Who Picks Up After You?
… And Who Are You Picking Up After?
Entitlement Mindset versus Everyday Integrity
I saw a photo in today’s newspaper of a shopping cart that had been filled with groceries and then left abandoned in the store. The photo accompanied an Associated Press article about how increasing numbers of consumers are feeding their desire to shop by filling their carts and then abandoning them before making the purchase. Not merely in online shopping carts, but in brick-and-mortar stores. The article suggested that this is how folks who can’t afford to buy are meeting their need to shop during financially challenging times.
This need seems innocent enough, doesn’t it? It’s not. Who put everything back on the shelves after the person abandoned their shopping cart? One of the store’s employees of course. The more abandoned items that need to be put back on shelves the more employees these stores will need. Employee wages and benefits are among the highest costs of doing business. So, what this seemly innocent behavior by some individuals causes is higher prices for us all!
This is but one small example of a much larger issue. Doesn’t living in a “free society” mean that I should be able to do pretty much whatever I want? What if exercising my right to be irresponsible causes problems for you? Should I still have the freedom to do whatever I want? Or does the very notion of “society” mean placing certain limits on individual freedom? And if so, isn’t the term “free society” contradictory?
Here’s the hidden story the Associated Press shopping cart article barely scratched: The “I’m not responsible for myself; others should clean up my messes” mentality is becoming more and more widespread and brazen.
This “others should pick up after me” attitude is a variation on the “others are responsible for me” attitude that has increasingly pervaded our society for the past four decades. This attitude is one of two key cornerstones of entitlement beliefs. (The other is that I shouldn’t have to work for my paycheck, perks, raises or promotions – showing up should be enough.)
An "entitlement mindset" is one of the most prevalent and damaging psychological problems of our time. Conservatives who are passionate about personal responsibility rightly rail against the dangers of entitlement. Many conservatives also frame “entitlement disorder” as a political issue, claiming that being a “liberal” and having entitlement issues are one and the same. This is how these particular “conservatives” attempt to justify their broad brushstroke wholesale attacks on liberals.
As a transpartisan, one of a number of things I deeply value about the conservative perspective is their emphasis on personal responsibility. As a clinical and organizational psychologist who specializes in integrity issues, one of the things I know as clearly as my heart beats is that entitlement disorder knows no political boundaries.
This article describes various forms of the “others should clean up my messes” version of entitlement disorder. As you read these examples you will see that this is a human affliction, not one that is limited to any particular political orientation. You will also hopefully see how important it is that we tackle entitlement disorder head on as a society united.
LITTERING IN PUBLIC
My wife Laurie and I love to take walks and hikes in beautiful settings. Almost invariably people have left their mark, leaving it to others to clean up the litter they have chosen to leave behind. The same problem exists outside our house and on sidewalks and roadsides almost everywhere we’ve been in the States.
How have we as a society navigated the line between personal freedom and social responsibility when it comes to litter? Those who exercise their personal freedom by littering run the risk of being fined in order to pay for the cost of cleaning up after them. But, how often do you ever hear about someone being fined for littering here in the States? Here, the notion of a fine is more symbolic than enacted. The consequence is that there is still very little accountability for the choice to litter. Try littering, or even spitting, in countries like Singapore, though, and see what happens to you!
MESSES AT HOME & IN SCHOOL
The delusion that we are entitled to have others clean up after us isn’t limited to public settings in general or littering in specific. What about at home?
How many parents chronically clean up their childrens’ messes at home? When parents repeatedly pick up after their kids, what happens to their kids’ beliefs about being entitled to have others pick up after them?
How many parents blame teachers for their child’s school problems while holding their child innocent of any responsibility in these problems? When students’ grades and promotions are not directly connected with their academic performance, and when students never learn the proper connection between actions and grades/promotions, how does this affect their beliefs about what they are entitled to in the workplace?
How many spouses clean up the messes their partner chronically leaves in the sink or elsewhere? What impact does the resentment this entitlement/rescuing pattern creates have on relationships? In addition, what does this role-model to any children that might be part of the household?
CREATING MESSES FOR OUR FUTURE SELF
Here’s a more subtle version of entitlement. How does the self I am this morning feel toward the self I was last night when that self left a mess of papers, clothing and other unfinished to-dos? The self I am this morning resents the ways my entitled self disrespected me last night by leaving his mess for me to pick up this morning even though I have more important things to do.
Another version of this is when my today-self violates my nutritional and other health needs through neglect or indulgence, leaving it to my tomorrow-self to clean up the mess.
I, for one, don’t tend to inflict my entitlement issues on other people, my work, or society. Mostly my entitlement issues express through yesterday’s past feeling entitled to leave a personal mess for today’s me to pick up after. Truth told, even though I resent yesterday’s me for doing this to today’s me, I still frequently repeat this pattern with tomorrow’s me. How about you?
