Friday, June 19, 2009

Theories on Entitlement

I was considering my overarching hatred of entitlement, in this, the season of my Bridezillaness, or potential thereof. As prior posts mentioned, I'm feeling rather badgered by the expectations of many others - particularly those who put in requests that seem far more like demands. While some commenters noted that the "little princess" culture of parenting might have contributed to this problem, I think there may be a compounding factor as well:  Anti-Passive-Aggressiveness.

The whole evil of Passive-Aggressive behavior has been so well documented in popular culture, that people seem ready to accept it as poor behavior and even self-identify. How, they know, can you expect him/her to adjust to your feelings or needs if he/she doesn't even know them? How can he/she be expected to intuit them from the glint in your eye or the brief smirk on your face?

Indeed, sound reasoning. 

So, the antidote is to say what you want. Ask for what you need. In theory, this works great. She tells him she needs 15 minutes of his undivided attention. He was unknowingly prioritizing reading the comics in the paper. He puts down the paper. They talk. All is well. Fantastic. 

Except for one thing. What if she asks him for 15 minutes of his attention, but he's already late for work? Or what if he is asking for a vacation in Tuscany and she knows there's no money in the bank? What if she wants to go out to a movie, and he simply doesn't want to?

Making the request is just that - making a request. It doesn't mean, automatically, that it must be filled. And it is still incumbent on the requester to allow for the possibility that their request is onerous. Or impossible. Or not in line with the other person's needs and wants. 

But, it seems, these days, making the request is equivalent to ordering compliance - and compliance cannot be ordered. Further, with the increased blurring of want and need, the result is that a series of denied requests are cast as unmet needs, viciously withheld by people who aren't grateful for the explicitness of the order. 

What do you think... does this hold water?


Priya said...

you know, if you cultivate an aura of unpredictability it might help give people an indication that perhaps you might not autocomply with their requests. passive aggressive behavior usually means that someone won't take drastic action to push you if you're not easy to push.

Capt. BS said...

I think the "entitlement experience" is a function of two people who have opposing personality characteristics in two key areas: empathy and humility. Empathy being the ability to understand (in a visceral way) and relate to another person's feelings and circumstances, regardless of how similar or dissimilar yours are to the other person's. Humility being the tendency to understand how small and insignificant each one of our individual lives and its collection of discrete events are in the grand scheme of things. People who have a strong sense of entitlement are typically lacking in both of these qualities.

By contrast, people who are strong in both of these attributes tend to be the ones who are least entitled, and the ones who are most bothered by entitled people. Their sense of humility raises a flag when someone's demands exceed what most would find reasonable in a given situation, but at the same time, their empathetic abilities handcuff them to interpret the person's request as a demand, no matter how politely it is phrased. For example, the reasonable request, "Could you please hand me that water bottle?" would be heard as the statement "I'm thirsty." From that reaction to a reasonable request, you can extrapolate how an empathetic would interpret an unreasonable one.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that entitlement is a relative construct that only exists because some of us are more humble and empathetic than others (although that would explain why entitled people tend not to recognize other entitled people as such). There are definitely entitled people in this world (some might say we all are, to varying degrees) and they are the way they are because they are more deificient than most in a few ways. The point is that how we perceive (or don't perceive) and respond to other people's entitlements is also a function of our own personalities.