Living in the Age of Entitlement

When we’re young, we’re told “you can be anything you want to be.”  We arrive into a society that tells us “all of our dreams can come true.”  We just have to want it badly enough.

Hard work used to be a part of this.

One of my favorite (more recent) documentary series was the History Channel’s “America:  The Story of Us,” from last summer.  I just purchased it and re-watched it…all the episodes back to back.  What stands as the clear through-line in our shared story is that, no matter our background or ethnicity, all of our ancestors came to this place to build a better life for themselves and leave their children and grandchildren with a better place to live in…a better life.  To build this better place we worked hard. We embraced ingenuity, creative expression, vision, leadership and a bottomless well of passion.  We also encouraged individuality — allowing great minds to create freely.  Their ideas not only propelled our country forward, but the world…with startling speed.

At the same time, our history shows us that we are a violent people.  We fought to take our independence, and give ourselves the “God given” right to create the type of land we wanted to live in.  Less than a hundred years later, we brutally fought each other — mostly over the rights we were hypocritically denying people who — unlike our ancestors — didn’t choose to be here in the first place.  Before, in-between, and after we forcefully eradicated the people from the land they lived on.  Land we wanted to take. Less than a hundred years after that — two more brutal wars that we were eventually pulled into.  All of our wars, paradoxically, helped us grow stronger.  The American spirit is defined by grit, determination, resolve — it shapes the American character.  Hard work used to as well.

Enough of a history lesson…

I can also make an argument that our violent ways shaped our humanity…our identity.  Darwin called it survival of the fittest — it’s the law of nature.  Only the strongest will survive in a cruel, painful, and unpredictable world.  I believe Darwinism is a cop-out.  We’ve been granted with the magical power of consciousness.  The ability to not only see the outcome of our actions but the foresight to imagine them and predict how they will effect others and shape our world.  We have been fortunate enough here, in America, to embody our imagined dreams — to lay them out before us and then follow them like a map to our destiny.  We are allowed to see ourselves the way we really are, not as powerless victims of nature’s indifference, but as the co-creators of our existence.  It’s a wonderful power, but one that means nothing if we wield it with indifference and without holding ourselves accountable.  It also means nothing when we only look out for ourselves.

At over ten trillion dollars in debt, our America now threatens to do what it has never done before…leave it’s children with a home that is not growing or prospering, but slowly decaying, rotting from the inside out like a spoiled apple.  I’m going to be definitive now — I’m not proud of my America.  It’s not the place my grandparents risked everything to come to — not the land my grandfather risked his life defending, not the place they loved and raised me to love as a child.  We’re failing them, and worst of all, we’re failing ourselves.

I’m not going to address political problems — as far as I’m concerned they are a distraction, merely symptoms of the true disease.  Much like that rotten apple, the source is deep within.  Let’s highlight it here as Entitlement.  It stretches big and bold, creating a wide canvas for us to paint our deserved desires with.  We live to work, not work to live — but the way in which we work now, the true motivation behind what we do seems to me to have become purely and solely…personal.  What’s in it for me?  What can I get out of this?  I deserve to have what I want, and I’m jealous of everyone else that has the things I don’t have.  With this type of thinking, happiness is a commodity, something we believe can be bought.  Our world is purely material, we even objectify others…evaluating them based on what perceived value they can bring to our lives.  When we don’t get what we want, we don’t see our own shortcomings, and use the disappointment or momentary failure as a learning lesson that builds inner strength and character, but instead point fingers at others that we say sabotaged us.  We blame others, we victimize ourselves, and erroneously lie to ourselves to justify our actions and behavior.  We’ll see a historic amount of this in our upcoming election, where debates won’t be about promoting the deeper strategies to fix our problems but will instead be about bashing and pointing fingers at “the other guy.”  It’s become natural for us, when things don’t go our way or the way we want them to, we don’t look within — we look outward to find the nearest enemy.  We can all-too-easily say to them “this is your fault.”  It’s black-and-white thinking, where we simplify our problems into neat little categories of good and bad — one of the many dangers in the way we see and experience our current world, which is as one of basic opposites that ignores the richness, depth, and complexity of our experience.  Duality is deadly.  It’s a breeding pit for contempt, solipsism, fear, distrust and anger — it feeds our decline in empathy and rise in materialistic thinking.  And thus the happiness we strive for and ultimately feel we deserve eludes us — I would argue it’s because we’re all-too-often only looking out for ourselves.  And anyone that might challenge our opinions or choices we don’t choose to meet for a calm and unemotional debate about the issue at hand, but instead quickly analyze them, find their shortcomings, weaknesses, and mistakes — and attack them for it.  It’s safer this way, it means we don’t have to do any work on ourselves and we can justify our actions by showing ourselves and probably others just how imperfect that person, group, or idea is.  But we’re not perfect either — and embracing that lack of perfection in others is what leads to compassion, and unconditional love…it’s the path to bliss.

