Anger in the Age of Entitlement

Entitlement and anger go together.

Posted Feb 15, 2019

Entitlement is the belief that you have the right to do or get something. In social interactions, it's considering your right to do or get something to be superior to the rights of those who may want you to do or get something else. When people feel entitled, they are not merely disappointed when others fail to accommodate their presumed rights, they feel cheated and wronged. They get angry, exude hostility, and assume a stronger sense of entitlement as compensation. Of course, once we're older than five and not cute anymore, the world is not likely to meet our entitlement needs. So it gets to be a downward spiral—the more they don't get what they're sure they deserve, the more justified they feel in demanding compensation. The person who cuts in front of you in line is often saying: 

"With the way I've been treated, I shouldn't have to wait in line, too!"

Not surprisingly, criminals, domestic violence offenders, aggressive drivers, and abusers of all kinds have been observed to have exaggerated entitlement.

Exaggerated entitlement is not merely the domain of those who run afoul of the law. Caught up in the talk-show, self-help, personal-growth mania that dominates popular culture, many feel entitled not just to the pursuit of happiness, not even just to happiness, but to feeling good most of the time. This level of entitlement, this “cult of feeling good,” is partly responsible for the sharp increase in anger and stress. When the entitled don't feel good, which is much of the time, they feel victimized.

The Lost Virtue of Humility

The entitlement culture has all but equated the virtue of humility with the symptom of low self-esteem. Afflicted with the latter, a person doesn’t feel as good as others. Enriched by the former, we recognize that, apart from superficial talents and skills, we’re no better than others, and we focus more on our basic humanity than entitlements. No anger management approach can be effective for people who feel their rights are superior to those of others.  

Entitlement and Responsibility

A catastrophic effect of the Age of Entitlement is the separation of rights from responsibility. No free society can remain stable without respecting that rights and responsibility are inseparable. We’re not entitled to compassion, for instance, without acting on the responsibility to give it. An exaggerated sense of entitlement makes us convey to others, "I don't care about how you feel,” but you absolutely must care about how I feel," a formula for disaster in politics and relationships.

Our greatest responsibility is to be true to our deepest values, which, for most people, include compassion and basic humanity. Viable entitlement—that which does not require at least low-grade anger and resentment to enforce—must rise from our basic humanity.