Entitlement – Good or Bad?

Entitlement is a tricky subject these days, and it’s a word that often comes with negative connotations and pre-conceptions. Should a sense of entitlement be encouraged in children? What is the difference between someone with an attitude of entitlement, and someone without?

On the face of it, I would guess that most of you would associate the nurturing of entitlement in people negatively. We tend to think of entitled people as those who feel, act and live as if the World owes them something – as if they are born into this place automatically entitled to all the privileges life has to offer, without putting in any of the effort required to earn those privileges.

That, however, is a drastic oversimplification of the subject.

You see, entitlement can absolutely be a positive attribute in any person, but it relies on that sense of entitlement being nurtured in the correct way in order for it to be a positive attribute. You see, whereas believing you are entitled to privileges such as material possessions, a certain number of holidays a year or the undivided attention of your peer group with no consideration to earning those things or the effect such a sense of entitlement can have on those around you, it is imperative to success that everyone demonstrates a level of entitlement towards their lives.

If you don’t believe you are entitled to be successful in your career, will you be? If you don’t believe you are entitled to answers when you pose legitimate and thoughtful questions, will you actively seek out the answers your heart desires? Honestly, you probably won’t, and that results in a catastrophic dumbing down of society as a whole.

Too much these days do I see people who are all too willing to just accept the status quo as being the only version of reality available to them, instead of adopting an attitude of entitlement with regards to their intrinsic ability to shape their reality as they see fit. In order to achieve anything in life, we must first move to a space internally where we believe in our own capability, and in our inherent right to live the best life possible. But that takes work.

This is very different to the feeling of entitlement that disposes a person to believe that everything they want in life should be handed to them on a plate, and instead fosters a strong sense of self-belief that provides unwavering motivation and determination which propels us towards the achievement of our dreams and goals.

This is the main difference between the children of poor and middle class people, and wealthy people. Regardless of innate ability, the main determining factor of success in children is what social class they are born into. This may be hard to swallow for a lot of people, but extensive studies have shown this to be more true than most of us would like to believe.

The reason? Entitlement, or, practical intelligence.

One study followed children and parents of different socioeconomic backgrounds in an attempt to ascertain what the main factors were that determined success, and found that although children from poor families were better at being more independent, children from wealthier families were actively taught entitlement – they are encouraged to speak up if they are unhappy, and so develop a powerful ability to shape their environment to suit their needs. Now, there’s nothing to say that this has to be done at the expense of anyone else (as is associated with the word ‘entitlement’ in the usual sense), and in doing so empowers children from wealthier families to speak up and fight for the things they want to achieve in life. This is why these children tend to thrive – they customise their environment to suit their needs, and to set themselves up for success.

Although children from poorer backgrounds tend to be more independent, they often receive less praise and attention, and this is critical in developing a mindset of success. They learn fortitude and mental strength that empowers them to deal with and accept their hardships for what they are, but never empowers them to stand up and expect better. It breeds the ‘it is what it is’ attitude, and this only serves to suffocate and stifle in the long term. As Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently puts it in his book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success‘:

“In today’s World, a sense of entitlement makes you more suited to success than a sense of constraint.”

Where wealthier parents have more resources and time at their disposal to help foster their children’s passions by joining them at multiple after-school clubs, introducing them to new activities and experiences that force them to push the bounds of their perceived limitations, and other such activities such as public speaking and mixing with powerful and influential people which require their children to face their fears and develop a resistance to intimidation, the converse is strikingly different. Children from poorer backgrounds are faced with an environment where their parents are absent due to the hard work and time it’s often necessary for them to put in to make ends meet, and so were too busy to help cultivate the skills in their children afforded to those from wealthier backgrounds.

This observation is supported by Terman’s study of his ‘Termites’ – a group of children who were identified as intellectual ‘outliers’ at an early age, and who were observed as they developed into maturity. Terman’s final observations of this group of supposedly ‘gifted’ children are revealing indeed – although all of the children in the group were identified as gifted, their intellectual capacity was not the defining factor of success.

Indeed, Terman and others believed that having identified the a group of children with outstanding intellectual abilities, the expectation was that they would all, for the most part, excel in being high achievers – however, this was not the case. In fact, the results across the group of ‘Termites’ was mixed. So what was the determining factor? Class.

Even across a group of intellectually gifted children, it was found that those who came from wealthier backgrounds were much more likely to be successful in their lives and achieve great things, whereas those from poorer backgrounds achieved somewhat mediocre results, with some ending up in the clutches of addiction and squaller. It seems the defining factor was the way their parents showed up in their lives, and where the children from wealthier backgrounds had the resources and encouragement to develop a mindset of success, the children from poorer backgrounds were lacking in such qualities of mind despite being more independent.

As controversial as this conclusion may be, it’s hard to argue with the results of the various studies examining the subject. It’s something we should all take very seriously if we have our children’s best interests at heart, as I think it’s pretty safe to say that we all want the best for our kids, and we want them to have the level of success in their lives that they deserve – and every child deserves to be successful.

Really, it’s all down to mindset, and as parents and teachers we play such a profoundly important role in the development of our children’s thought processes. I honestly believe that 80% of everything is psychology, and only 20% the mechanics, and this holds true on the subject of success as it does in all walks of life.

The environment we build and perpetuate for our children has a massive effect on how they think about themselves and their World, and it’s potently important that we take such studies with more than just a pinch of salt. There is quite obviously a great divide between those who end up successful in life, and those who do not, and the only way we can hope to bridge that gap is by looking honestly at the facts, making a concerted effort to understand the things that make the difference in our lives, and the lives of our children.

In conclusion, it isn’t as easy as adopting the mindset that entitlement is a negative quality, and there’s a strong argument for fostering entitlement in our children – but in the right ways. Teach them to question authority, but balance that with a lust for learning through an inquisitive mind and a deep level of respect for their fellow human beings. Teach them to speak up when they are not happy with something, but balance that with an understanding that life isn’t always fair, and the trials and tribulations we face throughout our lives are a necessary and important part of the path to success in anything we do.

In understanding the social and environmental constraints we put on ourselves and those around us, we can provide the best of both Worlds for ourselves and our children – the strength and independence demonstrated by those from poorer backgrounds, and the success mindset able to stand up to their fears and challenge the status quo that ultimately allows us to evolve and grow as a race. Both are so important, and helping our children to develop with both in balance is one of the most valuable gifts we can give them as teachers, mentors and leaders.

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