We can fault the entitlement culture of the past many years for many social ills. But perhaps its impact on character development is the most disconcerting. Of course, you can’t separate our social problems from the character crisis. As I assert in my book about it, Character Disturbance is itself the underlying reason for many of our troubles.
When I speak of an entitlement culture, I’m not saying there aren’t things rightfully owed. We need not hesitate to claim what our time, sweat equity, or money paid for. But we’re never entitled to something simply because it’s available and we desire it. And for years, in an age of relative plenty, our appetites have raged out of control. We see things we like and we want, want, and want – in many areas of life. And sadly, some feel entitled to simply take without really earning.
Attitudes of entitlement so rampant our culture have significantly affected all our relationships. And they’ve catastrophically damaged our most intimate relationships. So it’s worth exploring this issue more deeply.
Intimate Relationships in an Entitlement Culture
In an entitlement culture, if we see something we like, we can too easily feel we automatically deserve it. Entitled folks don’t have a sense of obligation to earn. They focus only on what they find desirable and what think they have to do to secure it. In the relationship arena, such attitudes are always devastating. A typical scenario goes thusly: One person encounters another. For one reason or another, they like what they see. Maybe it’s the person’s looks. Maybe it’s another quality. But whatever the attraction, they want to possess it. So, they vigorously persue it. Sometimes they think so much of themselves they feel they deserve to. Sometimes they over-estimate their personal power and turn a blind eye to warning signs. All that seems to matter is that there’s something they like and want, so they do whatever they think they have to do to have it.
Now, wooing behavior certainly isn’t unusual or particularly evil in itself. But an intimate relationship that grows two people in love and endures has to be founded on much more than mere desire. And too many folks these days establish relationships without sufficient reverance for all the other principles that make all the difference between a relationship that feels great for a time and a relationship that lasts and yields abundant fruit. In short, too many folks come to relationships underdeveloped in character. And we’re all paying the price.
In times past, the value of an enduring intimate partnership held more universal appreciation. Accordingly, intimate relationship candidates could expect careful, thorough vetting. (Including vetting from family, extended family, and friends!) And folks being pursued didn’t commit themselves easily, either. They didn’t give their hearts away recklessly. And they especially didn’t go into serious interpersonal enterprises like marriage thinking they could simply exit if things didn’t go well or smoothly.
It’s frightening to think of all the reasons people have given me for getting together. And it’s even more frightening to think of all the things they’ve admitted saying and doing during the inevitable rough spots of their relationship. But it was never a surprise how the relationship failed or why it produced heartache. Narcissism, you see, has many shades and levels of expression. And sadly, it’s often the culprit in the downfall of a relationship.
You don’t have to be a Narcissistic Personality Disordered person to bring narcissism into a relationship. Narcissism can be quite subtle, even “charming.” (See, for example: Narcissistic Charm Can Easily Blindside.) But whenever wishful thinking, vanity, grandiose expectation, or an inflated sense of personal worth or power enters a relationship (these things always lurk in the background with narcissism) big problems are sure to follow.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll have a lot more to say about relationships and why they so often fail these days. I’ll be tying the problem not only to our entitlement culture but also to the failure of so many to embrace the “10 Commandments of Character” I’ve been talking about on the “New Character Matters” podcasts. Follow this link to the latest installment in the current series.