Latest update: June 18th, 2012
In Part I (Family Issues 10-14-2011) we discussed how many of us personalize different situations and how that affects our effectiveness in dealing with those situations. Specifically we focused on foster parents who have expectations of their role and what will help their foster child and what happens when the foster child and/or the foster parent doesn’t have those expectations filled.
This led us to the prevailing difficulty of dealing with an attitude of entitlement. We said that entitlement is a sense by a person that something is coming to them simply because they want it. “It’s coming to me. You have no right not to give me that. I must have that. I deserve that.”
This sense of “I deserve it so therefore it’s mine” has unfortunately reached epidemic levels in today’s society – in both the secular and Jewish world. Let’s be honest… we have all felt this way at some time, on some level. In fact, next time you go to a buffet where the food is there for the taking, watch as people take more food than they could eat, or would ever eat if the food weren’t there in abundance. “I paid for the buffet, they have all this food for me to take and I’m definitely going to get my money’s worth. I deserve it since I paid for it.”
Most people who feel entitled will always have a reason or rationale behind their thought process. Whether it’s “I deserve it” or “because of what I have been through…” the end result is the same – somehow its coming to them. It has so proliferated our culture that many governments – on a federal or local level – have what’s called “entitlement programs.” Now in the United States, there is much discussion and debate about government cutbacks, especially in regards to social services programs. However, if these programs are “entitlements,” the basic argument is that they can’t be touched because, after all, people are entitled to these benefits. Even within schools, this entitlement theory exists. In this form, children are entitled to advance to the next level or class, whether or not they have successfully completed and earned a passing grade.
Where does this come from? Sure there are those who theorize on the positive and negative effects of holding a child back or pushing them ahead. However, what must be examined and debated is what we are teaching children when, regardless of whether or not their work is completed, they get moved ahead. What about the employee who has been with a company for several years who feels, regardless of the merit of his or her work or the success of the company, he or she is entitled to a raise?
In Jean Twenge’s book , Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, she supports the assumption that people from their teens to their 20’s are plagued with entitlement. Is this increased sense of entitlement a society shift or more of a generational one? In fact, did this sense of entitlement always exist and was it always this bad? As the saying goes, “in degree, not kind.” That is, it’s the amount of entitlement, or degree, that becomes the problem. A sense of entitlement has existed. In his book The Me New Generation, author Jake Halpern describes the entitlement generation as “smart, brash, even arrogant, and endowed with a commanding sense of entitlement.” They are the “co-workers who drive you nuts.” On the flip-side, he says that these individuals are also free-thinkers who are willing to break the status quo and pursue their dreams. Their confidence is what allows them to accomplish great things and help the companies they work for grow and be successful.
So where exactly is the problem? When our children have the attitude that life owes them – everything. All that does is breed resentment and anger, when the expectations are not fulfilled. Take the thirteen-year-old who says she “needs” a cell phone (not a want but a need). If she does not get a cell phone, her feeling of this is unfair can lead to anger and very often acting out.
Another area where people have a sense of entitlement is in the realm of appreciation, which has the tremendous power to bond two people. Those who care and show their caring by giving, usually want to see some form of appreciation. What happens when we do something for someone else? Don’t most of us want to be recognized for the well-meaning act?
How do we teach children to feel, and show, appreciation? Only by showing them the difference between a true need and what is only a desire, a want. In fact, do our children even know what appreciation is? Do they know the importance of appreciation in their relationships with others? Why they should show appreciation and why not? Once you answer these questions you are on the road to knowing how to teach children to show, feel and appreciate.
The attitude of entitlement is often compared to narcissism whereby one is egotistic, conceited, vain, and perhaps even selfish. It’s like saying (and believing) that, “I want what I want because I want it – and I deserve it.” As we said, we see more and more examples of this sense of entitlement from kids and teens. They expect things from their parents, their teachers and even their peers. And if they don’t get what they want, they feel victimized – which again, almost always leads to anger and acting out.
Where does it say that we are entitled to anything? Are we entitled to a happy marriage, good children, wealth and having all our desires met? Obviously not. So, if we can teach our children, and ourselves, to embrace gratitude and eliminate the “its coming to me attitude,” we would all be less frustrated and happier people.
Gratitude can be defined as being grateful and appreciative of what we have. Rather than expecting everything, we change the attitude of expecting to one of being grateful for what we have received. This would be like recognizing everything I have as a gift. For example, my happy marriage, my good kids, my wealth, my appreciative boss, my eyesight and other senses – all wonderful gifts that have been bestowed on me by the Almighty. To being given these wonderful gifts mean we are receivers, not just givers.
Rabbi Dov Heller in his article Mastering The Gratitude Attitude relates the story of Bruriah, the wife of Rabi Meir. Bruriah and Rabi Meir, had two sons who both died on Shabbat. Bruriah decided not to tell her husband of the tragedy until after Shabbat since Jewish law prohibits public mourning on Shabbat. As nothing could be done until after Shabbat she kept the information to herself and allowed her husband to enjoy the day. When Shabbat was over Bruriah approached her husband with a legal question: What is the proper course of action if one person borrows two jewels from another and the original owner requests the jewels be returned. He replied that one is obligated to return the loan upon demand. She then took her husband to where their two dead sons lay and said, “G-d has requested that we return the loan of our two jewels.”
In a powerful manner, Bruriah teaches us a potentially life transforming lesson: Everything we have is on loan from the Almighty! Let’s strengthen our values of appreciation, realize that nothing is coming to us and that everything we have is a blessing. Our children learn from us. We, and our children, shall merit from such a change of beliefs and attitude.
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