The Sense of Entitlement

In this country there are plenty of people who live out their lives burdened with the feeling that the government or the church or Daddy or somebody owes them a living. Of this number some successfully negotiate the mean streets by becoming dependent on whoever has the sugar. Some are thieves.

Some are beggars. Some are fine, upstanding citizens. If you have the sugar they will take it, beg for it or help you decide for yourself that you want to give them some of it. Indeed, we all feel entitled. The difference among us is the methods we employ to get what we feel is owed to us. If you are a truck driver or a working man of any profession, you feel entitled to what you earn. My guess is that many of us believe we are worth more than our paychecks, however. If you are making 38 cents a mile, you may believe you are worth 40.

On the other hand, maybe you are satisfied with your paycheck. It pays the bills and keeps the family warm and well fed. You eat what you want on the road, and every year you get a new pair of boots. Maybe the world is not your oyster, but you are at least swimming in the same general area where all the oysters are located. Still, you are entitled to the stuff you already have and the chance to improve yourself. In America, these are the ideas called inalienable rights. Your birthright as a citizen is right there in The Bill of Rights.

You have the right to bear arms. In some states you can walk right down main street with a gun on your hip as long as you have the right paperwork. You have the right to practice the religion of your choice. Even the basic rights the government says we are entitled to are limited somehow. All rights are limited, or they would be meaningless.

But what are we entitled to as human beings? Forget your country of birth; forget the Bill of Rights. Forget all the things you believe are yours because you earn them. To what are you really entitled? Is there some agency somewhere, maybe at the United Nations, who says what you are entitled to just because you happened to be born? There is a human rights commission somewhere, but they are generally concerned with people who get tortured or dispossessed or killed because someone thinks they are the wrong color or the wrong religion, or they are too tall or too short.

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Despite a lot of rules meant to protect people, there is really only one answer to the question of entitlement. You are entitled to absolutely nothing. The right to bear arms, practice your religion and earn a paycheck can all be lost in a New York minute. Somebody somewhere can change the rules, and all of a sudden you go from being a fine, upstanding citizen, 100,000-mile-a-year professional driver, to a guy who can think about stealing to feed his family or begging to keep himself alive. You can have a string of bad luck and find yourself out on the street. You can lose everything you ever owned. You can lose hope of getting it back.

You can lose yourself because it takes every living breath just to stay alive, and there is no room in your personal struggle for survival to think about who you are or what makes your miserable life meaningful. You probably won’t, but it’s possible.

In America, it is far less possible than in most places in our world. There are rules to preserve our rights. There are rules to preserve certain entitlements. But we all live in a world where rules are necessary because a world without them is a world in chaos.

That world is just beneath the surface. There are no entitlements when the rules do not apply or your luck runs out or you decide to live outside the accepted norms. If you are a truck driver, you may feel entitled to what you earn and more. You may feel entitled to a high rise and a 600 Cat. You may feel entitled to paid lumpers and common courtesy from the guy who runs the food warehouse. You may even feel entitled to sleep when you need it. Indeed, there are rules and regulations, or at least a commonly held system of beliefs, to help you get all these things, except the high rise with the Cat. That doesn’t mean you will always get them.

If a man can’t put up with a little less than he feels entitled to, he may develop a certain bitterness. He may take to believing he’s entitled to lie a little, cheat a little, share a little less and demand a little more. Or he may just feel a little put upon all the time, as if his fair share is just too elusive. A lot of people feel like that.

Some of them are truck drivers. Unlike many professionals, truck drivers spend most of their work lives alone. A lone truck driver can get to feeling sorry for himself. Anybody can, really. And maybe you have the right to feel sorry for yourself. It doesn’t say so in the Bill of Rights. It doesn’t say so anywhere. But anybody can feel sorry for himself. He can have a little sympathy for his own human condition. But if he lets that little bit of self-pity turn him into a thief or a beggar or just a mean spirited, bone-tired hound dog, then he has turned this basic human entitlement into a mockery.

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