The Naivete of “Something for Nothing”

“He’s trying to get something for nothing.”

It’s usually said with an air of disapproval — and not without good reason.

However, people who seek something for nothing are naive and foolish, more than anything else. They’re at war with reality, and ought to be viewed as weaklings more than strong people poised to prosper on injustice.

When you try to gain something for nothing, let’s take a look at the things you’re counting on.

For one thing, you’re counting on people not to notice or care. You’re banking on the low self-regard of others towards what they produce, create or own. You’re essentially stealing from them, and hoping they will be too out of focus to notice or care.

If nobody notices or cares, it seems like the person’s getting away with it. But how are you gaining something by counting on the lackluster attitude of others — the others from whom you’re stealing money, property or perhaps psychological good will?

People with something objectively valuable to offer — something of high quality, whether a material good or a personal quality — justifiably take pride in ownership of what they possess.

Consider a business owner. Let’s say you try to cajole, manipulate or “guilt” that business owner into giving away some of what he has to offer, for free.

The kind of person who’s willing to give away what he has for little or nothing has not shown you that he’s generous; he has told you (via action) that what he has to offer isn’t really worth all that much. So exactly what have you gained in the “victory” of getting him to give you something for less than it’s worth?

Even in the unlikely event the thing you’re getting for “free” is worthwhile, what have you done to yourself in the process? You’ve made yourself dependent on that high quality of thing. In the initial act of getting it for free, you might think you’ve gained. But you’re that less willing and capable the next time to gain the next thing out of effort; you come to expect it for free. Sooner or later you’ll have to reverse course and start figuring out how to gain things of value in exchange for an actual value. The longer you put this off, the harder it will be when the time comes to actually earn what you’re trying to gain.

It’s important to realize that this applies to personal relationships as well as economic transactions. Some of the same people who would never demand a material good or service for free do act and feel as if they’re entitled to good will, admiration or other kudos from people even without first having to earn them. All the yearning expressed for “unconditional love” is an illustration of the psychological version of trying to gain something for nothing.

We’re well aware of the politicians who offer mass numbers of people something for nothing. They do so by convincing these masses, “You’re entitled to it. Damn it, it’s yours.” Or, “He didn’t build that. He didn’t create that. There is no ownership. There’s just entitlement. Take what’s yours!” Although a bit more polished and sophisticated, this is what politicians typically do, both on the “left” and the “right.” On the left, they focus on material goods, seizing from some and giving to others. On the right, people are told that they’re entitled to live in a world where their ethical or psychological values prevail, usually expressed in the form of, “Your children should not have to grow up in a world where [fill in the blank] exists in the media and in society.”

In all cases, it’s the entitlement mentality at work. The entitlement mentality is the fuel by which so many millions rationalize that they should be able to have something for nothing. It’s the means by which they can feel like they deserve the material or intellectual/mental values to which they’re not, by nature, entitled. Nature cannot entitle these things. They have to be created and earned — always, by someone.

If you buy into the entitlement mentality — that either “God” or government exists to provide you what you feel you want, free of charge — then you end up perpetually frustrated, disappointed, resentful and feeling like a victim.

Given the dominance of these two basic attitudes (stemming from the same false root) in our society, it’s little wonder so many people don’t feel happy and walk around with chips on their shoulders. Much of what we label depression, anxiety and other mental syndromes in psychology stem from the foolish ideas of “something for nothing,” the quest for the effortless “Garden of Eden,” instead of embracing the many rewards objective reality has to offer for those willing to put in the sustained effort.


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