The consequences of unbridled entitlement
Last updated 3/22/2022 at Noon
It was September 1939. My maternal grandmother was 15 when the wails of air raid sirens broadcasted throughout her home city of Warsaw, Poland. The Nazi invasion had begun. Targeted as “intellectuals” by the Nazis, my great grandparents were killed in short order. My grandmother, spared for her youth, was shipped to a forced labor camp, where she later escaped, joined the underground resistance, was apprehended again and imprisoned in Germany, where she remained until the end of the war.
Intergenerational trauma has been scientifically traced back to the womb. In-utero exposure to maternal hardship, fear, and trauma can have long-lasting impacts on how a person processes and perceives stress. We may even be primed to respond to certain triggers never directly experienced, but through a sort of pre-programmed warning system passed down from our ancestors. When the first round of bombs fell on Ukraine February 24, and the sirens wailed once again, I felt like I was standing in the shoes of my grandmother. It felt personal. I couldn’t stop thinking about her — and now the people of Ukraine. The terror. The shock.
They say history repeats itself, but maybe I hope that with the passage of time and human advancement, our morality might also advance...
We are living in a world where vicarious and secondary trauma can be experienced en masse.
Once upon a time, delayed wartime reports were delivered on horseback.
Now real-time footage is available one click away.
We can bear witness to devastation 24/7.
We have a proximity to trauma that can be both intoxicating and exhausting all at the same time.
Hard to look and hard to look away.
Layered with all other calamities of recent times, I find myself sitting with the paradox of how to reconcile deep concern and deep longings to help, alongside deep cravings for escapism.
I find myself clicking through the tabs on my laptop — CNN, anxiously reading up on the Russian offensive; then to taxes; then respond to a handful of emails; then some window shopping on Zillow; then on to the best beaches in Mexico; back to an anxious bout on the news … and reluctantly, back to taxes.
A lingering sort of survivor’s guilt is often in the background.
Who am I to deserve such ease?
Meaningful action seems distant from my small town. It is hard not to get lost in existential dread, but then I reflect on my sincere belief that global transformation starts at the dinner table. Small gestures can have big consequences.
While there is much to be concerned about in our world, what haunts me most at the end of the day is the prevalence of unbridled entitlement. Unbridled entitlement is often matched with a deep sense of victimhood. When mixed with power, greed, and resources, the combination of entitlement and victimhood can become, well, very ugly.
We can all theorize the reasons behind Putin’s heartless wrath as he disregards global condemnation, but what is clear is that he demonstrates a profound sense of victimhood, of being historically wronged, of feeling entitled to reclaim the myth of his territory regardless of the cost. Putin has equated the global projection of his victimhood with power. And unfortunately, he has one of the world’s largest militaries and nuclear arsenals to fuel his tantrum.
Unbridled entitlement that often blinds a person from self-responsibility is not just a Putin problem, it is a societal problem.
We see entitlement projected through violence, manipulation, deceit, greed, abuse, and environmental destruction.
Our society makes it easy to feel persistently aggrieved.
In our quick-fix, dopamine-driven society we have labeled negative feeling states as bad or even unwarranted — feelings to distract away, numb away, or escape from.
We can raise a big fuss around temporary discomfort or rally troops when life doesn’t quite go our way.
Preserving our ego can override concern for consequences.
We become territorial and assume that folks should see the world through our eyes.
We become rigid, angry, and more prone to division.
And now back to the dinner table and to our local communities. What we are exemplifying for future generations has global consequences. Putin’s road to rage was not predestined, but cultivated through a series of perceived grievances, of losses, of insecurity, failures, and a culture that did little to demand self-reflection and accountability. When we can exemplify and teach self-responsibility and compassion (the antidotes to entitlement), we do the world a favor, and we fight the foundational ills that plague Ukraine and so many places in our world.
How are we teaching our youth (and ourselves) to manage negative feeling states? How are we teaching resilience in the face of discomfort? What about sustaining kindness in the face of adversity? Are we able to discern between needs and wants? How are we teaching gratitude and perspective? Can we be brave enough to demand accountability?
The world does not owe us much at all in the end. This may sound cold but can also be liberating. To have our emotional well-being tied to the whims of others, or external circumstances, takes away from our internal sense of grounding. It tethers our stability to a volatile world. It is when we can take radical responsibility that we can better identify our own internal compass, afford more grace to others, and positively redirect the remnants of intergenerational trauma in our own lives.
As big and scary as problems may seem, please remember the ripple effects that can emanate from within the walls of our own home, one dinner conversation at a time.