Friday, December 6, 2013

Entitlement gone wild

I flew on an airplane this week.  As I always do, I chose a window seat, which is normally not an issue.  I'm a fairly small person, and the window seat allows me to look out the window (obvious, I realize), which I thoroughly enjoy.  However, this particular day, after I sat in my seat, a man sat down in the aisle seat next to me (this was a puddle hopper, so only 2 seats next to each other).  He was not a large man, but he put his arm on the arm rest between us in such a way that his elbow was actually poking into "my" space, he sat spread legged, with one of his feet under the seat in front of ME, and basically, my alternatives were to be in constant physical contact with this obnoxious stranger, or to squish myself into as small a ball as possible in the corner of my seat.  I chose the latter.  A few minutes later, one of the flight attendants came by and informed him that he had to put his bag under the seat in front of him, not keeping it just on the ground between his spread-eagle legs.  He said, "oh, okay!"  And made a movement to put the bag under his seat.  But as soon as the flight attendant then moved on to go sit down in her own seat for take-off, he stopped attempting to stow his bag and went back to just keeping it between his legs.

I took a second flight.  We were told that we needed to put all of our phones in airplane mode, and again, the person next to me continued to ignore the flight attendants and just kept on texting.  The flight attendant came by and asked my seat-mate to put her phone in flight mode.  She, too, said, "oh, okay", made it look like she was going to, and then continued to email and text on her phone for the duration of the flight, simply hiding her phone whenever a flight attendant came by.

Entitlement.  Why is it that there is this so much entitlement in our culture?  People feel that they deserve to take up whatever space they can.  People believe they are the exceptions to the rules and don't have to follow them.  People feel that they "deserve" whatever it is and our ads and commercials help emphasise that misconception..."you deserve that chocolate."  "you deserve that $100,000 car." "you deserve that $10,000 vacation to Hawaii."  No, we don't deserve these things.  They are amazing gifts when we have them, but we don't deserve them.  I can't think of anything anyone has done to deserve having that kind of luxury while there are others in the world who are starving to death.  They don't deserve to starve, and we don't deserve to spend that kind of money on ourselves while others suffer so intensely.

This sense of entitlement injures not only those around us, whose rights and sometimes very existence are threatened because of our choices to spoil ourselves, but that sense of entitlement also deeply injures our own selves.  First of all, it takes from us a sense of wonder and gratitude for the amazing gifts and blessings that surround us each day.  If we feel they are "no more than we deserve" then we fail to look with eyes that see that every breath is a gift, every bite of food is nothing less than a blessing, every smile from a stranger is a kiss from an angel.  That sense of wonder, of gratitude, can carry us so deeply into the vision and heart of God!  A failure to recognize those gifts can carry us only further into a sense of entitlement, and resentment when those things we believe we "deserve" do not come to us in the way or time that we expect.  Second, I think that sense of entitlement desensitizes us to the needs of others.  We start to mistakenly believe that we have what we have because we deserve those things.  Therefore, what others fail to have (even basic necessities like food, shelter, health care) that they therefore don't have them because they don't deserve them.   We stop seeing that our wealth is "luck of the draw" - where we were born, who raised us, where we went to school, even our intelligence and talents and creativity are gifts we were given at birth, not things we can develop or earn.  We didn't "pick" our parents or our life situations.  All are gifts that have been GIVEN to us that may allow us to accumulate more than others.  None of it, therefore, is ours - all is lent to us by God.  Luke 12:48, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  Or to put it in non-religious terms, "along with privilege comes responsibility".  But when we start feeling entitled to what we have, we lose the larger vision that says that because we have so much, we have a responsibility to give back - to our communities, to those who have less, to creation and the world.

We injure ourselves through our lack of entitlement.  A friend shared with me this video that I think is really relevant here:

I am not immune to the irony in this.  I started this whole blog post, in a sense, by complaining about my own plane trips...  But I think it just illustrates my point once more.  All of us, ALL of us are so used to certain rights and expectations (in my case, the right to having the space in the airplane that my ticket paid for), that we fail to see the greater gifts - I was able to travel quickly, easily and comfortably across a large area of space in the air.  That IS amazing.  And that should have been the focus for me, too.  But our feelings of entitlement creep in, they are so part of our culture and our understanding that we focus on things that seem to impinge on that, rather than on the gifts.  Today I strive to take this to heart.  I hope that you can, too.  Because the gifts in learning to see the blessings around us, rather than focusing so much on broken expectations of entitlements we assume, can bring us joy, wonder, and the sense of the amazing well-being that fills our lives this day and every day.