Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.
In the 1990’s Entitlement was a worldwide phenomenon mostly visible in the sphere of work. At heart, Entitlement was absolute job security irrespective of someone’s performance. The development of absolute job security began from several different origins including Britain’s desire to reward WWII veterans for their heroic service and is the Communist and Socialist states because they believed to each according to their needs. In the United States absolute job security was the result unions of powerful corporations trying to prevent unionization among their members at a time when unions were very powerful.
While the reasons for creating absolute job security varies by the outcome was the same everywhere. Employees became the most significant stakeholder and employee’s desires were anticipated and fulfilled by dependable annual wage increases and expanding benefits that included financial and health protection after retirement. This happened even in cases of low levels of performance by individuals and low levels of productivity in industries or individual corporations.
Because receiving was no longer tied to contribution or performance, Entitlement was the feeling or assumption by employees that you got because it was owed to you, i.e. because you had worked for one company for the whole of your career or because you had given the company your greatest loyalty or because you had given the company the best years of your life. Few people saw that the received benefits and raises despite contributing little of value, because looking busy made them feel valuable.
The same out comes which were given to everyone. These goodies were not seen as rewards and therefore didn’t generate gratitude.
While a small percent of the working population become comfortable with not working, i.e. they make personal phone calls, read the paper, go through the motions… the great majority had no awareness that they were not working – the latter meaning contributing to the mission of the organization. The definition of work has deteriorated to time put in and time put in became the justification for rising demands for more money, recognition or privileges.
Today’s Entitlement reaches far beyond employment; it encompasses people’s universe of Self. It combines the old idea of Entitlement that you don’t have to DO something to get something because you’re getting depends on WHAT or WHO you are, i.e. a 20 year veteran of the company; someone who put the company first before family; your child, your partner, your parent, your friend
Today’s Entitlement is combined with narcissism. I am owed because I exist, because I’m an individual, because I’m special…
Thus, The Me Generation: self-preoccupied, self-absorbed – narcissistic, hedonistic, and Entitled. Fortunately, many young people matured as their lives became intertwined with others, including their young kids and aging parents. In this way they became inter-dependent, able to be independent and able to find joy in relationships.
The Development of Irresponsibility:
Decades of a rising tide of financial well-being among an ever-widening American middle class following WWII, led to the conviction that The American Dream of upward mobility was really possible for everyone who worked hard and was responsible. And, factually it was true.
In turn, that created widespread generalized optimism and the feeling that change meant progress and progress was always a good thing. A rising tide ultimately lifts all boats. This led to the assumption that as you get more affluent everything is affordable. You can live like you’re rich on credit. You can bet on the come. Earning is thus corrupted into gambling that the good times would always continue – it’s a new economy! – just as working was corrupted into putting in face time.
The Revolution of the 1960’s increased:
The cult of individualism outweighing commitment to community – whether it’s an idea like one’s country, or one’s actual community of institutions, or one’s extended or nuclear family. Vastly increased geographic and social mobility also came to minimize the importance of ties of responsibility or belonging.
Being responsible became judged as entangled in arbitrary demands or conventions that inhibit free choice and pleasures. In this way, irresponsibility is idealized on TV, in fiction, and especially in film.
Relationships involving Narcissists and those who feel entitled are always one-way streets; self-preoccupation does not include others.
Being honest with yourself and aware of how your words and behaviors affect others is a critical base from which to create a relationship of Us. Self-knowledge takes courage and confidence and is difficult to achieve. But it is a critical condition that sets us free to trust and be trusted and, in life, nothing is more valuable than that.