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The United States of... Entitlement?

It's that time of year again. 4 July. Our nation's 245th birthday is on Sunday. And after last year, the celebrations going on around the country seem inevitable. Cookouts, trips to the pool or beach, parades, and fireworks that were sorely missed are coming back with a vengeance. We remember our forefathers dissenting to be independent from the tyranny of England's rule with a simple yet powerful document declaring that all men are created equal, and they are endowed with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It's definitely a great time to celebrate, right? But there's just one problem. I'm not sure if I'm in the mood for or have the heart to celebrate our nation's independence this year. I was scrolling through Twitter a couple weeks ago and I came across a thread from one of my favorite Broadway actresses, Patti Murin. She was feeling anxious that day, and it was fueled by frustration and anger. It turns out that while she was expressing gratitude every chance she got, whether that was being able to stand in a long line at the grocery store with enough funds available to buy things to eat, or even taking the gratitude a step further with being alive and privileged enough to need groceries in the first place. The biggest reason for her anxiety? She's concerned for all of us who survived the past 16 months will go back to the way things were pre-pandemic so fast that we forget all that we've experienced and went through, and come out of this more entitled than ever. And her thread made a lot of sense to me and her numerous fans who read it and understood her feelings. And it got me thinking. How did we as a nation become so entitled within the past 245 years? Or even longer than that? I hate to say it, but it may have begun the moment our forefathers drafted, debated, and signed the Declaration of Independence, even if they did dissent. I'm not sure if this was on purpose or by accident, but when this famous document came to be, it was only seen through their eyes. In other words, the only people that were worthy of, or even entitled, that independence was white men. No women, no blacks, no indigenous peoples, no gays, no lesbians, no transgenders... you get the idea. And somehow, the notion that only white people, preferably middle aged white men, were entitled of the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was passed on to the next generation. And the next. And the next. And the next... you get the idea... again. And here we are in 2021, 245 years since our nation declared its independence from England, where entitlement still runs rampant in communities across our beloved country. That alone should give you a good reason to not celebrate 4 July this year. But maybe after what we've witnessed in the past year, we can move from an ENTITLED nation to a more GRATEFUL nation. I've got a few ideas of how we can achieve this.

The word does not feel good to say, read, or feel. Entitled. ENTITLEMENT. What does the word exactly mean? Well, the dictionary defines it this way: "The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment." In other words, an individual only thinks about themselves aka "me, me, me," "gimme, gimme, gimme," and "get, get, get." Throughout history, we've seen entitlement run rampant in the most outrageous, cruel, and heartbreaking ways. Let me give you a few examples. The seizure and eradication of Native American tribes since the 1600s. Native American boarding schools. The Wilmington Massacre. The Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921. The anti-suffrage movement. "Separate but equal." The Tuskeegee syphilis experiment. The lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi. The bombing of the 16th St. Church in Birmingham, Alabama on 15 September 1963. Protests against the integration of schools throughout the U.S. after Brown v. Board in 1954, especially in the South. Protests against Ruby Bridges attending the all-white William Frantz Elementary School for the 1960-61 school year. Protests during the Civil Rights movement that were against equal rights for blacks. Cross burnings on front lawns by the Klu Klux Klan. Gays and lesbians ostracized and blamed for the AIDS epidemic. Hate crimes against the black, Asian American, Jewish, Muslims, and more persons of color. Blacks being jailed and incarcerated far more than any ethnicity. Police brutality against the black communities. Transgenders being banned from school sports programs or not being called by their proper pronouns (and this also includes non binary individuals). Anti-lockdown protests during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the list goes on and on, with much of it happening centuries before and during our US history. It's more than likely to continue on for the future generations. Do you what's sad about this entitlement we are seeing more and more each day? It could've been easily avoided with the right lessons from U.S. history taught in schools that were meant to enlighten and make us aware of how backwards things used to be. And not just the major milestones and events, but each and every single event that shaped our nation. It could've been easily avoided by accepting that change is the only constant, and the only way to grow and thrive as a nation is to be open to embracing transformation and having an open mind instead of blocking ideas and opportunities through stagnation and resistance. It could've been easily avoided with each generation taking the time to teach their children and children's children that a certain way of thinking, attitude, or value was and is wrong, and showing them that it's okay to be open to the different colors of our nation instead of being afraid or even hating them. But the one way entitlement could've been easily avoided the most? Our forefathers seeing that black, indigenous, women, and more were all PEOPLE, and they were and are deserving the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And not be seen as a threat, lesser than, or even an object. Sadly, that's easier said than done. And it all has to do with how entitlement works. The idea of entitlement is that "it's all about ME, not the other person." Do I detect SELFISHNESS in that phrase? I also detect a sense of power, hatred, closed mindedness, ignorance, fear, jealously, prejudice, anger, and even some stupidity in