Entitlement is defined as a feeling or belief that you deserve to be given certain privileges—that someone owes you something just because you are you. I am coming to believe that this entitlement plague is perhaps more to be feared throughout the world than malaria or dengue fever!
I have traveled in well over 150 countries and have viewed this pandemic condition everywhere. One day I was in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I was negotiating the logistics for sending millions of dollars of donated medical goods into the country following the ravaging earthquake centered in Gyumri.
Ruben Khachatryan was a leftover Communist bureaucrat who had assumed the privileged position of gatekeeper in the new administration. Ruben was a large man with no way to stretch his brown wool suit coat around his gigantic stomach. When he laughed, the light bounced off his gold teeth and around the room like the sparkles from a disco ball. During my first meeting with Ruben, he boldly announced to me, “There is a law that says that the rich countries have to send money to the poor ones, so you must send money to me here at this address so I can optimize my region.”
The only thing that was ever optimized was Ruben’s own wallet. Because of him, the area didn’t stand a chance of solving its plight.
A short while later I was traveling in West Africa. It was a difficult drive from Lomé, the capital of Togo, north to the city of Dapaong in the northwest corner, close to the borders of Ghana and Burkina Faso.
During dinner that night at the Hotel Le Campement, our discussion at the table was troubling. It became quite apparent that our Togolese friends, on average, knew almost nothing about economics, business, governance, or how the “real world” works.
One of the top leaders of Togo declared emphatically, “Well, Europe and the US just have to come here and give us more money until we have enough. Someone must simply take it away from them and give it to us because we need it.” That sparked quite a lengthy discussion.
I received some great insights that night.
The whole attitude of entitlement, or you owe me, has become a great enemy of progress and human dignity, not only in West Africa and Armenia, but all over the world, including our own culture in America. It is one thing to graciously receive; it is quite another to expect, and worse yet, demand. Self-respect, dignity, and self-reliance have really suffered in pandemic proportions because of this contagious plague.
Once the collective human minds and spirits of a people embrace the notion that someone owes them something for one reason or another, it totally changes their character, self-motivation, and the perception of their own worth. It seems to neutralize the component of personal responsibility. They fall into the trap of seeing themselves as victims, and from that perspective they are totally blinded to creative possibilities within their own grasp.
Once they have transferred responsibility and accountability to someone else, and that new source fails to produce the expected answer to all their needs, then they feel they have a legitimate right to blame those who failed them and to emphatically devote all their energies to being angry and vengeful. And where blaming starts, creative growth stops! Additionally, the plague totally eliminates any expression of true compassion toward anyone else.
Ironically, today many developing countries are endeavoring to build their future economic systems on the idea of expecting or demanding that the rest of the world step up and give them more. And at the same time, they are blinded to the great opportunities of independent and sustainable growth and development so near to them. Blame and greed will trump the spirit of positive initiative.
Malaria and dengue fever can kill the body— entitlement can kill the soul!