One of the things that has most brought me into conflict with other people, is their sense of entitlement. I can say with absolute confidence that I do not feel personally entitled to anything; life experience has taught me that I cannot assume I am going to get even basic levels of decent treatment, much less anything beyond that. I consciously practice gratitude for the good things, I am very grateful for anything good that comes my way.

I ran a moot for years – voluntarily, giving a lot of time and energy to support pagans in my area. I did it because I felt the work was inherently rewarding – and mostly, it was. But some years in, a couple started telling me what I was obliged to do for them, what I owed them, what they expected of me. I had given freely and they responded with a sense of entitlement to far more of my time and energy than I had to spare. I could offer other examples of situations where, having given, I’ve found that it wasn’t appreciated, but taken as evidence that I would, could, should even be giving far more to people who had no intention of offering anything in return. They just saw it as my duty, and their right.

My druidry inclines me to take duty very seriously. Service is part of my spirituality, but other people’s sense of entitlement isn’t. Now, there are things I would like everyone to feel entitled to – peace, safety, basic levels of decency, opportunities, justice. We all of us ought to have those, but plenty of people don’t. Looking around I see a lot of evidence for people who feel entitled to far more than their fair share of everything. To far more than they have worked for, or legitimately earned. I don’t hear anything about politicians taking pay cuts as part of austerity measures. Bankers still get their bonuses while the poor are pushed every closer to the edge of viability.

Entitlement. It’s a dangerous thing. This is the belief that tells us that yes, we should have that fast car and drive it over short distances. We should have that shiny thing and never mind if we have to go into debt, and then decide not to pay the debt. We deserve it. We should have it. Never mind that our lifestyles aren’t sustainable and future generations will pay. This is our turn and we should take whatever we can.

Culturally, we are far too prone to mistaking privileges for rights while not doing anything like enough to ensure that the basic things, the things that really should be rights, are there by default for all people. We might not be able to do over the system, but we can make a start. So many of the ‘take over’ protestors are talking about making changes within ourselves, and that’s a fine place to start.

So I float these questions out onto the ether (answer in the comments if you feel so inclined). What are we entitled to? In our personal lives, in our relationship with the state, in our work, our spirituality. How do we construct our sense of entitlement? I think on a personal note that I should be able to feel entitled to certain things, it’s something I’m trying to consciously develop, so I’m open to suggestions here.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Entitlement

  • druidcat

    I relate. Wish I didn’t. It’s the expectation of decent and equal return – that then is ignored – that baffles me most.
    Out of interest, have you ever challenged those people? I’ve tried, and am then seen to be in the wrong. Bizarre – reflective of two competing worldviews?

  • Athelia Nihtscada

    Interesting topic and one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately given the number of people I meet who seem to think they are entitled to certain things that really are not entitled to (IMO).

    In response to the questions you ask:

    1. What are we entitled to? (In our personal lives, in our relationship with the state, in our work, our spirituality.)

    One thing I have learned in life is that we are really “entitled” to nothing. I believe that we are born into this world not with entitlement, but with responsibility. It would be nice to think that we are entitled to certain things such as common human decency, or freedom or even a roof over our heads, but we don’t always get those things no matter what we do. We can be as decent, serving, honourable and hospitable as we can be, giving of ourselves and expecting nothing. However, that too does not entitle us to anything. Why? Because those things often depend on other people.

    If we give, we expect some sort of return. We feel perhaps entitled to that. However, it is up to the other party to return the kindness or whatever it is. It is up to the employer to compensate us for our work. It is up to the other people in our lives to reciprocate what we give to them.

    In life, we all have one freedom and responsibility: to choose how we respond; to choose how we live our lives; to choose how we will handle situations. And so does everyone else. We are not responsible for how others live or react or behave. In the end, that person will respond, react or behave as he or she chooses. (Even one’s own children will eventually make that choice as individual human beings.)

    I choose to serve, to be as honourable as I can, to reciprocate good with good where I can, to support others, and to give where I can. That is my choice because I believe that it is my responsibility as a human being. Am I entitled to anything in return? No. Nor do I expect to be because I know that I have no control over the actions and choices of others. I don’t like injustice or discourtesy and I don’t believe these things should be in the world, so I do my part. However, I can only do my part and hope that others do theirs, but I am not surprised if they do not.

