Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to avoid entitled behaviour

A term that seems to have come into use recently, in the particular meaning I will describe below, is "entitled". The term originally meant something like eligible, having a legal right to something. It is now sometimes used to refer to people who expect or demand to receive what they want. Instead of the thing they are entitled to resulting from some external source granting them a right, it is now something internal, their own desire, that creates their sense of entitlement.

Readers who enjoy a book sometimes demand that the author write a sequel, as soon as possible. But they are not actually entitled to make this demand. Their enjoyment and appreciation of the book might motivate the author to write a sequel, but this is the author's own choice.

People often say "I'm entitled to my own opinion". Yes, obviously people can hold whatever opinions they want. The question is how they express these opinions, and how this behaviour influences their interactions with others.

Sometimes people say "It's a free country" when they try to justify their inconsiderate behaviour, such as talking loudly on the phone on public transport. This is not what that sentence means! Even in a free country people should be considerate of others. Society involves give and take, and those who take more than they give are not going to make themselves welcome.

The Internet has made so much content available for free that many people now feel entitled to receive whatever they want, in digital format, for free. This has led to piracy of copyrighted material and a loss of earnings to copyright holders, and to a more general argument about the meaning of copyright. This problem is far from a generally accepted solution.

Even when content is free, people still sometimes display a sense of entitlement. They ask for their favourite blog, podcast, or video series to be updated more often, or they feel they can post critical and offensive comments.

In the area of economics, the term entitled seems to be applied by different sectors to each other. The wealthy, and also libertarians, seem to object to state benefits for society's weakest members, arguing that these people become "entitled" and therefore don't make any effort to improve their lives (finding jobs, getting education, limiting the number of their children, etc.). But benefit recipients are entitled to these benefits, in the original sense of the word, and while some may exploit the system in various ways, I don't think they all consider themselves entitled in this new sense.

At the same time, the wealthy are often seen as entitled because some of them have received their wealth through inheritance, and in most western countries the burden of tax on the wealthiest segment of society has been decreasing. The wealthy are a strong group with political influence that has enabled them to reduce the proportion of their income that is paid in tax as a contribution to society.

As the wealth gap grows, both sides are calling each other entitled. This results from the difference in values and attitudes between those who have financial security and those who will always be struggling.

The sense of entitlement stems from placing one's own wishes above those of others. People wanting to avoid entitled behaviour would do well to think before making demands, and ask why they believe they deserve something. If the answer is basically "because I want it", this is entitled thinking.

Part of being a member of society is becoming aware of the different wants and needs of others. Sometimes what you want is not the most important thing to other people, and the best way to get what you want is not to act as though you deserve it automatically. If there is someone else involved, a more practical way to get what you want is through polite persuasion, and even then, sometimes you have to accept that you will not get your way. Instead of saying "The author owes his readers a sequel", try explaining how the book influenced your life, and perhaps this will be more persuasive. If not, accept that the author has moved on, and you can move on too.

Instead of making demands on others, try working on yourself to become a really worthy person. You have to earn the "right" to make claims on other people.

1 comment:

Perry said...

Perhaps the difference between Western (liberal?) and (classical?) Jewish thinking is that Western thinking posits that individuals have "rights", which they may demand of others, while Jewish thought imposes "obligations" that we owe others. The first is more conducive to a sense of "entitlement."