there, too. It seems to me the seeds of entitlement bring forth selfishness, and from there, other not-so-likable values and qualities branch off from that main tree. And those seeds were passed down from 12 times great grandparent to 11 times great grandparent, and from 11 times great grandparent to 10 times great grandparent, and all the way down from parent to child. It's almost like a cycle, where the notion of entitlement makes up a person's entire life and framework. In my humble opinion, this cycle has gone on for far too long, and it's time to break it once and for all. It's not going to be easy, but it's practically essential if we are to move from being an entitled nation to a grateful one. The question of the day: how do we go about doing this? Well, I've got some ideas and suggestions on what to do. You just have to promise me that you'll be open minded about what I have to say. In fact, being open minded and acknowledging past faults, lessons, ideas, and what was passed down to you through the years is the first step. Jimmy Kimmel used one of his shows last year to talk about white privilege, and it's not an easy thing to discuss in these times. He read something that makes a lot of sense for all of my white friends and readers to think about: "White privilege doesn't mean your life hasn't been hard. It just means the color of your skin isn't one of the things that makes it harder." No matter what the color of our skin is, each of us has had a rough life. Unfortunately, for the black, indigenous, and persons of color communities, color was one of the main reasons why their lives were that much harder than others. Think about it: If you didn't have to work twice as hard to be seen in the room for a job, audition, mortgage, going to college, or anything along those lines due to color, you've more than likely had white privilege. I get it. "Privilege" is not exactly a nice sounding word, either. None of us should be privileged to have or do anything, no matter who we are. You have to earn it through hard work, determination, persistence, and compassion. But the idea that the vast majority of our population is able to get the things that only the "privileged" individuals is incredibly disheartening. Shouldn't individuals be allowed to have things and opportunities like a career, a good education, a roof over their heads, good food to eat, affordable healthcare, and so much more despite the color of their skin? While we can't change things overnight, the best way to get the ball rolling away from entitlement and towards gratitude is for all of us, especially white individuals, to be informed, understand, empathize, and be willing to change the other person's struggles due to their color. The simplest way to do this is to take the time to get to know someone of a different skin color than within your circle of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Here's a quote to help you understand this further: "In order to empathize with someone's experience, you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be." Listen to their stories from beginning to end - this includes where and how they grew up, their struggles in education, finding a job, getting healthcare, and more, allowing them to vent and rage about their lives and the complications of having a certain skin color, and just hearing them speak without interruptions. And this is especially important, you have to see it through THEIR eyes, not yours. Sometimes being a good person by simply listening to others can make just as much of an impact on another's life, and it may lead to action afterwards. After you've taken the time to listen to others who have a different skin color from yours, you might be compelled to apologize or even say "I didn't know." And that's okay. For most of us, we're not looking for sympathy. I think we've experienced that too much. But what do we really want after we've shared our stories? ACTION. CONCRETE ACTION. What does it look like, you ask? Well, it may be simple as deciding not to assume the worst about black, indigenous, and persons of color. Or it could be not saying anything that is inadvertently racist. Things like "It's not my job to fix racism because I'm not racist," or "I don't see color," or "I don't have white privilege," or even "I'm not sure when I should start talking to my kids about racism." Saying things like that exposes white privilege full force. And I know many of you mean well when you say things like that, but if these phrases are said repeatedly, it's shielding yourself, your children, and your grandchildren from the realities of racism. And that was born of your own white privilege passed down from generation to generation. And that's where the cycle needs to be broken. Believe me, having these conversations is no easy feat, but it's just as important now than ever before if we are to move from being entitled to more gracious and tolerant of different skin colors, religions, ethnicities, and sexualities. In fact, it's having the difficult conversations with those you care about that may just make your relationships stronger and last for years to come. If those individuals aren't willing to listen to these difficult conversations or even go as far respecting others, then maybe it's time to have a long talk with yourself and decide who is worth staying in your life. As writer R.M. Drake says, "You don't push the people who care about you out of your life. You push the ones that don't fight for you. Remember that." Some people are so set in their ways and are narrow-minded to the core it would take a miracle for them to see that being entitled is wrong and unhealthy for them. It could be a tragedy that would hit too close to home for them. It could be a post on social media that would have dire consequences for their careers and their lives & those nearest to their hearts. It could be any of those things. But here's something to remember: We can't force them to change their minds. I repeat, you absolutely cannot force people to change their minds. They have to be the ones to do that on their own. If you try to do this, it will only cause more friction and wedge a deeper divide between you and others you care about. What's the best way to go about this? Ask them politely if you could say something that's been on your mind and heart for a while, and also request that they don't interrupt you at any point of the conversation. If they choose to