The question of entitlement is much in the public mind today. In principle, an entitlement is a guarantee of access to benefits because of inherent rights or by law. Entitlements are the benefits which a society guarantees to everyone who meets established conditions of need. They are intended to promote social equality and to protect those who would otherwise be vulnerable.
In a more casual sense, however, an entitlement is the expectation that an individual is deserving of some particular reward or benefit, simply because it exists.“A sense of entitlement” describes the prevailing condition of a society where individual wants override concern for the common good, leaping over the demarcation that distinguishes rights from personal privilege.
“I’m entitled” is the cry of the separated personality who nurses a sense of grievance and harbours a suspicion of unfair treatment.“I’m entitled” is also the expectation of the powerful, wealthy members of a society who regard their interests as pre-eminent. Because the nature of the unredeemed personality is to focus on self-interest, entitlements are often disguised through the creation of legal and bureaucratic structures to guard the interests of the powerful. This can create a situation in which entitlements, ideally intended to protect the poorer, more “deserving” members of the society, actually serve the interests of the more powerful and wealthy while, at the same time, casting the poorer and less powerful as lazy and irresponsible for needing special consideration.
The question of who is entitled, and to what, is of critical importance to any society where there is a substantial disparity in income, a phenomenon which has developed in many societies in recent decades. So long as there is freedom to pursue opportunity, together with the assurance that entitlements will be fairly administered, a certain margin of disparity can be tolerated. However, the growing sense of inequity in the distribution of wealth which has been brought into the limelight by the worldwide economic crisis is fuelling the fires of distrust in “the system”.
Austerity measures imposed by governments have brought an abrupt end to the “good times” and many are finding it difficult to accept that they are not necessarily entitled to the comforts and pleasures they are accustomed to and have considered so necessary for everyday living. The fact that the rich are still getting richer heightens this discomfort and distrust in a “me first” culture and we can see a direct connection between a sense of entitlement and a lack of concern for the larger community.
And yet, it is only through the welfare of the whole community that anyone can receive their basic entitlements – the entitlement to peace, health and security. Research has proved that societies in which there is a significant imbalance in income distribution are actually less well balanced, less stable, and more prone to health and social problems than societies with less margin of difference between the wealthier and poorer segments of the population. Research has also proved that, above a certain level, more wealth does not create greater happiness, health or longevity. The Equality Trust reports that social mobility is also lower and geographical segregation greater in more unequal societies. Societies with smaller income differences between the rich and poor are more cohesive: community life is stronger, levels of trust are higher, and there is less violence.
Addressing the urgent needs of the most vulnerable members of a society is an expression of compassion. But it is also the case that the evolutionary journey of the soul is one of inherited karma from a long-forgotten past. In this sense, personal responsibility for one’s circumstances is unavoidable. Each soul has to address his or her own karma, but in a caring, compassionate society, governments can help by providing entitlements as stepping stones on the way.
Seeing entitlements in this way is more constructive than taking the attitude that “the world owes me something”; that if something bad happens to me, others should make it better. Perhaps this attitude stems from confusing entitlements with human rights, which are "the freedoms to which all humans are entitled”. The evolution of the soul requires these freedoms in order to develop a progressive awareness of the interrelationships which sustain the web of life on our planet. Every human being lives within this network, helps to sustain it, and is sustained by it; and the four freedoms articulated by the late U.S. President Roosevelt describe the essential foundation required for every human being to fully participate in this web of life:
Freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
Freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
Freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour—anywhere in the world.
These freedoms are the prerequisites for a more secure world and every man, woman and child in the world is entitled to them. Specifically the third freedom, “freedom from want”, secured by economic sharing, is that which can eventually lead to a reduction in the importance of entitlements in the social and economic fabric of society, leading to greater participation in the national and international life of the Human Race.