I hear a lot about entitlements these days. It may be because I'm (by some definitions) a millennial. It may be because I have friends on both extremes of the political spectrum – one side generally uses the word to describe things as what people are owed and the other uses the word to accuse people of being spoiled.
Politics aside, I think that the idea of a sense of entitlement is very interesting. When I say that a person has a sense of entitlement, I mean that that person feels that he or she is owed something. The obligation may be a societal one; that is, it may be that society owes a person something. It may be religious or cosmic: a person can believe that the universe or God may owe him or her. It can be personal, as well.
What interests me particularly is that these beliefs seem to have become expectations. We're genuinely upset when someone treats us unfairly. We may not be surprised but we are indignant about it. We've gone beyond thinking that there's an ideal that describes how we hope things would be to thinking that things will actually conform to our expectations.
This kind of thinking is evident in the way that people drive. We all have slightly different understandings of the rules of the road. Most of us drive in a way that's consistent with our rules. Some of us drive defensively; that is, we refrain from assuming that other drivers will operate in a way that makes sense to us. But many of us don't: we assume that other drivers will operate based on our rules. When another driver fails to do so, it startles us. We realize that we and others around us are in danger of injury and death. And because we expect that others will drive according to our conception of what's reasonable, we blame our fear on the other driver.
This line of thought is evident throughout life and not just on the road. We expect that people will live according to laws, even when they disagree with them and even when they're poorly enforced. We expect society to enable us to live a good life. We expect God to heal us or our loved ones. If we stop to think for a moment, we'll realize that we expect quite a bit.
The clearest demonstration of the flaws in this line of thinking is the fact that it boils down to metaphysical solipsism, or the belief that only the self exists and that all other people are figments of the imagination. Believing that outcomes depend only on our behaviors is believing that only we can make decisions of import. It denies the humanity of every person who has ever lived.
The alternative, harsh as it may seem, is that we can do good things and still suffer. Other people can choose to mistreat us or others. They can be irresponsible – and, as far as we can observe, they may never have to deal with the repercussions of their actions. Hoping is harder than expecting; it allows us to feel disappointed instead of angry. And since disappointment is painful, we naturally (if unwisely) prefer the euphorically terrible emotion of anger.
Life isn't fair. You can hope for fairness, but stop expecting it.