The Strange Problem of Entitlement
Years ago, Paul Tournier observed that “no gift can bring joy to the one who has a right to everything.”
While there is a healthy interpretation of entitlement that is tied to a sense of dignity and equality, when it is exaggerated, it brings continual dissatisfaction and an inability to be thankful for anything.
Parents of teens going through a difficult stage know how hard it can be to live with someone who has an overblown sense of entitlement. When teenagers see themselves as the center of the universe and are convinced that the world, its inhabitants, and their families owe them some kind of debt, sharing life with them can be quite unpleasant. This sense that everybody “owes me” is often accompanied by a decided absence of personal responsibility. This is usually a brief phase, but there is a less intense version that persists among some adults, including Christians.
If we think that we deserve the gifts and blessings we have received, it is easy for us to become greedy for more benefits and to overlook the needs of others. We cultivate a capacity not to notice when “our benefit has come at someone else’s expense.” Dissatisfaction as a way of life is encouraged by a consumerist culture that feeds notions of entitlement. We want more, and we want better — better bodies, newer cars, bigger churches, more beautiful homes, finer coffee. Somehow wanting these things morphs into the sense that, really, we deserve them. A cycle of generalized dissatisfaction fuels envy, striving, and buying.