Enlightened Entitlement

Well…present time is over, it’s time to put away the tree, and final grades have been entered. Time to begin again….

Oh wait, not quite yet. There is this new phenomenon that is happening to college professors across the country. People are often astonished when I tell them – but, the fact is that it happens. It happened today. The first email from a student asking for a grade change. No, I’m not joking. They earned a D. They received a D. They need a C- for the class to count.

The best part about this particular message was the fact that she admitted that she didn’t do the work, she admitted slacking off, she admitted not doing her best…but wouldn’t I just help her out? I should know that this was her favorite class!

I have so much to say about this. Primarily? No. No. No.

No to it all. Just, no.

I’m not even surprised when the messages come anymore. I remember when it first happened, I was stunned. I would have NEVER EVER – seriously…NOT IN A MILLION YEARS asked my professor for a grade adjustment. In fact, even if I thought they ‘figured’ wrong – I probably still wouldn’t have asked.

Is this part of the ‘Entitlement Generation’ that we hear so much about? Entitlement is the notion that we ‘deserve something for nothing.’ I often hear this phrase from many of my colleagues and friends…you know, “These kids these days…”

Well, I try not to buy into much of this – because every generation has its ‘thing.’ In fact, for every entitled student, I meet a student who does not behave this way. I am a Gen X’er – people said we were ‘disenfranchised, disgruntled, materialistic, and disloyal.’ In fact, I am none of these.

I had 115 students this semester. I heard from two of them. That’s actually a pretty good percentage and I think it most likely reflects society as a whole.

I’m not sure we actually have super-entitled students, I think we live in a super-entitled world. These students (I would argue children in many ways) are simply a product of their environment. These children learn these behaviors. So, maybe instead of blaming…we begin to really examine our own ideas and behaviors about entitlement. How do we refer to entitlement in front of our children? Our students? Our friends and family? Our neighbors?

What am I entitled to? From my perspective…not much. Really, not anything. Sure our government ‘guarantees’ me all kinds of rights…but even those rights can be taken away if I violate a law or make someone else angry. Then, I have to deal with my loss of those rights – my choices. I’ve made some pretty good choices and some pretty awful ones, the one constant is that I must live with all of the consequences. Why? Because I am the common denominator.

Whether those consequences were all my ‘fault’ or not – it was the life I chose to live. I’ve learned to deal with stuff that’s not my ‘fault’ because of my feelings over the word entitlement.

I am not entitled to Jack Squat. Seriously, I am not entitled to happiness. I am not entitled to peacefulness. I am not entitled to kindness. I have these things in my life because I choose to focus on things that make me happy, feelings of peacefulness, and having a [near] constant disposition of kindness.

I think about this entitlement most often in reference to death, wills, and chaos that can ensue in families. I often use this metaphor to teach my students about the reality of life and its ‘fairness.’

I am not entitled to Jack Squat. Let me repeat AGAIN. I am not entitled to anything. (PERIOD).

For one reason, being entitled to anything means that I MUST equally accept responsibility that I am also entitled to the opposite. It’s like Karma. I caution folks I know about Karma. It’s always ‘fun’ to say – “Oh well…he hurt me. Karma’s a b*tch and it will come back to get him.” Well, here’s the deal…what if your hurt and your pain is actually YOUR karma? Unless you have been perfect (please tell me if you are, because I’d love to meet you) then we need to be very careful about throwing that kind of stuff out into the universe.

If my parents were to die tomorrow (I sincerely hope not), man I don’t want their debt. For real…I can barely keep my head afloat!!! That’s the ‘equal and opposite’ argument. If I believe I am entitled to their earnings, then I am as equally responsible for their debt. Ugh.

Therefore, what they choose to do with their ‘legacy’ (or lack thereof) is their business. Seriously, I don’t care. I didn’t make (or lose) it. It is their choice. The older I get the more I understand my father saying, “Equal isn’t always fair and fair isn’t always equal.”

Entitlement surely comes from believing that fair and equal are identical in connotation.

I also think that part of this entitlement issue revolves around feeling ‘deservedness.’ I’m married and I don’t even believe I am entitled to his love. His love is a blessing. His love is wonderful – but I’m not ‘entitled’ to his love simply because I am his ‘wife.’ I will be eternally grateful for his love, for HIS CHOICE to share his love with me – but it is his choice, not my entitlement – not what I deserve.

Again, believing that I deserved his love would also mean that I deserve people being rude to me.

Maybe feeling entitled is the opposite of believing in grace and having gratitude?

Unmerited goodness, or grace is the key concept of my life. This helps me to be thankful (and therefore, unentitled) for just about everything and anything.

Really, what a strange dichotomy! In all honestly, I didn’t immediately say no to that student. Grace helped me to consider the student’s request. If the student had 69% and was close to that C-? Well, I probably would have taken the chance, provided an opportunity. But, they weren’t. 65% – a strong D is not close enough.

So, I guess it takes all of us. There are those of us who are entitled, those of us who live our lives in grace, those of us who are hard-core, and those of us who just really don’t care either way. Much like Newton’s Third Law: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

It’s no wonder that Sir Newton lived during the period of Enlightenment…for he surely understood the dangers of entitlement.

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