The One With Entitlement

Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood at the front of the crowded church. Every pew was filled and people were still trickling in. Some were there out of sheer curiosity. What was a “Women’s Rights Convention” anyway? But most were there because they felt it was time for women to gain equal footing with men, and they were waiting to hear what Stanton, one of the convention’s organizers, had to say.

She started by explaining that women were not trying to become men (a oft-expressed fear by men). They liked being women, but they wanted a voice. And in order to be heard above the cacophony of  those who would rather not listen, they needed the vote. She lamented that all (white) men, regardless of whether they were ignorant of the issues of the day or thugs or liars, could vote while upstanding women were denied access to the polls. Her voice carried like a preacher’s across the stunned attendees, many of whom thought this was too much, too soon. This was 1848. Women in the US couldn’t even own property or keep their own salary. To ask for the vote? No one would take them seriously.

Then, Stanton said something that I love. It was so simple yet packed the punch that was needed. “The right is ours…Have it, we must. Use it, we will.” The right is ours. Those four words encapsulated everything because in those four words she was saying that this already belonged to women. And women were entitled to it.

Entitlement has become a bad word in recent years. We use it as a way to describe people who expect special treatment or demand advantages without “earning” them. Entitlement has been blamed on
entitledeverything from creating passive children to mass shootings. There is something (a lot of somethings, actually) to be said for this. It’s pervasive and it can be a problem. But entitlement isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

There is certainly a difference between being entitled to equality and being entitled to the latest iPhone.  I think the murkiness lay between believing we have a right to be here (sanctioned) and believing we are owed something because we are here (narcissism).  It’s a subtle distinction.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, she says that creativity requires a certain amount of entitlement. Without it, you won’t be able to push out of your safe zone and create something new and meaningful. “I believe this is the good kind of arrogance—this simple entitlement to exist and therefore express yourself…”

I say we take back the word entitlement and use it for good. Entitlement is what rights wrongs. It is the parting shot between creativity and change. At its most basic, entitlement challenges stasis. Without entitlement, could Elizabeth Cady Stanton have demanded so audaciously to be given what she should never have had to fight for? Without entitlement, would there have been a Martin Luther King, Jr? Harvey Milk? Students in Tienanmen Square? An Arab Spring?

We can and should feel entitled to personal freedom, to equality, to have our basic needs met. That kind of entitlement fosters empathy and compassion. That’s the kind of entitlement I can get behind.

What do you think? Is there room for a “good” kind of entitlement?

Have a great weekend, everyone. 

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13 comments

  1. Bravo, Jackie. Yes, entitlement is a basic human right and fundamental for any creative act. Without it, we can end up being victims (sometimes tragically so) who wait to be rescued instead of recognizing that the power to act is within our own hands.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think there can be room for a good kind of entitlement. I cannot wait to read Gilbert’s book. I’ve been listening to the podcast, which I’ve liked (but not always loved). The most recent with Brene Brown was very good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Until recently, I thought of entitlement as the “bad” kind. The kind where people feel they are owed something. But in the original sense of the word, I think entitlement can also be an avenue to produce great change.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I heard Gilbert’s podcasts and excited to see her in person this month:) but I did cringe a little bit when I heard her use the word entitlement … I usually associate that with arrogant people who feel they are owed something just because … so I felt weird about that statement when I heard her say that. But in tweaking it a bit and adding the “good kind” in front of it … Well … Yeah I guess there are certain situations where that would be a necessary state of mind … like Mother’s Day … Definitely entitled to a day off 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just saw Elizabeth Gilbert last week at the launch of Big Magic. She was terrific as usual — funny and bold. I can’t wait to hear about your event with her. I hope it’s great!

      You are definitely entitled to a day off…and some chocolate. 🙂

      Like

  4. Yes, exactly! Well said. I was criticized for using the word “entitlement,” even though I meant it in it’s ordinary common-sense meaning: something to which a person is entitled. Just because some may claim entitlement to things to which they in fact aren’t entitled, or because folks may argue over what humans are entitled to and what they aren’t, doesn’t mean we should all surrender a perfectly sensible word (and one with a noble heritage, as you show). Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The word “entitlement” has come to have negative connotations in its recent usage. I like how you turned that on its head in this post.

    I just picked up Big Magic this week after watching Gilbert’s interview with Marie Forleo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I finished reading Big Magic. I think my favorite parts were the anecdotal stories she incorporated to illustrate her larger points. I’ll be interested to know your thoughts when you’ve read it.

      Like

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