“The world doesn’t owe you a living.” Once upon a time, many parents said this to their children. Today, not so much. It would practically be considered child abuse. But it’s still true.
Nobody owes anybody anything, unless an explicit or legally binding promise was made. If I promise you to do something, then I should do it. I should do it not only for your sake, but for my own, because my word—my integrity—should mean something, most of all to myself. But to say I should keep my word does not mean I owe you anything without making the commitment in the first place.
Therapists sometimes talk about the Heaven’s Reward fallacy. It’s not about religion so much as entitlement. The Heaven’s Reward fallacy suggests that if you’re a good person, then other people should be good people too. But that’s ridiculous. Just because you choose to be a good person does not mean that anyone else will choose to be a good person. Each of us makes our own choices, for better or for worse.
However, it’s even more complicated than that. Most of us assume that being a “good person” means making sacrifices for others, i.e. doing things that you do not want to do, precisely because you do not want to do them. Some people take this definition of goodness very seriously. As a result, they go through life doing favors for people and doing things they’re not obliged to do. Then, when it comes time to expect someone else to do the same for them, and it doesn’t happen, they become bitter, even depressed, gloomy or malevolent.
Sometimes this false belief is perpetuated by religion. For example, a young child is told to believe in God. “God will take care of you. God will see to it that everything works out, in the end.” But what about when bad things happen to good people? That’s when people start to become fearful, embittered or depressed. Even with people who are not quite so religious, there’s a vague sense that “I’m doing most things right, so why aren’t things going better for me?”
That’s where socialism comes in. Socialism feeds into this idea that, “Life isn’t going as it’s supposed to go, and it’s not your fault. Help is on the way. Someone is coming to rescue you. It’s not God. Forget that God stuff. We’re talking real help. Your brothers and sisters in society will take care of you, because it’s their obligation. All for one, and one for all. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. We are one giant human family, with obligations to each other for that fact alone. None of us are alone.” Socialism is comforting to those who are frightened and embittered; it’s a different version of religion. Instead of God, it’s society, who will take care of us.
Socialism would not stand a chance in a society where most people were reasonably mentally healthy. Because being reasonably mentally healthy includes, as an essential ingredient, the conviction that nobody owes you a living. Not only does nobody owe you their property or money, but they do not owe you anything, not anything they do not willingly choose to give you. Not their friendship, not their love, not their approval and no, not their money, either.
And it works both ways. You don’t owe anybody else anything either, other than keeping your willingly made promises to them. But you never need make a promise that you don’t wish to make, in the first place. This frees you of unearned guilt. And being free of unearned guilt is another essential ingredient of mental health. There’s simply no way of being serene, mentally happy and content if you’re plagued by unearned guilt. Unearned guilt is the flip side of the entitlement coin. If everybody owes everybody else a living, then (1) you feel guilty for not making everyone else happy, even though that’s not your job; and (2) you feel a resentful, perpetual chip on your shoulder for others not making you happy, or giving you what you want.
I don’t like or agree with socialism one bit. But I understand why it’s gaining momentum in America. America used to be a place where parents taught their children that the world does not owe them anything, and they meant it. We’re no longer that place, at least not so much. That’s the root of the problem.
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