In recent days I’ve been seeing a word bandied about that peaked my interest. Its a word that has been applied to some politicians and other famous people. The word is “entitlement.” It seems there are those who believe their position, their notoriety, their status, provides them with certain entitlements.
I was a bit curious, so I wanted to know the meaning and usage of the word. It is a noun, and according to the Oxford Dictionary it can be used in a variety of ways.
- The fact of having a right to something.
- The amount to which a person has a right.
- The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.
There are certain rights/privileges/entitlements that go along with a person’s particular position. My mom used to quote to me, “Rank has its privileges.” My grandfather and my father both served in the military and later in the National Guard. They rose through the ranks to retire with fairly high ranks. So my mother saw first hand how as they progressed in rank, there were certain privileges that were accorded due to the rank they held. Ok, I get it. More is required of people who take on more responsibility, therefore their remuneration is higher. Their ability to direct more of their schedule and how and when they function can also be at play. They may have access to some perks those of a lower position do not. In some ways, I would say that seems reasonable.
When we think in terms of what a person is owed monetarily, I’m sure there are ways to adjudicate this. If a person has agreed to a certain wage for work performed, they are entitled to their wages owed. Very straightforward, nothing to quibble over there.
It’s the third illustration of the term which really caught my attention. Persons believing they are inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment, that’s what gives me a bit of pause. How does one get to the place where this is the case? Maybe it stems from their upbringing. Maybe they were given everything they ever asked for or wanted. Maybe they have been led to believe they are in a different class or standing from others, therefore they are due certain entitlements. Whatever the reasoning, there are persons who maintain an internal belief they deserve certain privileges, benefits, or treatment without necessarily having earned them.
We find ourselves in the 21st century and we should have left behind any notion that there are those who are more deserving, more privileged, have more of a right to special treatment. There is a continuing struggle for equality among all. No one should feel they are better than, or less than, another. We are living in an interdependent society where we need each other to thrive. The urban city dweller can’t do without the rural farmer and rancher. The business owner can’t have a prosperous business without those they employ. A teacher would not be able to exercise their profession without students. In other words, we all depend on each other in this society.
I think Paul has something to say along these lines too when it comes to the church. 1 Corinthians 12:21-27 says…
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
I’m challenged by this notion of entitlement and how it works against the understanding Paul has tried to convey. Paul is telling us we need each other as members of the body of Christ. In order to be who God is calling us to be, we need to lean on one another. The author John Dunne says, “No man is an island, entire of itself. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. No man is an island entirely of itself. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
Each of us need to learn to live in ways that build up others. We need each other more than we can even begin to know. Truly, without you I am not only diminished, I am poorer by a huge degree. Each of you give my life meaning in ways I can’t even put into words. I think of you, I pray with you, I am encouraged by you. My life is worth living because of who you are, and because of how you enrich me.
I want to encourage us to love more, to give more, to share more, to be more with those around us in this new year. I truly believe when we stop feeling and acting entitled, the world around us will become a dramatically different and better place. It might even tend to take on the resemblance of God’s envisioned kingdom.
Your companion on the Way,