As defined by Oxford Dictionaries, entitlement is described as “the fact of having a right to something”, “the amount to which a person has a right”, or “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”.
Wikipedia elaborates further with the concept of legally defined rights based on social equality, ie enfranchisement.
In the most prosaic terms entitlement relates to the basic courtesies and manners that grease social interactions, including but not restricted to: the right to be listened to without interruption when we speak, being given fair opportunity to speak, not being ignored, the sharing of services and possessions for the benefit of others or in mutual co-operation, peaceful interaction and the assumption of goodwill from others, and being treated with respect and as an equal where appropriate. I think we can all get on board with feeling appropriately entitled to such fundamental politenesses, we expect them automatically, yet these are entitlements that people are routinely denied in cases of emotional and physical abuse, sometimes for years without hope of recourse.
“Entitled” has often been used as a pejorative
Building on our basic entitlements there are the more specific, legal entitlements that society has developed over time such as the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the right to a fair trial before a jury of your peers, the right to vote, the right to work, the right to earn money and hold property, the right to suitable access to premises, the right to marry and a myriad of rights for which various groups have campaigned over the years. I doubt many people would claim it unreasonable to expect that people should treat each other well and that life should be as equitable as possible so that everyone has a fair chance of creating a successful and happy life. Yet in recent years there has been much talk of human rights, “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors”, particularly on social media platforms. Immigrants, the disabled, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, the unemployed, the homeless, men, women, plus size, people on benefits: every flavour of interest group seems to be making a call for entitlement to extra rights and/or privileges, with an opposing party shouting down the call equally as loudly. “Entitled” has often been used as a pejorative, a dismissal of someone’s desire for special treatment as being unreasonable or unfair.
However, from an emotional wellbeing and happiness standpoint I believe that it is vital to own a robust sense of entitlement. We need to know what treatment we can reasonably expect from others, how we ourselves should treat others and how to redress any imbalance. We need to know when we are being taken advantage of, when we are being unfair ourselves, how we can ask for help and from whom. We need to know how to enforce our boundaries and respect our values, indeed what values it is reasonable for us to hold, and when to step back and respect the boundaries and values of others. Without an understanding of our social and legal entitlements and responsibilities we would be set adrift on the sea of our feelings, making emotionally driven decisions and second guessing our actions. It seems to me that many problems in later life stem from a lack of adequate childhood instruction in how to be confident in our values or how to maintain a boundary even when it feels unpleasant or counter-intuitive. Too often I hear stories of people who were never allowed to assert their needs as a child, were discouraged from believing in their dreams, had their confidence undermined, their contributions and efforts not valued, who were not taught to see their mistakes as lessons but taught instead to fear failure. Too often I have read of adults who are still unable to believe in themselves and their ambitions because they can’t accept on some fundamental level that they are worthy or deserving, people who have made bad choices derived from a poorly defined set of values and low self worth.
Hear me now: you should feel entitled. You are entitled. You do deserve. Life does owe you. You are allowed to expect:
- To put your needs first where necessary
- Freedom from physical violence, emotional abuse and sexual abuse
- Freedom of self expression so long as you do not break any laws
- Legal protection and redress
- To live in peace as an individual and in harmony with others
- To hope, to dream and to imagine
- To strive for the best life you can create
- The right to change and continue changing
- All of the above without censure, mockery, punishment or humiliation from anyone else, regardless of their status in your life
These are the basic entitlements required to create an emotionally healthy, happy life. If there is anyone preventing you from receiving any of these entitlements, I would advise you to consider urgently whether they should be in your life. Believing in your right to basic entitlements is the foundation stone of creating and maintaining a healthy level of self-esteem. Anyone who devalues you or diminishes your belief in your rights is damaging your personal growth and your ability to become a happier person. You deserve to be happy, you deserve to make the best life you can, simply because you exist. You are, therefore you are entitled. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Entitlement is not a dirty word.