Are We Entitled to Our Entitlements?

This Shirt entitles the wearer to cut to the front of any and all lines.

This Shirt entitles the wearer to cut to the front of any and all lines. by karola riegler photography, on Flickr

There once was a cabinet minister in Canada named David Dingwall. He immortalised himself forever in our history by declaring (when asked why he thought he should get a generous severance package when he had resigned voluntarily as President of the Royal Canadian Mint) that “I am entitled to my entitlements.”

I’ve been musing on the issue of entitlement for a while. My kids go to a private school, so we have our fair share of entitled families. Usually I am merely irritated by their antics – I’ve written and deleted a few rants about inconsiderate parking and stupid stuff like that. None of it really matters.

However, a recent article called When “Life Hacking” is Really White Privilege really gave me pause. I think it takes the whole discussion to a different level, although several of my friends vehemently disagree with this assessment.

If you follow this blog, you’ve seen me mention guys like David Wood, Michael Hyatt, Tim Ferriss or Dean Dwyer. Or for that matter, Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield. All people for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect, and I totally want to be like them when I grow up.

So what do they have in common, aside from being successful, personable, and having a strong desire to help others become as successful as they are? They are all white males.

OK, OK, don’t jump on me. There’s Danielle Laporte, there’s Sheryl Sandberg,there’s Marissa Mayer. There are plenty of reasons not to give in to whining, not to look for excuses. That doesn’t mean structural discrimination isn’t there, making success harder to achieve for women (that list was much shorter than the one above) and for non-white people. It’s amusing that in the past fifty years Jewish people like myself have become white. It wasn’t always that way.

I should also make the point that racism in the United States is very different from its forms in other countries, including Canada. The legacy of slavery is one that still gnaws deeply at the roots of the American polity. Here in Canada, we have our own issues with deep-seated racism against aboriginals (presumably anchored in guilt at what was done to them), as well as the usual adjustment pains involved in moving from a relatively homogeneous society to a diverse one. After my recent post about my joy in finding Muslims in Neepawa, I got to wondering what it is like for them, and for the other Neepawans, to adjust to their presence. At 1% of the current population, it probably isn’t an issue. I wonder what would happen if they got to be 10% and wanted to build a mosque. But I digress.

So what am I trying to say here? I’m not making any accusations. I’m not saying that anyone did not deserve the success for which they undeniably worked hard. I do believe that “luck” and even the famed “secret” may have more to do with underlying societal expectations than we usually think. I do believe that we can train our minds to see opportunities, but we also need to be aware that some are more equal than others.

I believe that my children currently have more opportunities than the children of the hardworking African refugees who clean the floor of their school at the end of the day, not to mention the grandchildren of the residential school survivors who live only a few kilometres from us. My hope is that this gap will decrease over time, but I don’t see any purpose in denying it. I don’t think we are actually entitled to these advantages, but we have them.

I think that this is where generosity comes into play, and why people like the men and women I mentioned above really do deserve the success that they have. While they themselves have undoubtedly benefited from their place in society (and I know not all were born into privilege – but they all have the colour of their skin), their desire to help others extends not only to people like them, but to those who are struggling to overcome other societal barriers on their way to success.

I’m not talking about affirmative action or quotas, but supporting the development of a better self-image, improving self-worth and self-love among all people. It’s about changing the victim mentality that leads to whining and immobilisation. Because as every minority knows, the real oppressor is inside your own head. As the poet Maya Angelou said, when you know better, you do better.

In an age of Oprah and Barack Obama and George Takei, I think we all have much to be hopeful about. We just need to remember that not everyone is on the same playing field, and we are not necessarily entitled to our entitlements. I think that acknowledging that is the first step towards levelling that field.

What do you think?

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