If you live in the developed world like I do you enjoy certain advantages that a lot of people in other places do not: electricity, running water, plentiful food and clothing—and particularly jobs.
Why do refugees flee their poor, oppressive or conflict-ridden countries and endure great hardship to make it to Europe or the United States? It’s simple: they want to get to a country where they can live better lives. In their situation, anyone would do the same thing. When refugees arrive in the developed world, with hard work and ingenuity they can get a job or create a business and make a good living—a living that includes a peaceful society, human rights and freedoms, functioning utilities, cars, gyms and a wealth of advantages over their homelands.
However, the developing world uses most of the world’s resources. On average, an inhabitant of North America consumes around 90 kilograms (kg) of resources each day. In Europe, consumption is around 45 kg per day, while in Africa people consume only around 10 kg per day.
All of the wealth in the developed world is used without much thought to this huge disparity. With our dependence on these material things, though, comes the darker side: entitlement. In North America, Europe and certain other developed regions of the world, many people feel entitled to their patterns of over-consumption. They believe their lifestyle is their right. But that sense of entitlement is detrimental to spiritual growth and overall health—mind, body and spirit.
An entitled person feels that he/she deserves to be given something, whether it is a high paying job, financial support or some special privilege—without working hard for it or giving anything back. I don’t know about you, but I’ve known many people like this, who feel they don’t have to work at certain jobs just because they got educated and earned a degree. They are convinced that their degree entitles them to a high paying job right out of school, rather than accepting a more entry-level position.
Actually, I was one of them. So I understand the feelings of having gone to a university, gotten a degree and then smugly nurturing an entitled mindset that I immediately deserved a great job with good pay. I learned a valuable lesson when this did not happen. I learned that my degree was not going to financially support me without a lot more hard work on my part.
I should have known better anyway as my Baha’i parents taught me at an early age that life was not easy and nothing would be handed to me on a platter. I have very loving and kind parents who worked hard, so I saw as I grew up the importance of a good work ethic. In fact, my parents definitely followed the Baha’i teachings to “accustom your children to hardship:”
…Endeavour to rectify the conduct of men, and seek to excel the whole world in moral character. While the children are yet in their infancy feed them from the breast of heavenly grace, foster them in the cradle of all excellence, rear them in the embrace of bounty. Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 102.
I was a very headstrong child and as such I wanted to make my own money and have my own job. So I got a job at the age of 14 at a fast-food restaurant. I have pretty much worked ever since, even working two jobs plus full time coursework during my university years. Now I’m not saying everyone should or even can do this—we all have our unique strengths and drives.
I do, however, see quite a bit of this spiritual illness called entitlement with many people and, I often wonder, is it the parents’ fault for not introducing their children to hardship at an early age by making them do chores or some kind of work around the house? Perhaps it is. Of course it is not done out of malice, but instead out of love. Giving your children responsibilities in the household will help them cultivate a sense of work ethic early on. Sadly, though, it doesn’t help the entitled child when everything is done for him or her, but instead thwarts her or his spiritual growth, as well as the child’s mental and physical health and happiness.
Entitled people can burden a community, government and families. They often demand or expect others to finance their lives, while they exert minimal effort at supporting themselves. Somewhere in the midst of growing up, they learned not to be bothered by burdening others, in spite of being quite capable themselves. Sadly, this kind of laziness born of entitlement is detrimental to their spiritual growth, physical attainments, health and even mental capabilities. It will also affect their happiness in the long term, resulting in an eventual drop in self-esteem and self-respect.
This is why it is imperative that children learn at an early age that life is not easy, and that they are not entitled to a free ride. Teaching children not to feel entitled shouldn’t communicate neglect or hold back love from them, but should teach them that hard work will help them to be well-rounded and capable adults who have the potential—with enough hard work and dedication—to transform the world.