By My Anonymous Friend
One of the values that describe much of today's western culture is embodied in the word entitlement. It involves the notion that one has a right to a benefit or a certain reward. More and more legislation establishes these rights and citizens expect or assume they deserve them. It can be debated whether such a thing as government provided health insurance for example, is indeed a right. I find that Canadians who for years have lived with government controlled health care, generally regard it as a right. Many Americans who have a stronger tradition of free enterprise, do not. I am not writing today to advance that argument one way or the other. Instead I wish to share with you how I observed this kind of thinking at an entirely different level.
We have a family member who is a college football coach. This past week he made a very difficult decision in the middle of a game to replace the starting quarterback. The replacement quarterback came into the game at half time and in the end helped his team to a victory. Not too long after the game, emails and text messages began to come to several members of the coaching staff. Both parents of the quarterback who was benched chimed in, understandably not happy at all. The mother of this young man even emailed the wife of the head coach and complained bitterly about what she perceived as gross injustice. Fortunately before the day was over some apologies were extended.
I was very surprised to learn of this. It is not uncommon for parents of high school athletes to give unwanted advice to a coaching staff but this matter involves college students. It seemed very inappropriate for the parents to complain, especially to the wife of the head coach. But I believe this is part of entitlement thinking. Of course, some of the anxiety came because any parent thinks his or her child is the greatest and most capable athlete, scholar, citizen, worker, potential world leader, etc. But part of what happened here is that the parents believed their son was entitled to be quarterback because of certain alleged promises made when he was recruited and simply because he had been in this position for the first several games of the season.
This kind of thinking is why many excellent teachers leave the profession. Teachers do not get support from the parents of students. Instead the parents if they care at all, tend to take the side of the students and defend or excuse their lack of performance, etc. It is very discouraging to a teacher. Parental biases and misguided or inflated assumptions about their genius or super gifted children, make it very difficult for a teacher to find cooperation between school and home.
It is no wonder that students grow up with the idea that things should be handed to them. Our daughter who works in student life at a private university observes the same phenomenon. In her ten years of work she believes this entitlement kind of thinking has risen sharply.
Entitlement thinking then logically extends to society too. Once a person begins to benefit from the government "trough" of provisions and handouts, he begins to expect it. Politicians know how to offer anything and everything to citizens in order to get their votes. More than ever before this is the issue in the upcoming American election. One side believes that government provides jobs, financial success and prosperity, while the other side advocates the more traditional theory of hard work, enterprise and risk.
My own view is that when entitlement mentality really takes root, the result is what we see today in various European countries. Early retirement is seen as a right. The very mention of bumping up the retirement age even slightly, results in mass rioting. People do not realize the truth of Margaret Thatcher's statement that the problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money! When entitlement minded people are asked where the money handed to them is to come from, they really do not know, and apparently do not seem to care either. Such thinking is absurd and cannot be sustained.
But, there is a legitimate place for social concern and support for those who are in need. How can this be addressed? My own conviction is that the role of government should be diminished and the role of the family, the church, and local communities needs to be expanded. Historically this is how western society functioned. How many hospitals even to this day have biblical names? It is because Roman Catholics or Protestants helped them to get started. Many universities began as church sponsored institutions. Relief and social concerns were addressed by churches, not governments. Slowly this has changed. As homes and families become increasingly fractured and dysfunctional, government has stepped in. I believe in part it is because more effective local controls have passed the buck so to speak, and we have become all too willing to let government programs take over. The more centralized any program becomes, the likelihood of inefficiency, abuse and fraud rises. We have ample evidence of this everywhere today. I sometimes ask people who advocate for more government control to show where a government program has performed with efficiency, financial responsibility, and timeliness. Examples of this are hard to come by.
So what is a person of faith to do? This is not an easy question. It is surely not entirely an either/or matter. My sense is that the pendulum is swinging far too much in the direction of entitlement thinking brought about by government programs that are easy to access and abuse. But how can families take on more responsibility for needy kin? How can the church do a better job of caring for the needy in its community? What should you or I do individually to address the needs of the homeless, the unemployed, or the addicted? What do you think?