I recently wrote a blog about the rampant entitlement in our culture and our obsession with self called “Its All About Me: How Entitlement is Destroying Our Culture.” The blog laid out the issues and facts that have generated a shift towards self and entitlement behavior in our culture. I am a big advocate of focusing on solutions to problems once they are identified so this blog is an attempt at defining how we can combat the issue of entitlement and selfishness. This idea for a solution was spurred recently when I was reading through a book and came across a passage that put it all together.
Anytime a nation, a group of people or even individuals focus on their rights at the exclusion of their responsibilities, they are going down. No culture can withstand that kind of self-centered orientation. Neil Anderson
This describes perfectly why focusing on self first creates a self fulfilling prophecy that will lead to deterioration of relationships, communities and ultimately a nation. Our culture has unprecedented freedom and rights which is an incredible accomplishment but we are losing sight of the responsibilities that come alongside these rights. On a daily basis I see many different individual rights campaigns in the media outlets but I am yet to see a campaign about our responsibilities as individuals. This has pushed our culture out of balance and as a result we are becoming more divided and polarized. All one has to do is look at Washington DC as a reflection of our polarization. In my opinion, this is a direct reflection of putting self first and dismissing the responsibility each of us have in what is happening around us.
Due to our unprecedented freedoms and rights we are much more inclined to look at most situations and problems through the lenses of our individual rights which immediately disregards the perspective of community or the greater good. As a result, we define ourselves more by our rights than our responsibilities. Ultimately when an individual believes they are owed a right and that right is infringed upon then that person or situation is perceived as wrong and typically dismissed. This creates entitlement and polarization within relationships, communities and countries. An example of this is seen in how the wording of our rights has adjusted over the years with culture. At one time it used to be stated that an individual had the right to pursue an education but now it has gone full circle to say that we have the right to education. This is a small shift in wording but a paramount shift in the actual meaning. All we have to do is look at graduation rates, out of control grade inflation and test score comparisons against other countries to know that the wording has truly changed the meaning. Furthermore, the meaning has changed the underlying culture and systems to favor the right over the responsibility.
So much of what happens in the world is out of our control, we only truly have control over our own character and responsibilities. Therefore, when we start to focus solely on rights we focus on things that we have little control over. When “individuals” put their primary focus on areas that they have little control of then there is room for disappointment and ultimately anger, bitterness and entitlement or on the flip side of success then it can lead to pride, ego and arrogance. In short, our very rights are reducing our freedom and enslaving our lives. Some of the greatest characters (Jesus, William Wallace, Ghandi) in history were highly persecuted and had very little individual rights but we respect them and look to them as heroes because they set aside their rights and took on responsibility even in the most dire circumstances.
An incredible example of responsibility over rights was witnessed during the Holocaust by a remarkable hero named Corrie ten Boom. Some of you may know her story from the book and movie “The Hiding Place.” Corrie ten Boom was living in German occupied Netherlands during World War II. During that time her rights were taken away but that did not deter her from her responsibilities to humanity. Corrie ten Boom was not Jewish so her rights were not nearly as persecuted but she still felt a responsibility to the Jewish community. Corrie ten Boom took it upon herself to make her home a refuge from the concentration camps for the Jewish men and women in her community. This was a major responsibility that Corrie ten Boom did not have to take on and it ultimately put her and her family in danger.
She clearly understood that fighting for rights comes with great responsibility. Had Corrie ten Boom taken on modern culture thinking of “I have to do what is best for me first” or another personal favorite of mine “you have to love yourself first before you can love others” then there would have not been a refuge for the Jewish men and women in her community. You see, Corrie ten Boom was more interested in her responsibility to love and serve others than her individual rights which eventually caused her to completely lose all her rights when she was imprisoned in a concentration camp . Later she was released on a clerical error and took on responsibility once again by opening a rehabilitation center for Germans and her country men and women who collaborated with the Germans. She clearly had every reason and right not to do such an act but she saw it as her responsibility to heal her community. It is countless historical stories of selflessness that fly in complete opposition of our self centered mindset. History has time and time again proven that true love and freedom come from sacrificing and taking responsibility for a greater good or individual and not from focusing on the rights or love for oneself.
When people lay down their own self interests and start to take responsibility for their actions and involvement in society it changes perspective dramatically. With that said, we are all inclined to think selfishly due to the strong cultural influences in our society which will require discipline to break from the crowd and live a more responsible and selfless lifestyle. However, if more of us make a conscious decision to do this then we can begin a shift in the culture back to selfless responsibility which ultimately will change the landscape of our relationships, communities and country. We all have fallen short in this area and we all have room for improvement, it starts by recognizing the problem and working towards a common solution.
For me this is firmly rooted in my faith and Christian based principles, the timeless wisdom of the Bible which clearly teaches principles of selflessness help to guide me through modern day culture. I believe it is important for everyone to have some sense of higher purpose or someone other than themselves to serve and Love. Dr. Viktor Frankl, also a Holocaust survivor put it best with the following statement:
Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.