On Entitlement


“People who are given whatever they want soon develop a sense of entitlement and rapidly lose their sense of proportion.”
— Sarah Churchwell

“People who take more than their share usually feel an inflated sense of entitlement.”
— Jeanne Phillips

“Entitlement is the opposite of enchantment.”
— Guy Kawasaki

What am I entitled to? It’s good to start with myself asking the question as a matter of self-reflection. Simplifying this way doesn’t make the issue simplistic. It fact, getting subjective  doesn’t stop at the surface. In most instances, it inspires a way to deepen one’s thought and make the process even “archeological,” so to speak. In this case, we could dub it “self-archeology”. Then I am face to face with myself, figuratively. I find myself in a variety of circumstances which provide the necessary backgrounds to determine the contexts where I could see my entitlements, i.e., the things that I deserve.

Without being exhaustive, let me take the roles first that I have assumed in my reality here and now. On a more personal plane, I am a husband to my wife and a father to my children. I am also a friend to people whom I likewise call friends. Moving a little bit farther from the personal and getting public in a way, I am an employe with certain responsibilities not only to the job that I do but to the outfit that has employed me, i.e., my employer. And since I am working in an academy, I am a teacher to my students and a colleague to my fellow teachers. Stepping farther away and locating myself in the larger context of my country of origin, I am a Filipino in terms of nationality and of course, citizenship, though not presently in the Philippines being a resident of a country thousands of miles away.

I could go on and on and enumerate more and more contexts pertaining to myself but one factor significantly characterizes my so-called presence in these contexts and that is the factor of relationship. Having this in mind brings me to a clearer viewpoint to make sense with the issue of entitlement which is thus relational. Every context defines my entitlement as I relate with the major components within such a context being myself a major component of which. At this point, I get to the realization that this whole issue of entitlement is not exclusively personal and subjective at all but cultural as I am led to the question, “Why am I entitled to x in the context of A?” And then a related question crops up: “Is this entitlement an inherent aspect in such a context or something established by convention as a constant habit through time?” Perhaps, it could be dependent on the context, so that in one context it is inherent while in another, it is conventional.

As a father, socio-cultural convention has set for me certain entitlements I deserve from my children. As an employee, the entitlements I deserve from my employer is based on existing legal and institutional policy provisions. As a citizen of my country, another set of entitlements are supposed to be granted to me on the basis of my constitutional rights. But being relational, the issue of entitlement likewise becomes my responsibility to grant what is entitled to the others with whom I am related. In this connection, entitlement is not a one-way traffic. Convention likewise defines the entitlements that my children deserve from me as legality and institutional policy are the basis of what my employer is entitled to get from me. As a citizen, it is never contested to think that constitutionally, my country is entitled to receive some services or commitments from me.

Conventional, legal, constitutional. But are there instances wherein entitlement is inherent? If an entitlement is inherent then it is deemed necessary. Now, if there is such a necessary entitlement, could it likewise be construed as universal? If it is a universal entitlement, then it must be located in a most fundamental context. And being an aspect of human consciousness, could a universal, necessary and hence inherent entitlement be located right in the essence of that humanity? If such is the case, then we get to the more general terrain of human entitlement. As human beings we are entitled to certain conditions that necessarily make us human. In the absence of such conditions, some aspects of our humanity are lost. At this point of the discussion, the issue of entitlement is spontaneously magnetized and drawn towards the subject of human rights so that the many basic entitlements of a human being naturally connects with these rights. We as humans therefore deserve to be treated as such and this major thought strengthens the relational factor that we have earlier established.

I as a human being am entitled to be respected as such. This is the most fundamental entitlement upon which my other human entitlements rest. I can enumerate the different human rights I am entitled to but all these redound to the foundational respect that is due me as a human being. In recognition of this, I get beyond myself and realize that my humanity requires from me the responsibility to render the same respect fellow humans are likewise entitled to. To name the most basic of these rights considered as inherent, necessary and universal entitlements are life, justice and freedom. Deprivation of these basic rights is tantamount to dehumanization and we have witnessed how in certain societies these rights are being violated in varied ways, means and degrees of inflicted difficulties.

But respect may be taken beyond its reasonable context in relation to entitlement and aporopriated arbitrarily for selfish, even egotistical, objectives. We have witnessed how individuals demand for favors they claim they deserve. In almost all instances, they appeal to conventional practices and legalities to advance such claims. On the one hand, it could initially appear that they have the right for such claims but on the other, a more deeply rational evaluation of the situations would take us to a realization that there is something wrong with the whole system where the entitlement claims are being made. In the final analysis, we are conclusively led to a point where all of these claims are nothing but schemes to achieve opportunistic gains.

A case in point is an academic demanding the university administration for his entitlement to a promotion in rank on the basis of a less defined  and hence hazy policy provision that a professor who has published books is entitled to a promotion in rank with a corresponding salary raise. It is actually the failure of the system that such policy provision has not been properly defined. A closer look at the situation revealed that the academic has really published a lot but these publications are textbooks and workbooks which do not actually reflect his scholarly achievements. In consideration of the latter, he in reality has never published a single scholarly treatise in a respected journal refereed by distinguished luminaries in the particular field where this academic is supposed to be professionally associated. In all  highly esteemed universities, such policy provision contains in it the well-defined statement that rank promotion is a valid issue if and when an academic has already published in well-respected refereed journals honest-to-goodness treatises of scholarly value and not just textbooks and workbooks.

More instances of demanded entitlement may be enumerated and in fact categorized as either necessary or just plain egotistical with no solid reasonable foundation. The former is grounded on the basis of our human reality while the latter in most, if not all, cases is something taken advantaged of because of the faulty dynamics of a flawed system.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 11 September 2014

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