Campbell talks about this in “Pathways to Bliss,” how we fall in love with an imagined ideal, only to realize that it isn’t what we imagined it to be — it’s not perfect.  So, we have two choices, seek something else — newer, fresher, and better — something “perfect,” that will surely make us happy this time.  Or… we can embrace it’s imperfection and teach ourselves compassion, forgiveness, and figure out how we can work together to make it the best it can be.  Perfectionist thinking leads us into a dark forest with no way out where we keep taking new turns because surely the next one will bring us into an open field of fulfillment.  It’s extra-dangerous when we believe that we’re entitled to perfection.

I usually go out of my way to make these blog posts inspiring and uplifting, but this one I felt needed to be above all…truthful.  This one’s been bouncing around in my head for awhile, mostly because I just don’t like the way I’m seeing people treating each other lately.  It probably has to do with a lot of the traits I’ve already discussed in this post.  So, if you’ve stayed with me up until this point…first of all, I’m surprised.  It either means you agree with some of the things I’ve been discussing and want to see where we go from here, or the things I’ve written have made you angry and you want to debate.   If you agree with me that there’s a problem — how do we fix it?  Now, I would like to pivot to some positives.

1.) Embrace Imperfection:   First of all, we embrace the fact that there is no such thing as fixing it.  We make gradual, consistent, steady improvement — change happens over decades and generations, not instantaneously and overnight.  See our current economic and political predicament.  This must be a shift in our consciousness, in the way we see things, in the way we look at others and the world — it starts not by fixing what is out there, but what lies within.  Stop the rotting by recognizing it’s there, not denying it’s existence.  The first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is one — you’ve heard this before.  Embrace it, see it for what it is…for what everything is…a lesson in how to live life fully.

Recently caught the movie “Another Earth” on cable.  It came out last year, and follows the story of a scientist living in a time where Another Earth just like ours is discovered…visible to the naked eye in the sky, like our moon at night.  There’s a wonderful parable shared in the middle of the film, and I’m going to use it here to emphasize my point of the value of embracing those things that are imperfect….

You know that story of the Russian cosmonaut? So, the cosmonaut, He’s the first man ever to go into space. Right? The Russians beat the Americans. So he goes up in this big spaceship, but the only habitable part of it’s very small. So the cosmonaut’s in there, and he’s got this portal window, and he’s looking out of it, and he sees the curvature of the Earth for the first time. I mean, the first man to ever look at the planet he’s from. And he’s lost in that moment. And all of a sudden this strange ticking… Begins coming out of the dashboard. Rips out the control panel, right? Takes out his tools. Trying to find the sound, trying to stop the sound. But he can’t find it. He can’t stop it. It keeps going. Few hours into this, begins to feel like torture. A few days go by with this sound, and he knows that this small sound… will break him. He’ll lose his mind. What’s he gonna do? He’s up in space, alone, in a space closet. He’s got 25 days left to go… with this sound. So the cosmonaut decides… the only way to save his sanity… is to fall in love with this sound. So he closes his eyes… and he goes into his imagination, and then he opens them. He doesn’t hear ticking anymore. He hears music. And he spends the sailing through space in total bliss… and peace.

2.  Competitiveness in its Proper Place:  There’s value to conflict and challenge, it spurs growth and forces change.  But it’s important that we never lose sight of the bigger picture.  At what cost does our winning come, and are we really winning?  I for one feel that we are unfairly teaching our kids now to compete at everything, and win at all costs, even if it means knocking others down and stepping over them to get ahead.  How many young fathers have I heard complaining lately about their first experience teaching five and six year olds at T-Ball.  Most of them struggle just to teach kids the fundamentals of the game, the spirit of healthy and fair competition, and instill a love for teamwork, and a basic game.  Most of the time this experience burns them out because many of the parents of these kids project their own unrealized potential on their children — they believe their kid is going to be a Major League All-Star.  They lose sight of what is truly important at that age or really any, I’d argue.  This kind of competitiveness breeds a society where people believe that to get what they want in life they have to keep others from getting it.  When one of us “wins” it should feel more like we all win something, especially if we decided to go into it courageously.

3.  It is Your Problem:   It’s easy to make excuses and point fingers at others, it’s difficult to hold oneself accountable.  You can be part of the solution to any problem, from the smallest conflicts in your life and the lives around you to the greatest problems we face as a country and world — and you can be a contributor in their improvement or maybe even resolution.  People get themselves anxious with this, I used to.  They think about all the things they could or should do and shut down.  It’s a shame.  Good deeds, just like bad ones, can building upon themselves and create a powerful chain reaction.  Pick something you’re good at, naturally enjoy, and that helps others and make a pact to do it.  A big part of me deciding to start this blog was that I found people positively reacting to other things I’d written.  I’m never going to build a house for a struggling family and probably won’t distribute food to homeless people at a soup kitchen.  But I’ve also been able to make people stop and think, I’ve always been able to use ideas to inspire others.  I choose to not paralyze myself and sink in all the options, but instead pick this and be as good at it as I can be — it’s my best way of pitching in.  Find and exhibit yours. It could be as simple as listening to others…we don’t do that often enough anymore, we’re too busy.

