A Sense of Entitlement

I had a stimulating chat with a man who spends half of each year doing humanitarian work in Africa, and the other half back here in Ireland. Having told me about Africa, what motivates him, how much he loves the people there, and what he is involved in, I asked him about the contrasts between his life in Africa and back home in Ireland.
“They must be two very different realities”, I said.
“Yes”, he replied. “The people I work with and for in Africa have little compared to us, but they appear to be more content, they are happier. Here in Ireland we constantly complain, we are full of grievances, we never seem to be satisfied…….” He trailed off.
“We are filled with a sense of entitlement” I said.
“That is exactly it”, he responded. “And many of us don’t want to pay for any of it. We believe we should be given everything. The media feed into this. Less and less effort is put into making programmes. Instead hours are filled with people phoning in, detailing their complaints and how badly they are being treated. Presenters love this, and draw them out with sentences like ‘And is nobody (the government, school, church, whoever) doing anything to help you?’ It is always a relief to get a break from this constant whining and leave the country for a while.”

I had met a fellow traveller, a man who agreed with my view of the way this country has developed. In the last couple of years I have found that I needed to carefully ration my exposure to social and political discussion on the media, for the good of my mental and emotional health. It is so easy to fall in to this overarching sense of grievance, and develop a long list of people and institutions that are to blame. But it certainly does not contribute to a happy or contented life.

As I write this we are hearing of thousands marching in Dublin yet again, saying they will not pay water charges. And Fianna Fáil have climbed on the populist bandwagon and joined with the protest groups in calling for their abolition. It is very disappointing. Anybody who is in any way tuned in to climate change, and the urgent need to carefully husband the scarce resources of this planet, must see the sense in minding and preserving clean water. For our children’s generation water will certainly be one of the most scare resources of all; some even suggest that the next world war will be fought over water. In that context the campaigns we have seen over water charges in this country seem so trivial and out of touch. (Not to mention the fact that the increases in car insurance are far greater than any suggested charge for water, and nobody is marching about that.)

I wonder what is the origin of this pervasive sense of entitlement in this country. Has it to do with our centuries of control by a foreign power? Or is it something that developed during the Celtic Tiger years? I certainly don’t remember it as a feature of my youth, even though we only had a fraction of the money and possessions that almost everyone in this country have now.
Whatever its origin, it is a terribly destructive mentality, both for the individual and for the state.