On Gratitude and Entitlement

There is a mentality in most Western societies that we are entitled certain rights, such as freedom, respect, and the pursuit of happiness.  A few people have even taken this to such an extreme that they see most people as peasants serving them (the god or goddess) of the universe—a narcissistic mentality!  However, what if we lived lives that were opposite this mentality?  What if we realized that no one really owes us anything on this green planet, and that everything good we get is really a gift? There have been countless studies done that have shown that gratitude helps not only boost our mood levels, it can help alleviate many physical ailments as well.

One way we can show gratitude is in how we treat others.  I think one aspect of showing gratitude for the people that are in our lives is by treasuring them.  Never treat anyone as if they were dispensable or take someone for granted. Unfortunately, most people, including me, have taken someone for granted at one point or another in our lives. We assumed that they would always be there for us to serve our needs and make us happy. However, if we realized just how much of an impact they have made in our lives, and how limited a time we may have with these people, we might treat them more as royalty, rather than as slaves or servants.

Another way we can show gratitude to other people is by giving grace to them. My definition of showing grace to people is to loving them, flaws and all, being willing to learn from them, and by forgiving them. We love others by not giving up on them even after they have made a mistake or hurt you.  Yes, there may be situations in which we cannot be with someone after they hurt us because they pose a physical or emotional threat to our safety and that of other loved ones. However, that does not mean we should harbor hatred or bitterness towards them, as it will only hurt us in the end, not the offender.  I know several people who have hurt me emotionally, and who I initially had bitterness and anger towards them, but then when I forgave them, the relationship was able to be restored.  We should also be constantly striving to learn from the people around us, both for our and their benefit. We learn so that we can understand the people around us better and form stronger connections with others. We also learn from others so that we can better care for those around us. Finally, we learn from others in our appreciation for their uniqueness and what they contribute to this world—including ourselves.

However, when we harbor an entitlement attitude, this erodes our ability to be grateful for those in our lives. First of all, an entitlement mentality brings about complaining and judgments against others, especially when they don’t meet what we perceive to be our needs. For instance, the gunman in the recent Mercy Hospital shooting had wanted the engagement ring from his ex-fiancee back so badly that he felt like he had to kill to get it.(1) In other words, the gunman felt that she owed him the ring that he gave her back because they broke up, and he judged her to be a wicked person because she probably did not want to give it back to him.

This same entitlement attitude also impedes forgiveness and reconciliation because of the element of pride in entitlement.  Proud people are not inclined to forgive others because they think they are always right and that the other party “deserves”their anger and bitterness.  Forgiveness requires some measure of humility because part of forgiveness is the willingness to share in some of the consequences of someone else’s sin.  For instance, if you forgive a family member for their alcoholism and the effects of it, you may still have to deal with their recovery process or deal with a couple of relapses. However, if you are not willing to forgive and feel that they owe you something back, then reconciliation and freedom from the effects of the offense will not really be possible. 

Another way we can show gratitude is by being thankful for the material possessions given to us. One way to be grateful for our material possessions is by enjoying them.  Enjoying them does not mean being wasteful or taking what we have for granted.  Enjoying our material possessions means to be joyful in interacting with our gifts. It also means being grateful to those who gave them to us.  Another way we can be grateful for the material possessions we have is to see them as gifts, not as wages owed us. When we see possessions as gifts, we are often more appreciative of them, especially when we know that someone sacrificed financially to give them to us.

However, an entitlement attitude completely destroys our joy and gratitude in the things we are given. This is because it completely devalues the gift and giver, since instead of something to be treasured and enjoyed, we have it because we “deserve” it,or it is “owed” to us.  We may not enjoy the gift or gifts as much, because of the fear of it being destroyed or devalued.  Also, an entitlement attitude toward the material possessions we have encourages greed and selfishness, because it breeds the further mentality of being “owed” more than we have now. It also breeds selfishness because, with an entitlement attitude, we are often less willing to share our material goods to those in need. We think we “earned” these gifts,and that no one should take them away from us.

