Guns & the Entitlement Mentality in 21st Century America

The Kansas Wichita Eagle headline from 9/13/14 reads: Group attacks Wichita youth football coach over player’s eligibility; coach’s wife defends with gun.

Some details:

The incident occurred at about 7:45 p.m. Monday at Linwood Park in south Wichita, Lt. James Espinoza said.

The Wichita Tigers, who are part of the Greater Wichita Junior Football League, were practicing at Linwood Park when the mother of a former player confronted the coach over her son not being allowed to play in the season opener on last Saturday, said Jeremy Burris, director of the Tigers football program …

… The player was with the Tigers for about one week last season before he was removed from the team for what Burris called “a character issue.”

Family members played loud music and cursed loudly during practices and were a disruptive presence, he said.

The story goes on:

About 20 minutes after the police left, Burris said, a group of men walked up to the field in the park at 1901 S. Kansas and asked which coach had talked to their relative. When they found out, they confronted him.

One of the men lifted his shirt to display a handgun tucked into the waist of his pants, Espinoza said. Moments later, five or six other men began beating up the 37-year-old coach. One of the men used a set of brass knuckles, Espinoza said.

Seeing the attack, the coach’s wife pulled out a gun and fired a warning shot into the air, Burris said.

The coach broke free of his attackers and went to his car for a second gun, which he pointed at various people in the crowd, Espinoza said.

The attackers had all fled the park by the time officers arrived, Espinoza said. The guns used by the coach and his wife were confiscated as evidence. No arrests have been made.

This sorry episode is an example of the entitlement mentality at work. “Entitlement” is when one feels profoundly and personally owed something.

Sometimes this emotion is entirely valid, of course. You pay $500 for a computer or television, and you’re entitled to expect it to work.

You’re entitled to expect, even demand, that people uphold contracts they willingly signed.

Even outside of legal or business matters, you’re entitled to expect that somebody you invite into your life means what he or she says, and says what he or she means.

Generally speaking, so long as you consistently uphold some rational principle or standard yourself, then you’re reasonably entitled to expect the same treatment or standard to be honored by another — especially by another (loved one, business associate) who’s quite prepared to have you uphold that principle yourself.

However: To be entitled to something is not a guarantee that you’ll receive it. People have free choices and free will. No matter how valid it might be to assume another should do something, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact of whether he or she will do it.

Entitlement becomes a neurosis, a disturbance or a dysfunctional syndrome when people treat their emotions of entitlement as the equivalent of facts.

It sounds like that may be what went on here. The parents of this boy felt entitled to have that boy play for a team — just because he’s their son, “And no son of mine will be denied his God-given right to [fill in the blank with just about anything].” They probably feel or assume things like, “Every American boy has a right to play baseball.” What if some mean-spirited coach stands in the way? Well, pull a gun out on him.

Aside from the gun part, you can’t really blame these people for feeling this way; at least, not if they listen to what they’re told. Everyone considered a political or spiritual leader, in some form or another, preaches that self-sacrifice is the ideal. Even successful business people go before the approving network news cameras and politicians (who often determine their fates) saying the words, “I’m obliged to give back.”

Such a mindset, while taken as a self-evident expression of morality, actually sets up a world with two kinds of people: Givers and takers. Or: Those who will distribute the sacrifices, and those who will collect them.

The trashy parents playing loud music at practices and pulling guns on their son’s coach are more than happy to be the collectors, i.e. the takers of the sacrifices that the more peaceful and reasonable or self-effacing among us are reluctantly willing to hand over.

What kind of approach to morality is this? And why are we shocked and surprised when we read about these kinds of incidents?

In the wake of this incident, a number of people were asking the obvious question: What kind of example does this set for young children?

Most people will probably say the bad example here was on the part of the bullying parents who attempted to impose their will at gunpoint. Initiating force in such a situation is unquestionably a bad example. But it’s not the whole — or the root — of the lesson to be learned here. The irrational expectation of the parent that his son is entitled to something he really isn’t entitled to — and apparently had not earned — is what gave rise to the irrational anger — which in turn led these particular people to feel justified pulling out a gun.

I don’t expect that most parents who feel like this boy’s parents would pull out a gun on a coach for refusing to let the boy play in the game. But I do expect that a lot of parents do feel entitled to their child’s success. Perhaps they wanted this for themselves, and when they didn’t get it, they’re determined their son or daughter will. Parents like this don’t regard their child as an autonomous being with self-responsibility who must earn success or status in life. On the contrary, such parents feel like the world owes their kid a living.

What about the guns? A lot of people will also simplistically dismiss this as a case study in “how we need to end gun violence by outlawing guns.” But outlawing guns won’t keep entitled parents (or other criminals) from seeking to impose their will by force when they wish to do so. They’re perfectly willing to use a knife, an axe, or even their fists to get their way. Gun laws or bans would have prevented the coach and his wife from defending themselves.

This rather bizarre story is not an everyday event. But the psychological circumstances and ideological assumptions giving rise to it are sorry illustrations of what’s so wrong and messed up about so much of our society, at present.

Too many people feel entitled to what they want merely because they want it. That they do so in the name of the “American spirit” is a terrible distortion. With this entitled mindset, America would still be a wilderness with a bunch of entitled-feeling people living off the royalty of England or whomever else they could guilt, coerce or intimidate into supporting them. Achievement, self-responsibility and initiative are what built America into the great nation that now a majority take for granted, or even sneer at. Yes, we’re told those values are outdated, outmoded, or no longer apply in today’s world. And look at the kind of world we’re creating.

The same majority who express horror at this incident in Kansas will applaud the clerics and politicians who keep saying, “Selfishness is bad and wrong. Woe betide anyone who’s selfish.” People with severe entitlement mentalities (like this boy’s family) hear this as, “That’s right. I should be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it.” They’re counting on other people to be selfless so that they may run rampant and do whatever they wish. And increasingly — via legislation, crazy lawsuit outcomes, massive redistribution of wealth and the increasingly arbitrary actions of an omnipotent federal government — people like this kid’s parents are getting exactly what they want. They rule the world, in many ways, while the rest of us languish in resentment or (in some cases) with unearned guilt.

What about the fact that a baseball team consists of a set of rules and standards for everyone involved — rules ultimately for their own benefit as well as everyone else’s, at least if any sense of sportsmanship and value is to come out of the whole enterprise? No matter, not to the entitlement-minded person. “I want what I want, and it should be mine.” At gunpoint in necessary, at least in this case.

Coming out of the red state “heartland” of America — Wichita, Kansas — makes the actuality of this instance all the more disturbing. Something is really wrong. If the better kind of people won’t stand up to it — and be legally permitted to do so, when it’s required — then what’s to become of the decent and reasonably minded, even if they do still make up the majority?


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