Entitlement.

I’m one of those people who takes words seriously.  And yes, at times, I’m even snooty about them.

I learned this week that I was wrong about people being wrong about a word. Or at least I was sort of wrong… but half right.  Allow me to explain.

A while ago I heard from some unconjurable (word? another time…) but trusted source that the word “entitled” is not a good substitute when one means “titled.”

Example:  “His movie, entitled The Fighter, won a billion Academy Awards,” is incorrect.  “She wrote a book titled The Age of Innocence” is correct. But here’s the twist: “Entitled” does, it turns out, have definitions that have to do with actually giving a name, but such definitions also seem to specify that to entitle is to give a name, not to name a name already given.  In other words, if I am an author I may entitle my own book, but once it has been entitled other people should refer to it as titled.  Because I, not they, gave it its title.   Thoughts?

Actually, this post is regarding the first, original, and most correct meaning of “entitled.”  The bratty, pretentious and arrogant sort of entitlement I have displayed already here, and which I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately.

Eric’s been crazy busy this week moonlighting as a sports reporter for the blog he writes for.  This week everyone’s hyped up about the Nike Hoop Summit, a basketball game that takes place yearly in Portland between the top international high school basketball prospects and the top prospects from the United States.  It’s a pretty big deal.  Eric went to watch the international players practice on Tuesday and the USA players tonight, and interviewed players after both practices.

On Tuesday, he interviewed three players: one from the Congo, one from Brazil, and one from Portland Canada. (The real story is he is Canadian but received dual American citizenship last year and has been attending and playing ball for a private high school in Portland.)  I’m really not sure why he’s playing on the international team.  Today, Eric interviewed two players from the USA team.  I helped him transcribe the interviews so he could get an earlier start on his articles, and my listening confirmed what he kept repeating: the truly international players seemed so grateful for the opportunity to play at the Summit and were noticeably more convivial about being interviewed than the American players.  Lucas and his translator laughed as they answered questions; Bismack thanked Eric for the interview, and he meant it.  Both gave long interviews full of answers that didn’t sound canned.  The American players were polite enough, but each acted like this was their millionth interview; one asked Eric to wait while he went to take a post-game shower.  (The interview took about two minutes.)  At eighteen years old, could they really already be tired of the attention?

Simultaneously, conversations seem to be popping up everywhere lately, in and out of the blogosphere, concerning Christianity, salvation, and God’s goodness.  The age old question has been unburied and set again on display:  how could a loving God be okay with his created people ending up in hell?  It’s a great question. A hard question. A question I don’t know how to answer.  Then there’s the easy Calvinist/reformed response: how could a holy God be okay with allowing a rebellious and sinful people to spend eternity in paradise with him?  This is many young Christians’ version of a canned Christian answer, the “easy” answer, the wrong answer.  I’m not saying these questions are mutually exclusive (either God is loving OR he is holy), and I think it’s dangerous to emphasize any of God’s attributes over another.  But although I think this answer is more logically satisfying, it still doesn’t sit well with me.  Why?

Because I, like you, like everyone (even, I suspect, friendly Mr.’s Congo and Brazil), suffer from a disease called entitlement. We believe with the core of our beings that we deserve something good just because we are our wonderful little selves.  And it’s ugly.  When I argue, it’s because I believe I’m entitled to my opinion and my rights.  When I complain, it’s because I believe I’m entitled to a warm house, good food, a perfect husband, nice weather, and doting companions.

The teaching field pressures me constantly to encourage students’ self esteem and individuality.  Egos have become more important than classroom discipline, and squeaky wheels are being given, unbelievably, more and more grease.  We cannot assume we are worthy of this coddling, this ego-pumping, this self-importance. If you disagree, which many of my readers will, I challenge you to think about it this way:  what on earth gave you that worth? It might be the most important question we ask ourselves, because it determines our posture as we go about life.  Will we be humble? Will we do good? Will we allow other people’s discomfort, not for their good but to lift ourselves higher?

I once wrote a [probably quite bad] paper in a college psychology class.  I was asked to write about my favorite personality theorist and the ideal personality theory. Abraham Maslow said,

“What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

Of course, Maslow assumes that we, even left to ourselves, are “capable of becoming.” Clever little thing that I was, I changed Abraham Maslow’s theory of self-actualization into a [very cheesy-sounding but actually kind of legitimate] theory of Christ-actualization, wherein instead of arriving at a fulfilled self, a person allows Jesus to fill the role of the purpose-giver and the perfected self.  Without him giving me worth, I am unworthy.  There is no other way of explaining or legitimizing self-worth.  A counselor once told me, as I was struggling with self-loathing, that she didn’t believe in self-esteem.  An odd an unpopular answer, I’m sure.  But it stuck with me.  I do not need to esteem myself, because he esteems me.

I am not entitled to my salvation.  I do not get to change God to fit my specifications.  I am not entitled to the gifts with which my life positively spills over.

Do I forget these facts? Constantly.

Let’s help one another make war with this tendency, this cancer of entitlement.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.”

Peace,

  • Papa

    Boo: thanks for starting my day in the DR with this. On the subject of Hell I recently read from Tim Keller’s “Reasons for God”. Too long to summarize but similar to CS Lewis in argument. We get what we want in the end.

  • Kayla

    How true, you got to the very heart of the problem. Thanks for your thoughts! :)

  • david

    i liked reading over your post brynna.

    i agree that entitlement is no good and doesn’t allow people to appreciate the good things that come their way.

    it’s interesting you mention both self-actualization and self-esteem. maslow’s hierarchy of needs (toward self-actualization) and the importance of self-esteem were both commonly held ideas in psychology before they were shown to have little empirical support.

    maslow’s need pyramid is neatly organized and easy to understand but just doesn’t hold up when looking at religious figures such as jesus and guatama who clearly met the definition of self-actualization, but fasted from food (physical needs) and people (emotional needs) for 40 days and 49 days respectively before starting their ministries. sorry maslow. : )

    i like the verses you included too.

  • david

    edit: “gautama” not “guatama”

  • http://doddroad.wordpress.com Becca G.

    Brynna, I just started following your blog. Beautifully written and glorifying to God. Thanks for sharing your journey with the world. I’m pretty reformed in my beliefs, but I’m anxious to read RB’s book to see what the hoopla is all about. And I love Keller’s “Reasons for God.” Looking forward to reading more from you!

  • brynna

    Interesting points about Jesus and Gautama, David. It’s wonderful to know that there’s a sustainer who guards and keeps us over and above what we think we need. Thanks for your comments, all.