It’s hard to make it through a day without hearing about “entitlement” – especially in a negative context. What does a sense of entitlement really mean? To be entitled to something means to feel or believe that you deserve it. So a sense of entitlement can be valid. For example, you pay money for a car. You’re entitled to have that car work as advertised and promised. You sign a contract with a real estate agent or a home builder. You’re entitled to have that contract honored. Someone gives you their word they will do something. Whether or not that word is legally binding, you’re morally entitled to expect them to keep their word, and it’s psychologically valid to feel that way.
An entitlement mentality – in an unhealthy, irrational or neurotic sense – is different. A person with that mentality feels entitled to things that he or she did not earn, and therefore does not deserve. Not surprisingly, this attitude often plays out with money or property, especially in families or personal relationships. “You have something. I don’t have it. I need it. Therefore, you should give it to me.” The premise is straightforward: “I need it, therefore you should give it to me.” We hear the very same thing in politics or government: “So-and-so has more money than he needs. Someone else has less money than he needs. Therefore, so-and-so must give someone some of that money. It’s only fair.” Beware: Clever politicians line their pockets – and those of their supporters – with this guilt-inducing mentality.
But what about the fact that the money or property belongs to whomever owns and/or earned it? Can that right be wished away? If it can be wished away in some cases, but not in others, by what standard are we to decide? In politics, it’s a legal and property issue, ultimately one of individual rights. In families and personal relationships, the themes are more psychological. Rather than tax collectors we have guilt collectors. Guilt collectors are those in your personal circle or family who will say (or imply), “I need. You have. Therefore you must give.” Whether the issue is money, property, time or attention, it always boils down to the same thing: “I need. You have. Therefore, you must give.”
Just because a person needs something doesn’t automatically make it another’s obligation to give something away. Note the word “automatically” – a chosen charity or a need that you wish to fulfill for somebody is an entirely different thing. But why should I give up something simply because you don’t have it? By the same (circular) logic, once you have it, then shouldn’t you give it back to me, since I no longer have it?
Is the fact that one needs something, automatically (there’s that word again!) due to any negligence on the part of another? Did he or she squander money, which is why they no longer have it? If that’s the case, then won’t one’s giving something therefore reward or reinforce that negligence? In fact (and the guilt collectors know this all too well), it could even create an unhealthy dependence on that help.
These are questions that guilt collectors in families – and in government – count on you to never ask. Trust me: Asking those questions will get you a lot of hostility and name-calling. And the guilt collectors and their advocates will do everything possible to lay on the guilt even more. But when all is said and done, emotions cannot be used to obliterate facts, and the simple refusal to ask legitimate questions does not render logic impotent.
As I said before, helping is of course not automatically and always wrong. But your choice to help someone you care about, or even a stranger for whom you feel compassion, should not be mindless. It’s entirely reasonable to know WHAT you’re providing to someone before you provide it. And it’s reasonable to remember that you’re not obliged to help anyone, unless it’s of your own free will, and not induced by cleverly applied, but irrational guilt.
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