Entitlement: Do You Want Some of This?

Entitlement: Do You Want Some of This?

Entitlement: A word bandied about often by many citizens of the United States. I wanted to explore it because in a recent conversation, it was used akin to arrogance and I wasn’t sure that was correct. The word “entitlement” doesn’t appear in the English language until 1782, and I was unable to find its original source. However, in a very interesting article on Entitlement, (in a blog called Language Log),  the author is investigating the question of when the term went from being a positive term to being a negative term. The article in question is here.

Specifically, we North Americans now tend to use the term in a negative way: ” a sense of entitlement” is used to discuss someone who is feeling privileged, or feeling they need special privileges when they are not due them.  Additionally, the government uses it in a negative way to indicate the same thing; “entitlement programs” are seen as those programs which feed the parasites in society and are not empowering. Some elements of society tend to refer to them as “handouts.” Others see “entitlements” as a duty to care for fellow human beings.

These references and discussions leads one to see a culture that seems to be pushing the idea of activity and work as the only valid “value” in society. As a nation, we see our work as a symbol of uprightness, honesty, and strength. We see the homeless, poor, and unemployed as having done something wrong or lazy or both. If your parents instilled that value of working hard for your goals, no matter what they are, the thoughts have crossed your mind at some point in your life that someone must have done something wrong to be laid off, fired, homeless, poor, or generally in a poor state of affairs. Guaranteed. The only way one cannot feel this way is if one has been dragged through the proverbial “ringer” themselves and had to be that person who is poor, homeless, oppressed, or otherwise fallen into “bad times.”

Do we take our judgement about “entitlement” to extremes? I ask myself that often. I go to a yearly conference where dozens of people arrive to a site and live in a cooperative atmosphere for days at a time. Living in dormitory settings and eating meals family/buffet style, it’s expected that everyone participates in the setup, cleanup, and EFZmaintenance of the site. No one is exempt from this expectation except the infirm or very senior or aged attendees. In general, this seems to work very well. People are cooperative, happy to help, and understand not only the value of “many hands make light work” but also Industry or work are good for us overall. People feel better when they are participating and joining in the creation of a harmonious and giving space. When twenty people clean up, it means more time spent for everyone in other activities.  The group is happy and the environment is uplifting.

You all know what I’m going to say here. There is no perfection and no paradise. There are always one or two people who struggle with these cooperative work or shared space concepts. They place all their items in the showers of the bathroom that is shared with ten people. They lock the bathroom door, restricting access for those same ten people who would also need the toilets or showers which are shared. They rarely do the dishes, and almost never look around for what work might need to be done. They don’t even ask if they can help – they just disappear for their “personal” time. After all, they’re on vacation, aren’t they?

They expect the “locals” to help the with rides, directions, or general questions and to provide assistance at a moment’s notice with little regard for what that person might actually be doing at that moment. They see other people’s time as their own, not something for which to be grateful. In short, they do not think about the other person before making their requests. They do not see the other person as valuable as they are. They may be the gentlest soul in the world, used to working hard at home; however, at these conferences, there’s a “sense of entitlement” that seems to permeate their actions.

The proper thing to do is to point this out to them and help them understand how their behavior impacts others. As a member of the community during this time, it’s my job to do that. I believe it’s all our jobs to do that. I fail. Others fail. The person continues to see their behavior as acceptable and others continue to see their behavior as intrusive and rude. This breeds resentment, gossip, and ill will. I’ve felt that resentment grow, and ask myself silently, “Don’t they see what they are doing? They are wrecking this for everyone!”

That might be a little dramatic, but the resentment does grow. I make assumptions that they are lazy, acting entitled, or just clueless. When it finally erupts, it comes off as condescending, belittling, and not very respectful of the other person. Conversely, it does no good to “ignore it.” I do not want to be that person who says “people are people” and they “will always be that way.” That’s condescending in another way; by not offering the person the person the information necessary to learn and grow, you’re saying they are not capable, intelligent human beings. You are demeaning them by dismissing the behavior. In fact, you are enabling the entitlement.

Obviously, as I stated above, the right thing to do is to point out the behavior and talk about its impact. My general way of doing this is pointing out the behavior, listening to them expectation1and their responses, showing how it impacts others, and providing a few possible ways to approach the issue. I try to approach it as a discussion rather than an admonishment – at least the first time. Maybe even the second time. Yet, I always have that fear of bringing something up to someone and having them be upset; indeed, this is the reason most of us don’t do it in the first place. We think we are one of three things: we are not responsible, we’re acting beyond our authority, or we’re going to upset people.