What a difference we could make if we strove to be more grateful for each person and each gift we were given! However, when we have an entitlement attitude and are ungrateful for the grace that is given to us each day, we lose our joy and love in life and for others.  Since it is a time to give thanks, who in your life, can you thank today?  Maybe write them a note of gratitude, or tell them in person how much they mean to you. As for the many material gifts we are blessed with, enjoy them, but also be willing to share with those in need so that they can have joy too.

Sources:

  1. Gorner, Jeremy, Annie Sweeney and Elyssa Cherney. (2018, November 20).Gunman in Mercy Hospital attack had threatened to shoot up Chicago Fire Academy, officials say. Chicago Tribune.  p. 1, Retrieved from : https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-chicago-mercy-hospital-shooting-juan-lopez-20181120-story.html
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How to Be Civil To Someone With Whom You Disagree

There has been so much dissension in my country (U.S.A) lately, especially when people talk about politics or something they are passionate about.  I’m sure the same is true in other countries as well.  This can be seen most evidently on social media platforms, where people feel that they can say whatever they want, with no filters whatsoever.  The negative political advertisements do us no favors either as far as the dissension problem is concerned.

This past Sunday at church, we were a having question and answer discussion to find out about the pastoral candidate (My current pastor is leaving. He has been at the church for over 40 years!), and the candidate made this wise statement that we all should learn to heed (paraphrased-emphasis mine): Even if I don’t agree with you on everything, I agree to disagree. 

I understand that it can be difficult to be civil to someone who vehemently disagrees with something you are passionate about.  I know, because when I was younger, I used to be combative against people who mocked or disagreed with that which I was passionate about. However, I have learned these following things about how we all can be civil to those whom we disagree:

  1. Remember the inherent value of the person whom you disagree with is not dependent on what they believe.—Society has perpetuated the lie that your worth is dependent on what you do or what you believe.  This has resulted in attacks and dissensions over the most trivial things!  However, if we remembered that the person who disagrees with us is still someone with a family and with a life, we would probably be more respectful and compassionate in relating with them.  Yes, beliefs and ideas DO have consequences, especially when they translate into actions, but attacking a person’s character based on what they believe will not get them to change their opinions or their convictions. In fact, it will often make the person hold on to their beliefs even tighter and your contrasting beliefs something to be mocked by them simply because they now equate what you believe with how you acted towards them!
  2. Find common ground—Yes, the person whom you disagree with may have a different way of thinking than you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find similarities in your beliefs or goals with them. For instance, both Republicans and Democrats want to better their society in which they live in, but they may go about it in different ways.  Also, regardless of religious belief or philosophy of life, the common ground one can find with one who disagrees with them is that they both want to better their lives, and, most likely, those of others.  Finding common ground will not only deescalate any potential arguments you may have with the person who disagrees with you, but may also serve to unite you with them in some way.
  3. Never attack the other person’s character, but focus on much as possible on why you disagree.—When you attack the person whom you disagree with, instead on focusing instead on the issue or issues which you differ, you have already lost their respect and listening ears.  Yes, I understand that debates and disagreements can get heated, but when we attack someone’s character or who they are inherently, we not only lose our own sense of integrity and respect, but we devalue their inherent worth as human being as well.
  4. Find out why they believe as they do.—Instead of coming across as combative and argumentative, ask questions. Find out why they believe as they do. For instance, a person may have certain views because of what they have experienced in life, both good and bad. For instance, if you find out a person doesn’t drink because he or she has seen the negative effects of alcohol in their family, you can better understand where they are coming from when they want the legal age to buy alcohol to be raised even higher. Sometimes people believe the way they do because of what others have told them, or misconceptions they had picked out along the way. If you find out they believe  a misconception of your view, you can respectfully and lovingly clear that up with the truth.

These are some of the things that I have learned to do in being civil with another person whom I disagree. So, when you voice your opinions and come across someone that doesn’t think as you do, whether it be on social media or in person, remember the value of the person is not based on what they believe; find common ground; never attack the person’s character, and find out why they believe as they do.  Finally, if all else fails, you should strive to just agree to disagree. However, if we more consistently applied these principles, this world would be a much more peaceful and unifying place.