Entitlement is a word that’s bandied about a lot these days…often with negative connotations. What does it mean to be entitled and to what are we entitled?

Entitlement’s negative connotation

When the word entitlement is used today it usually carries a negative connotation. We hear it used by politicians who imply that social security is a welfare program rather than a program into which both employers and employees paid over the years.

We hear entitlement used to describe recent generations of young people as if it were their fault that they feel entitled when, in reality, they were more often than not sheltered from life’s lessons.

In the divisive world in which we live today, extremists on both the right and the left feel entitled to impose their will upon the rest of us…to require us to embrace their beliefs and values which are contrary to our own.

Enough examples, let’s get back to my original questions: What does it mean to be entitled? To what are we entitled?

Entitlement defined

Many consider entitlements to be rights. In today’s world, we hear about people’s rights to:

  • Health care.
  • Education.
  • A living wage.
  • Own a home.
  • Extended paid leave for family health issues.

While all of these can be beneficial to virtually everyone, they do not rise to the level of a right…in my opinion. I’ve never felt that I was entitled to any of them even though I’ve enjoyed most of them. My parents taught me that if I wanted these things, I had to work for them. If I wasn’t willing to work for them, then they must not have been that important to me.

If, as I suggest, these aren’t entitlements (rights), then what are our rights? In my opinion, we possess the rights to:

  • Our own values and beliefs.
  • Our own choices.
  • Respect for our values, beliefs and choices.
  • Respectful treatment…until we relinquish that right through ill treatment of others.

That’s it! These are the rights, the entitlements, to which we can legitimately lay claim. Now that I’ve answered both questions, what does this mean for you and the kids in your life?

For you

To me, the entitlements mentioned above are universal rights. You must recognize and respect others’ rights to their values, beliefs and choices if you want the same in return from them. Failure to extend these entitlements to others requires that you forfeit your rights as well.

The lack of awareness of these entitlements is what gives so many the feeling that they have a right to impose their will (their values, beliefs and choices) upon others. The lack of respect for one another’s rights is one of the root cause of the divisiveness we’re experiencing today.

Now that you are aware of the reason why we’re experiencing so much divisiveness, you can reverse the trend by simply respecting others’ value and choices. You’ll find that they often reciprocate because they’re being given the respect to which they are entitled.

When you’re dealing with someone who is in a highly emotionally-charged state, facts, logic and reason will rarely alter their state. Instead of trying to reason with the person:

  • Allow the person to vent their frustrations; doing so allows them to exhaust themselves emotionally.
  • When their emotions have waned, say to them “I respect your rights to your values, beliefs and choices. I only hope that you’ll extend the same courtesy to me. We don’t have to agree on things, but it’s in both our interests to respect each other’s rights to the choices we make. If we both do that, we’ll find a way to work together despite our differences.”

The likelihood of a favorable reaction from the other party hinges on them having emotionally  exhausted themselves. As long as they are in an emotional state, there is no “reasoning” with them. It’s only when the emotions have waned that they’ll be open to a more rational approach.

For our kids

When the kids in your life try to impose their will on others, ask them “Are you willing to have others impose their values, beliefs and choices on you? If not, then what makes you feel that you have the right to impose yours on them?” These questions will help them understand why others are resisting their attempts so vehemently.

If the kids in your life are feeling pressure from others’ attempts to impose their will upon them, share the two-step approach from the section above to help them deal with these situations in a way that limits the emotional impact on them as well as the parties trying to impose their will.

The more aware we are about what entitlements (rights) we possess and how to protect them, the better the world we create for ourselves and others.

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