Tough.

At least, that’s what I tell myself. It’s bravado and I stumble. But I have to just do it. Practice makes perfect.

The first steps are always the hardest. For me, approaching entitlement as a discussion rather than corrective behavior seems to be the right answer. I have to frame the words that come out of my mouth in such a way to help correct the situation, not inflame passions. I know that everyone doesn’t work that way; my hope is to have understanding about impact rather than to just blindly correct a behavior. If someone is chastised, they tend to only associate the behavior with that specific environment. If a discussion ensues, they see their actions in the broader context – their lives – and thus may make the leap of approaching all activities with a mindset that steers away from entitlement.

What I think is true for this conference might also be true for the wider society and our day to day lives. While we’re not living in dormitories and sharing food at every meal, I think the path of discussion rather than accusations feels more correct, more productive. Perhaps more human. I personally tend to get mad when someone expects me to jump at their call without even a “hello” or they infringe on shared space with their demands and wants. If I can take a breath and think for a moment before engaging, I might be able to leverage that “pivotal” moment and create something positive. It doesn’t always work – traffic is a great example – but I hope that I’m making progress. Thinking before speaking is always a challenge but one worth jumping into.

Not everyone will “get it.” Some of those I call out will be embarrassed enough by their actions to be mad with me for pointing it out. Some will cry and think I’m calling them awful people. Some will ignore the guidance, or hate me for being arrogant enough to think I’m better than them, or just plain shrug their shoulders and walk way. It shouldn’t stop any of us from trying to address these things that would hold us all back from being better people and better citizens. The community we strive to improve is the one with which we are actively involved; that is our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

helpinghandAs Freemasons, our behavior away from our Lodge is equally as important as our time within the Lodge. We’re taught how to behave with one another, including the ability to address concerns with a fellow Brother directly and with virtue. Shouldn’t we afford the rest of our community the benefit of our lessons learned? That is part of helping humanity improve, I think. It doesn’t make it easy when the rest of the world doesn’t play by the same rules. It also doesn’t exempt us from facing the challenges and the hard work ahead. If we dislike entitlement so much, and we resent the people who fall into that mode of being, what are we doing to combat it? What are we doing to improve it, whether it is a head-to-head conversation or immersion in supporting an organization like Habitat for Humanity or mentoring for job-training programs? It behooves us to be the examples of working hard to show the meaning of real service, gratitude, and entitlement. How can we help people help themselves, instead of being victims? How does being a victim benefit anyone, personally or societally?

Maybe we can take back the word “entitlement” to mean what it initially or originally meant: “the amount to which a person has a right; the fact of having a right to something.” What is a “right,” and to what do we each have a “right?” What are your thoughts on entitlements and rights? Is a study of “the human right” in order? Or Rights in general? What do you think?

As always, I am grateful for your views and opinions.

thanks1

The Virtue of Industry

The Virtue of Industry

In the modern era, we hear the word “industry” and tend to think of large brick buildings, chimneys billowing smoke, workers trudging in through large iron gates to manipulate gears and cogs to produce… something. We might think more progressively of large steel buildings of assembly lines of safety-goggle-bedecked workers, busily whirring a drill gun or acetylene torch as some piece of car-part moves slowly towards its birth. We have to thank the industrial revolution for the transformation of industry from something denoted a type of work to something that denoted a much larger vision of work itself. 

The term “industry” was first noted in the Middle Ages in France, coming from the Latin industria, which means “diligence, purpose.”  Mackey noted in his Masonic Dictionary, that the “Medieval Freemasons thought much about and had a wide knowledge of the forms of work. There are some fifty-two of these.” Mackey goes on to reflect that Industry is different from industry, in that industry is just one of the forms of work, “it being the most dramatic, but not the most important.” He provides examples of other forms of work, such as the worker who collects all the important bits and puts them together to produce a “thing,” or the assembly line type of producing goods. Industry, with the lowercase “i” is, to quote Mackey again, “industry was the employment of a very large number of men, tens of thousands in many20-Aerial-view-of-Industrial-Roubaix-ca-1900-650x551 instances, on one undertaking at one place and at the same time, and they might or might not use machinery.” In other words, a factory is industry but building a skyscraper is also “industry.”

