Menanteau Serfontein – 1 April 2022
Definition of Entitlement
In the context of this essay, “entitlement” is the belief that you are inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment without having to earn it.
Countries and societies with an effective free-market system, provide great opportunities for individuals to earn an income by finding a job or to do well financially through entrepreneurship (starting your own business big or small), hard work, sacrifice, risk taking and perseverance.
A few decades ago, there was a common understanding and acceptance in many societies that everyone should take personal responsibility for their lives and for earning an appropriate income to sustain their chosen lifestyle. If your income was insufficient to sustain your lifestyle, then you had to curtail your expenses to ensure that you don’t spend more than you earn.
This principle still applies today, however there is a worrying evolving growth of an “entitlement mentality” in many parts of the world. The entitlement mentality rejects the principle of taking personal responsibility for your life, including your standard of living. People with this mindset believe that “you owe me”. The “you” could be your parents, the government, people who you believe discriminated against you in the past (and which you might believe still do), etc.
Examples of an Entitlement Mentality – “You Owe Me”
- Rather remain unemployed than taking a job that you regard as “below your station” or not luxurious enough, e.g. unhappy with the nature of the work or the rate of pay. Able to provide for themselves, but choose not to.
- Has no shame in continuing to receive welfare benefits, even though they could find a job or start their own business if they wanted to.
- Staying with parents as an adult without paying rent, even though they are earning an income.
- Staying with parents with free board and lodging. They don’t work and do not make much effort to find a job or start their own business. They see this as a “right” (entitlement) and are not ashamed of it. These people grew up with the notion that it is their right “to be given much for little”.
- An expectation to be appointed to a position based on things like ethnicity, patronage and connections, instead of merit, i.e. their competence, proven track record of relevant experience and high level job performance.
- They squandered their income during their lifetime without making adequate provision for old age and then expect the government or others to provide for them when they exit the labour market.
- Children who demand their share of their inheritance before their parents have died, or children squabbling about the way in which the inheritance should be divided after the death of their parents. In other words, children are fighting over something that they have not worked for and that does not belong to them – their parents could just as well have spent all their savings during their lifetime. Inheritance should be seen as a privilege, not a right.
- Expecting to be admitted to a given course of study at university, e.g. medicine not based on merit such as academic results, but on preference based on things like ethnicity.
- Refugees who erroneously regard it as their right to be admitted into another country and once they are inside (as a result of the good-heartedness of the leaders of the country), they start demanding all sorts of things, instead of being grateful.
- Businesses or individuals demanding to be given contracts to provide services or goods to government or another business based on things like ethnicity and connections, instead of objective criteria such as price, quality, service and reliability.
- Parents of big families demanding special assistance to care for their children based on the fact that they have many kids – they should take personal responsibility for the fact that they have a big family.
- Some people keep blaming historical events for their current plight, decades after the events occurred. At some stage, people should realise that to keep putting the blame elsewhere rather than taking personal responsibility and doing something for themselves, do not render results. If you can’t find a job, then start your own business, or do odd jobs, but don’t just sit there with self-pity and a “poor me” attitude, expecting others to provide for you.
Dangers of an Entitlement Mentality
The danger of the entitlement mentality for parents, children and countries, is that it incentivizes dependency, laziness and an erroneous perception that “others are responsible for providing for me”. Parents who take care of their adult children end up suffering financially and are in fact doing a disservice to their children who grow up believing that it is the duty of parents to look after them and to fund their lifestyle.
The “you owe me” approach cultivates an entitlement mentality resulting in adults not being prepared to assume personal responsibility, because they don’t know what it means and/or do not have the interest and motivation to accept responsibility.
The entitlement mentality is being encouraged in countries where a “cradle-to-grave” welfare system is in place and serves as a disincentive to take personal responsibility for finding a job, or starting their own business to provide for themselves and their family. They believe that the state has a duty to take care of them throughout life, which means that there is no incentive to get ahead and to make adequate provision for the future and for old age. Most of the countries with a “cradle-to-grave” welfare system, run the risk of their welfare obligations eventually resulting in bankrupting the country.
How to Address the Evolving Entitlement Mentality
I strongly believe that the entitlement mentality should be resisted as much as possible. A culture should be promoted that acknowledges the reality of life throughout the ages, i.e. no-one should expect anyone else to provide for you and your family, irrespective of your circumstances. The moment that the entitlement mentality is adopted, you simultaneously also assume a victim (poor me) mentality resulting in you always blaming others, your circumstances, historical events, etc, instead of taking personal responsibility.
It is recognised however, that there are many people who, with the best will in the world, are unable to genuinely compete and succeed in the free-market system as a result of their lack of ability, disabilities or their significant disadvantaged circumstances compared to others through no fault of their own. In those instances, there should be an appropriate “safety net” to ensure that such people are provided with the means to get access to the basic necessities of life such as food, shelter, clothing, education, etc. This however, should be the exception, not the norm, and such a system must be designed and administered carefully to avoid abuse and to ensure that laziness and a mentality of dependency and entitlement are disincentivized.
Parents have a duty to teach their children appropriate values and virtues, including the principle that everyone must take personal responsibility for their lives, coupled with the principles of hard work, sacrifice, willpower, grit, perseverance, follow-through and resilience. In addition, schools, universities, religious organisations, government and society in general, should teach and model the desired values and principles.
NOTE: Some of the content of this essay has been obtained from an article entitled “You Owe Me: Examining a Generation of Entitlement” by Kate S. Rourke 2011, VOL. 3 NO. 01 http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/362/you-owe-me-examining-a-generation-of-entitlement
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