    Perhaps there is some sort of karmic reward, or entitlement of the spirit, but I cannot be sure of that. Some people do lots of good and get nothing in return in this life. Perhaps in the next, who knows?

    All I know is that I choose to take my responsibility to be a decent person seriously. If I get something back for it, great! If not, then I have served responsibly and I know in my heart that I have lived up to the freedom and responsibility in my life. That is all the entitlement I need.

    2. How do we construct our sense of entitlement? I think most people base their on a set of expectations that they have developed from what they have learned and experienced, or have been taught by others.

    Thank you for another thoughtful topic! :^)

  • helgaleena

    Living in actual contact with Nature will bring home to a person exactly what we, as living organisms, are entitled to.

    It is when persons have grown estranged from the actual sources of things that they think they need– that is when distortions occur.

    There is a flip side to feeling entitled– the feeling that we are Not entitled and must steal everything, even our most basic subsistence, from others, because of manufactured scarcity and inequality. And when we are sufficiently malnourished and anxious, we cannot even think and act worse than we should because of it.

    Some lack the courage to ask for what they actually need, and some have plenty of courage and no fear of asking, whether or not they are successful. Squeaky wheels may get the grease, and the trick is to know when to stop the squeaking and roll with it.

    The lucky ones who are secure and replete in their hearts can give without expecting it to be an exchange transaction. The trick is to know when to refuse, as you have run out for the time being.

    No, I am no expert on such balances. But–

    I am rich. I have silver in my hair,
    gold in my teeth, crystals in my kidneys, sugars in my blood, iron in my arteries, and an inexhaustible supply of natural gas.

    There may be a demand for some of my surplus.

  • Argenta

    Not being a native speaker, I wonder what the difference is between entitlement and deserving something. Is there one at all?

    I ask because I was thinking lately of how I often feel guilty, or think others are, about unpleasant things that happen, but then it occurred to me that guilt is a vastly unhelpful state of mind, and that responsibility for our actions is a much more creative one. Deserving, or, perhaps, entitlement, seems simply the opposite of guilt, and as opposites go, an equally ineffective way of dealing with the world.

    @Athelia: Your answer reminds me, and clarifies in a new way, a part of the Bhagavad-gita where it says we are entitled to work, but no to any of its fruits. Our reward should be the work properly done. When younger, I didn’t really understand what it meant. I think now I am beginning to… Thanks for the comment!

  • Tira Brandon-Evans

    In anthropology entitlement has a concrete meaning. There are direct entitlements and indirect entitlements. A direct entitlement is just that, something you are entitled to because you have produced it yourself or because you own the means of production.The mortgage free family farmer who grows her own corn is directly entitled to the corn. She is entitled to eat it, grind it, store it, give it away, or sell it. She produced it and she is entitled to all the benefits of that which she produced. If she has a mortgage she is not as directly entitled to the products of the mortgage land and must share the products with the banker. Her food supply is not as secure and if she fails to pay her mortgage she may lose her farm and have to go to work for a wage to feed herself. She is then in a position of indirect entitlement in regards to her food supply. She depnds on someone else to give her the wherewithal to purchase her food and had no direct entitlement to food.

    This is the situation almost everyone in industrial nations is in. Unless you are hunter/gatherer, a tribal pastoralist or horticulturalist, or a family farmer with no mortgage you have no direct entitlements to anything. You work for a wage if you can find work or you depend on your government or charitable organizations for everything. As long as the means of production are in the hands of capital no one in our culture is directly entitled to anything. Is this right? No, of course not. We are enslaved to capital. It is up to us to effect change if we don’t like this.

    We could start by voting for our intersts. What does that mean? We the people should vote for policies and for politicians who will create policies that take power from the hands of corporations and put that power into the hands of we the people. Until we do so, our situation will continue as it is.

    We also need to stop purchasing and consuming things we don’t need. Buy local. Buy seldom and only what you actually need. No one needs ten pairs of shoes. No one needs to buy their kid a toy everything they go to the grocery store. No one needs to eat at McD’s or drink Starbucks coffee. We don’t need this stuff. None of us are directly entitled to any of it any way. If we stop buying things we don’t need we reduce our dependency on the corporations that are destroying humanity and the planet.

  • Nimue Brown

    Thank you eveyrone for the brilliant and informative feedback here – it’s a far bigger area of consideration than I appreciated when I started writing the blog post. Much to mull.

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