On Entitlement and the Stoics.

It’s been occurring to me rather a lot lately that much of the misery in our culture, often ascribed to ‘attachment’ would actually be better described by ‘entitlement’.


Attachment has never been a word which sits comfortably with me as a means to describe the problem. Until pretty recently, ‘attachment’ meant you cared about something or somebody (Jane Austen said it a lot – oh, she’s forming an attachment to so-and-so). This kind of attachment is an experience which I value highly – as do most people.

Telling me I should be ‘non-attached’ just put my back up, to be honest! I also came across a lot of people who used ‘non-attachment’ and ‘living in the moment’ as justifications for mistreating others, breaking promises, acting selfishly and just being downright fickle and all round ghastly.

So. The other day I’m pondering the revelatory nature of facebook, where people often wade into arguments (or start them) uninvited and reveal some pretty interesting stuff. A lot of the whining I’ve seen seems to link to people having a sense of ‘entitlement’.

It works a bit like this – somebody sets off with this core belief:-

‘I am special, I deserve special treatment, I am ENTITLED to be treated well, dammit!’

Trouble is, that’s sort of made up in our heads isn’t it?! Nobody else agreed to go along with this scenario. Nobody went ‘Oh yes, I’m going to bend over backwards to make your life a peachy peachy ride of fun and frolics’. Did they? Well, not in the usual run of events anyway. Not since maybe our Mums when we were two, if we had particularly awesome Mums.

So, we start with this expectation, this sense that we are entitled to something – except that the only trouble is, we totally aren’t. When we don’t get what we ‘deserve’, boy are we upset. We rant, we rave, we throw lego…….and we feel pretty terrible. It’s all so unfair. I’m going to shout and stamp my foot about it. I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making other’s lives a jolly funfair experience. It’s what I do for a living….. I’m all for fair treatment, random acts of kindness, generosity. These things make the world go round, fill us to overflowing with pink radiant yumminess and cause us to skip with joy. It’s just that there’s a world of difference between me sharing that which is awesome freely, and somebody EXPECTING ME TO.

Take relationships. In my experience, things start to go wrong the minute you’re no longer giving freely of your time, energy and self…. when it’s expected of you. You’re my girlfriend/wife therefore you must ………………

That just takes ALL the fun out of it, right? It starts to feel like a JOB, right?!

The stoics were pretty interesting people. The word ‘stoic’ has come to mean something slightly different, but I like what they believed. They said that unhappiness is caused by the illusion that you have control over things you don’t, and can’t, control. They made a handy little list that went like this:-

THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL

Our judgement and opinions.
Our desires.
Our ability to move towards things (adversion).
Our ability to move away from things (aversion).

THINGS WE CANNOT CONTROL

Our bodies.
Other people (what they think/do/say).
Our reputation.
Our material goods.
Our money.
Our worldly power.

(in short, everything else!)

I was thinking, the sense on ‘entitlement’ is the illusion that we control other people, how they treat us, what the world gives us. When this proves to be nonsense, we get unhappy. The Stoics (and several other philosophies) have this wise advice – get real about what you are ‘entitled’ to (nothing) and quit expecting the world to be different from what it really is 🙂

“Where is the good? In the will. Where is the evil? In the will. Where is neither of them? In those things that are independent of the will.” Marcus Aurelius