THE FINANCIAL SECTOR ENTITLEMENT MESS
The economic meltdown we’re trying to recover from in our country and around the planet was directly caused by people with massive entitlement issues. These folks felt justified to make as much profit as possible, or buy homes as far beyond their means as they could get away with, without any regard whatsoever about the cost their entitlement issues would have on the rest of us as taxpayers. Need I say more about this?
HEALTH & ENTITLEMENT
Here is huge entitlement issue that is costing us a huge amount today as a society: health destruction and illness profitability. Yet, few of us recognize how much of a role entitlement disorder has had on health destruction and illness profitability in our “free society:”
⇒ Businesses are entitled to sell products, and use ingredients to manufacture them, that damage the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food (or fake food) we eat. Businesses are entitled to do whatever they can to maximize the profits they make… even destroying health.
⇒ For-profit health insurance companies are entitled to generate the best possible profits for their shareholders by limiting who can get health insurance and the coverage they can receive. In other words, they are entitled to make profits by denying health insurance and denying claims.
⇒ Pharmaceutical companies are entitled to be reimbursed for charging Medicare many times more than the free market costs for drugs they produce. They are also entitled to manipulate the government into over-regulating far less expensive nutritional supplements that may do as good or better a job than certain pharmaceuticals do in treating certain illnesses. In other words, pharmaceutical companies are entitled to maximize their profits by squelching less expensive alternatives and by artificially inflating the prices taxpayers (through Medicare), businesses, and individual workers (via health insurance) pay for medications.
⇒ Citizens have the freedom to damage their health to whatever extent they want and in whatever ways they want. AND they are entitled to expect the government or their health insurance company to pay for the massively expensive illnesses their own choices have created.
FREEDOM + RESPONSIBILITY = FREESPONSIBILITY
Do you see how profoundly our entitlement issues damage ourselves, our loved ones, our business sustainability, and our society’s wellbeing? Do you see how many of the choices we are free to make as individuals and businesses can have a damaging impact on the collectives of which we are a part?
Individual freedom minus social responsibility equals entitlement. Social responsibility minus individual freedom equals tyranny.
Individual freedom plus social responsibility equals… well… something we don’t even have a word for in the English language! When a phenomenon exists but we don’t have a word to name it, most of us don’t notice how important it might be. When we don’t recognize how important a phenomenon is because no word exists for it, it’s hard for us to talk about it. When it’s hard for us to discuss a problem it’s virtually impossible to solve it.
I therefore coined such a word in my book, The New IQ: How Integrity Intelligence Serves You, Your Relationships and Our World. That word is “Freesponsibity:” individual freedom plus social responsibility. In The New IQ I refer to those who exercise in their daily lives freesponsibility instead of entitlement as Everyday Stewards.
What is the necessary companion to freedom in a “free society?” Accountability: the willingness to accept logical consequences for choices we make. Everyday Stewards are those among us who are accountable for the impact our choices have, not only on ourselves but on society.
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN THE LAWS OF CAUSE & EFFECT
One of the most sacred tasks parents have is to teach their children the laws of cause and effect that we need to know in order to flourish as freesponsible adults. One of the most important tasks of a business’s board of directors is to ensure that the laws of cause and effect are harnessed in ways produce sustainable profitability. Like it or not, similarly to how parents are supposed to the stewards of a family, and how boards of directors are supposed to be the stewards of businesses, governments are supposed to be the stewards of societal integrity.
The role of government in a “free society” is to ensure that logical positive and consequences exist for the choices that citizens and businesses are free to make that have direct impact on a society’s wellbeing. In other words, one of governement’s most important roles is accountability. Government’s role is to make sure that neither citizens nor businesses successfully avoid logical consequences for the choices they make that affect society as a whole. And the role of citizens is to make sure that government remains accountable for how it goes about fulfilling its societal responsibilities.
Sustainable governments promote freesponsibility first through education, second through financial or other positive incentives if education by itself isn’t effective, and finally through regulation or punishment if the combination of education and incentives doesn’t work.
THE WILL TO END THE ENTITLEMENT ERA
Far too many of us as individual citizens, business people, the media, educators, elected representatives and government employees, seem to have forgotten the basic principles of cause and effect, accountability, and government’s role in sustaining a “free society.”
We have instead deteriorated into a culture in which various groups fight against each other for their right to the entitlements they want. We’re in an entitlement competition instead of being joined together to replace all forms of entitlement with the magical blend of freedom and accountability. If we truly want to endure, we must outgrow this cultural entitlement disorder that has spread like wildfire during the past forty years. All we need to succeed is the will and a road map.
The New IQ: How Integrity Intelligence Serves You, Your Relationships and Our World, provides a comprehensive personal and societal road map for ending entitlement disorder and getting back on course. As individuals. As businesses. As a society. As an interconnected planet. The reason The New IQ has won five diverse book awards in both personal development and social change categories is because its road map works. Please read it, take it to heart, and pass the word. Together we can turn things around.
PS. Post in your responses to this article examples of “Entitlement Mentality” that you notice around you. Let’s create as complete a list of all of the variations entitlement disorder has so we all know the specifics of what needs to change!