4.  Appreciate What You Have:   It’s optimistic thinking.  When I get overwhelmed or perfectionist-thinking creeps in, my mother is always the first to remind me, “The World is What You Make of It.”  If you think it’s awful or unfair, and that you are helpless then that’s exactly what it’ll be.  I’ve made a concerted effort lately to re-focus my energy on my friends and family lately — to give them what I intuitively feel like they need without asking or expecting anything in return.  I love how I feel after propping other people up, acknowledging their best traits and letting them know they’re appreciated.  I still have a lot of work to do on this, and it’s not easy to leave your own agenda aside…but I’d like to think I’m getting better at it, mostly because I’m resolved to being constantly conscious of it and consistently improving upon it.

I do see in a lot of people though that they tend to focus only on what they DON’T HAVE instead of what they do have.  This leads to jealousy of others who have those things you think would finally make you happy.  Probably not.  Quote by Don Draper from this season’s abyss-opening Mad Men…

“But what is happiness?  It’s the moment before you need more happiness.”

When your happiness is tied to external and mostly material “things,” you’ll never find the fulfillment you consciously and subconsciously seek.

5.  Be The Hero, Not Another Victim:  According to Jung, the way the psyche works is that we actively seek out role models in our lives — they are our hero archetypes.  We project on them that which reflects our most highly-held morals, beliefs, and wishes.  They take the form of our parents in early life and then we look to others — teachers, mentors, bosses, officials we elect and in many cases famous athletes, celebrities, and characters in stories.  They show us how to live life, and we take from them the pieces that we want…allowing them to set the path for how we will leave.  They’re also not perfect.  They will disappoint us and let us down.  Lately, we’ve become a society that loves to build up our sports heroes and celebrities, tear them down — bringing them to the brink of destruction, and then encourage them to become the hero we want them to be all over again.  We love doing this, because we need to follow their story — they live the Hero’s Journey that compels us.  At some point in life, maybe in the middle of our adulthood, the psyche undergoes a significant change — moving away from dependency and towards courage and selflessness.  At this point, we have the opportunity to not look at others to be our heroes, but to take ownership over our own destiny and be the hero we want to be.  Live our life as the adventure that it can be.  If we continue to see others only as our heroes than we can analyze and magnify their imperfections.  We can blame them for our own deficiencies.  If we decide to become our hero, then it’s all on us — got no one else to blame.  It’s a scary thought, it’s also a freeing experience.

6.  The Great Separation:   We see ourselves as separate from everything, other people, our environment, our government, possibly even the creator we may believe put us here.  This is the danger of duality — seeing everything in simplified pairs of opposites.  Instead, try and see yourself in everyone and everything, challenge yourself to look deeper into the motivations of others and not internalize their actions, even if they damage you.  Their actions were most likely motivated by the same fear, and stress of trying to “get what they can or feel like they deserve.”

Instead of our acts being ones that only benefit us, while pushing others down or hurting others, we must find ways that we can use our individuality, our latent talent and potential for not only our own growth but also the growth of all we share this experience with.  This is the key to finding and following your bliss according to Campbell — your bliss is your destiny, a sacrament of fulfillment, that which brings you true rapture…but it is only bliss if it is in service of others.  Think of people that truly give of themselves to others, think of how you feel around them, why you want to talk to them and listen to their wisdom.

*                    *                   *

Now back to the great American Experiment — after scrubbing through the flaws I see and brainstorming some ways to turn it around.  Our country is not the greatest anymore — we need to face that fact.  Our students are 14th out of 34 nations in writing, 17th in science, and 24th in math.  Our unemployment rate has swayed between 8 – 11 % for 4 years now, yet I saw a report on CNN the other day that there are actually a lot of “blue collar” jobs available.  We don’t want them?  Again, I guess it comes down to “what’s in it for us?”

Again, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is one in the first place.  There is.

The Gaia Principle shows us another way of looking at our existence.  That the whole earth is one giant organism and we have been selected as it’s conscious mind, when we damage it or other we share it with we are not hurting something separate from us but in fact damaging ourselves.  The growth of one means nothing.  It’s not survival of the fittest, it’s “we’re all in this together.”  And if we embrace that instead of just finding what gets us what we want on an individual basis then maybe we can reverse the rotting,

Maybe then we can return to a place that both our grandparents and grandchildren would be proud of.

~ by Dan Fabrizio on August 20, 2012.

One Response to “Living in the Age of Entitlement”

  1. I enjoyed our “entitlement” discussion last week at the b-day party. It’s the truth. Everybody feels that they are entitled to everything now. Instead of picking goals and working toward them, it’s the instant gratification factor that everybody holds now…. Sickening…..

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