Industry with the capital “I” is more in keeping with the idea of “diligence” and “purpose.” Much as there is a difference between a virtue and Virtue, there appears to be a difference between industry and Industry. It’s funny that sociologically, we classify societies as either “pre-industrial” or post-industrial. Whenever a place has an “industrial revolution,” which usually indicates the influx of machinery to replace human work of hands, we call that an “industrial society.” This may not be incorrect; yet, it smacks of some kind of idyllic life, lazily milking cows, getting up with the sun and sleeping at sunset. It seems to reflect a more pastoral, almost aristocratic sort of life prior to the onslaught of manufacturing as a way of life. A pre-industrial life was generally agrarian and had limited production, with artisans crafting limited items over longer periods of time. In general, communications took place within smaller communities, and villages were far more common than today’s large city and urban living. One might automatically assume a feudal society, with a Lord providing shelter and protection to his subjects, and his subjects providing him the substance to live. While this is true for a good deal of the European Middle Ages, that is only a small part of human history. Even after the advent of the creation of “cities” 10,000 years ago, humans have, for the most part centered around their small community, generally never being bothered by outside events.

To think that this way of life did not have industry is backward; however, it appears that they had was far more Industry than post-Industrial Revolution humankind. There is a certain value in working hard and achieving success into which we put physical labor. Horace said “life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.”  We often speak that platitude to our children or co-workers without really understanding that hard work is more than just “working a lot.” Thoreau “wished to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well.” While Thoreau might have been hinting at more of the “purpose” side of Industry, Horace is leaning more toward diligence. They both have one thing in common: the influence of Industry on the human psyche and perhaps, soul. [As a weird aside: an interesting definition of courage is “learned industriousness.”]

One of the most interesting, and perhaps hard to grasp, ideas that we should understand is that the concept of “work” is a fairly modern Western invention. Most cultural and social anthropologists today note that modern people tend to see work as something that obtains value, or has a “yardstick” attached to it, as Erik Schwimmer notes. However, ancient Greek and Roman authors, such as Cicero (Officiis), Xenophon (Cyropaedia), and Horace (Odes),  looked at work in more moral and political terms; anyone who would be part of an “industry” for a salary or specie was little more than a slave and not ever worthy of  citizenship status. However, if you worked on your own farm or in your own workshop, and brought those goods to the benefit of the community, were seen as an industrious person, a hard worker, and one whose work should be praised. Traders who brought far off goods to the community, and traded them for the communities goods were praised as industrious and good. While the origin of wealth via industriousness was important, it was where that wealth was applied that made all the difference. Community was everything, as was the freedom of depending on others to provide for family. From the time of Ancient Greece to Medieval Europe, very little had changed, save for the advent of larger cities. Still, the agrarian “industriousness” held true.

While working for the wealth of the community and not having to depend on others for your livelihood might seem at odds, they are not. Interestingly, the Freemasons utilized the symbol of the beehive for just such a concept, and Lodges work mainly in the same format. An interesting article on the Beehive in Freemasonry, reprinted from a Masonic research society (AQC, 1923) is located here, on the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon’s website.  While the concept industry and the beehive (and their associated bees) may seem to some a Christian or Mormon symbol, its use denoting “Industry” appears to date back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Like a beehive, a Freemasonic Lodge is a community of people who have gathered and work for common purpose: to continue to provide an opportunity for others to enjoy Freemasonic teachings. Through diligence, purpose, and Industry, the group prospers. The wealth of the Lodge, the knowledge and learning of working together – is the honey of the beehive. This honey is shared in the community; thus, by diligence and purpose is individual, and his connections, nourished. Another aspect of this beehive concept is that while the individual may gain “wealth” from his Freemasonic work, it is not the reason that the group works together. In other words, the question is not what the Lodge and Freemasonry will do for you – it is what do you, the diligent and purposeful worker, bring to Freemasonry? The bees do their work, reflective of their offices and attention to the quality of the work, and the whole is rewarded. This is not an easy concept for our modern minds, which have been trained to that work is “trading time for money” or “talent for money.” Work is drudgery and work is mundane. Perhaps what we modern humans should focus on is the idea of Industry, not of industry. Perhaps our ancestors were not so off base when it came to the virtue of Industry.


For the reference on Erik Schwimmer, please go to this link: http://ehrafworldcultures.yale.edu/ehrafe/citation.do?method=citation&forward=browseAuthorsFullContext&id=oj23-027 . Referenced 4/2/2017 

Further interesting information about workers in the ancient world can be found in the article, “Workers of the Ancient World: Analysing Labor in Classical Antiquity,” by Arjan Zuiderhoek, found in Volume 1 Number 3 2013 of the WorkersOfTheWorld international journal. This can be referenced on Academia.edu.