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Consumed by Entitlement

By Jennifer Whitcomb

Today’s  guest post comes from the endearing and committed, Jenny Whitcomb, a delightful Massachusetts-living mother of six, known for making sculptures out of her teenage son’s messy room and always infusing her mothering with humor and creativity. She enjoys life’s simple pleasures like grape laffy taffy and marathon soaks in the tub.

piggy_bankimageA week ago I attended a meeting where someone said, “We live in an age of entitlement.” That word, entitlement has since been reverberating in my head. It’s plinking around between my ears because the word itself has a bothersome connotation. In a world where instant gratification is an integral part of our routines, it’s hard to imagine that people would think about feeling entitled to live in a certain neighborhood, eat meals out, have a day at the spa, or wear specific brand labels. Please don’t misread.  I’m all for betterment.  It’s just that when working to make improvements turns into expecting upgrades, I get queasy, and wonder how our sense of stewardship has become distorted and provident living becomes a quaint idea of the past.  I asked my kids if they knew what entitlement meant. I got puzzled looks. One wants new jeans, another a sweatshirt.  The definitions they came up with were well-thought out— to give someone a title, among others— but none were correct. And even though my kids haven’t officially reached adulthood, the fact that they couldn’t put a finger on the meaning of a word that describes our day-to-day existence was troubling. Thus the question: If we live in an age where we feel we deserve so much, why don’t we recognize it?

 The cover of Time magazine this week has a red ‘reset’ button on it, and the caption underneath it reads “The End of Excess: [and] Why this crisis is good for America.” I’m thinking that in order for this economic crisis to be good for any of us, we first need to recognize that we are living to excess. Realization should begin at home… right? And lucky for us, this epiphany happened on a Monday morning.  So FHE became a Consumer Awareness 101 group therapy session centered on two visuals: a credit card, and a piggy bank. We shared thoughts, from youngest to oldest, starting with the credit card, and taught each other everything we knew about that little piece of plastic. The youngest deemed it a Wal-Mart card. He said, “You swipe it, and then you buy things with it.” The next in line said “It’s a credit card, and there’s money in there, and you buy stuff with it.” And so it went, right up the line. The common missing element was that the kids didn’t understand that to use the card, in fact, is to borrow money. Not like borrowing money from your brother, your mom, or a friend, because the lender doesn’t know you, and is not kind. And if you don’t repay the lender within a short period of time, you won’t be forgiven. You will be punished. The cruel irony is that society would have us believe a credit card represents freedom for consumers. Reality teaches otherwise: debt is bondage. Now how to make my son feel imprisoned by the sweatshirt he doesn’t want to pay for.

  During our discussion, the piggy bank did not have the significance I thought it would. It seemed to be a shelf decoration for plunking pennies into. I was taught that saving your coins would put you on the road to buying power. It’s an interesting thing to study how the mind works when purchasing something with cash versus a credit card. As you hand over the amount needed in cash, you experience a kind of reckoning—it’s difficult to give over the hard-earned money. When you whip out a plastic card, however, it’s a different, enabling feeling. Ergo the ease with which we feel entitled to spring for dinner, or justify new carpet. It takes discipline to manage the card, more than it does to make purchases from a piggy bank. The key? Embrace the principle of work and save in order to consume. Not that owning a credit card or desire equals entitlement, but understand that the credit behind our credit cards is actually cash. To have the money in our pockets before we spend it is a worthy guideline. Did FHE prove enlightening?  The message I wanted us to take away from this is that entitlement is a word with strings attached.  The puppet master should not be a large corporate bank.  It should be the wisdom of living providently. We should feel entitled to share this knowledge with others. After all, if we don’t, who will?

How have you brought entitlement to the forefront of your consciousness? How do you fight against it? How do you teach and live the principles of stewardship, work, and spending in our consumerist age?

About Jennifer Whitcomb

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