hurry up!" I thought. "That green light is mine!"
I was consumed by the flame of entitlement. I felt I deserved that one specific green arrow. And so, as the arrow switched heartily into the yellow end of the color spectrum, I snuck through at the last possible legal second. The Entitlement Hulk relaxed, and I morphed back into something closer to human.
Entitlement is defined as, "the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment." Entitlement is nothing new; people have felt deserving of special privileges since the beginning of time. It is a consistent theme in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and basically every chapter of every World History book. That being said, there are some unique aspects of the type of entitlement taking root in our particular cultural context, and the consequences are alarming.
Paul Piff is a social psychologist in California, and his research has revealed that the more people have, the more they think they deserve. His studies have shown that an increased sense of entitlement can lead an individual to become increasingly mean and more likely to cheat and exploit others. Yikes! The ramifications of all this play out daily on a local and global level. The attitude of entitlement is tangled into the root system of many systemic injustices.
Thankfully, there are other options for global building blocks, and it begins with our own lives and choices. Flipping through the pages of the Gospels, it's like Jesus knew about the Entitlement Hulk that lives inside us all. So to counter it, he says things like "Whoever wants to be first should be last." He speaks in ways that invite us to reorient our compasses away from a perpetual focus on self so that we might stop squishing each other.
Humans are an interconnected species, and the choices we make impact the lives of others. There are environmental, financial, and social casualties for the quest to have it all.
At the core of a sense of entitlement is a feeling of being superior to other people. That perspective is like quicksand. It's easy to get sucked in, and it's hard to get out. But it's a lie. We can choose a different viewpoint.
Releasing our entitlement tentacles doesn't mean withdrawing to a life of complete self-sacrifice leading to our own detriment. We're looking for a middle ground. What might it look like to value ourselves deeply and value everyone else deeply, too? Could it be possible to build a world where our collective sense of empathy is far stronger than our collective sense of entitlement.
I'm giving you a little homework assignment this week. It's a fill-in-the-blank. In the days ahead, complete this sentence: "Everyone on the planet should have _____________." There's no universally accepted right answer here. This is meant to be food for thought. So make a list. Talk about it with your family, friends or Bible Study group. Ask your kids for their opinions. What are the things everyone deserves? And if the world is too big a canvas, start with Rochester or your own community. To what is everyone in this community entitled? Food? Clean water? A safe place to sleep?
Whatever appears on your list, I encourage you to think about how we will all work together to create that sort of world. It will require compassion. It will require hard work and fierce determination. It will require a world full of people willing to say: my life isn't only about me; it's about us all.