acknowledge, or even apologize for what you've experienced, that's a sign of growth and transformation. But if they aren't willing to listen or accept what you've said to them, and even go as far as saying "you're wrong" or "you don't care about me," perhaps it's time to distance yourself from these individuals, even to the point of letting them go permanently. And that's one of the hardest things to do, I know that all too well. But believe me when I say this: when you surround yourself with people who not only support you but also respect your views, are willing to learn and be informed, and even be there for you when you open yourself up during those hard conversations, it will make your life that much richer. One more thing to think about, as R.M. Drake puts it in another thoughtful quote: "It's sad. Because some people do eventually change. Some people do finally realize the worth of others. But when they finally do, it is usually too late. Too late to hold. Too late to love. Too late to fix things. To make things work. It's sad. It truly is. Because this is the case for many of us. For almost everyone you wish you hadn't lost." We all are capable of changing, but for so many people who are narrow-minded and set in their ways to the point of not being moved, it will be too late for them to reclaim what they've lost. Especially the people they love. It may take losing the things that mean the most to them in order to see that their way of thinking and life was wrong. We've all been there, and I think we all remember what it's like. It hurts. It shouldn't have to be this way in order for all of us to feel pain in undergoing a transformation that comes too late. My advice? Take the time to be informed, listen to others, admit your shortcomings and lack of understanding on what you grew up with & heard about from school, and acknowledge that you need to undergo valuable changes in order to be the person that lifts the black, indigenous, and persons of color communities up. Don't put it off until the right time. There is no "right time." The time is now. Having an open mind and heart is vital to move away from entitlement and towards gratitude. It allows us to actually put the needs of others before our own, and it may inspire us to be compassionate and understanding of each individual who walks on this planet. When we take the time to get to know, understand, and appreciate the uniqueness of each person, our whole lives change for the better. And it shouldn't take much to be grateful for how truly special we are by doing so many good things for others by simply listening & opening our hearts to them. Think of all of the things you can do when you are kind and gracious to others. Our mental and emotional health improves drastically. Our hearts feel less burdened by the negativity we see in the news or on social media via trolls. And it can create a ripple effect that can affect friends and strangers on any day they need it the most. A small act of doing good for a single person or a group of people can do wonders. In a way, it teaches us that we shouldn't be thinking of ourselves all the time, 24/7. It is okay to help others, and not just for publicity or for puffing up our own pride. Simply doing acts of charity out of the goodness of your own heart without any acknowledgment and rewards is quite possibly the greatest gift of gratitude we can all use right now. Think of it - if we simply take the time to be a friend or just a good person, it will make a difference in their lives as well as ours. It doesn't take much to be less entitled and more gracious to others. Seriously, it doesn't. After what we've been through this past year, we shouldn't even think of going back to our old ways of being entitled and demanding things go our way or we throw a temper tantrum. It's a damn shame that it's continuing after the past 16 months of a global pandemic. Maybe it's time to look back at the dictionary for what GRATITUDE means. The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. We have so many things to be grateful for after the past 16 months, and they can be both big and small. Things like our health. Things like our relationships, and the evolving nature of them for good and transformative ways. Things like the roofs over our heads. Things like having food on the table, even if it's on a week by week or day by day basis. Things like water to drink. Things like books to read, whether that's hardcover, paperback, e-readers, or audiobooks. Things like music to listen to. Things like movies and TV shows to watch. Things like connecting with our friends and relatives via Zoom or Google Meets. Things like the opportunity to work from home. Things like stable internet connections. Things like cooking new meals or trying new things. Things like our health, even if we're not 100% perfect. Things like flowers, trees, and grass. Things like fresh air. Things like long walks. Things like being lazy on certain days. Things like junk food to eat along with healthy food. Things like the clothes we wear. Things like Uber Eats and Uber. Things like Grubhub. Things like quiet moments. Things like our medication for whatever we need to heal or feel better, even if it's for a little while. Things like the performing arts. Things like our mobile phones. Things like online classes and education. Things like spending more time with our loved ones. Things like warm showers or bubble baths. Things like a good night's sleep. Things like our creativity. Things like taking the time to listen to one another without judgment. Things like clearing out what doesn't bring us joy anymore, whether that's clothes or relationships. Things like a good cup of tea or coffee. Things like online ordering and in store pickup. Things like going to the movie theatre. Things like our respective faiths and beliefs within our religions. Things like chargers for our electronics. Things like trying new things or simply trying. Things like kindness. Things like sincerity. Things like courage. Things like humility. Things like compassion. Things like innovation. Things like guidance. Things like hope. Things like love. And so much more. It's so easy to be caught up in what we don't have that we so desire from others, and that causes us to forget the things that we do have. After the past 16 months, we shouldn't be taking the things, moments, and people who got us through this difficult time for granted ever again. And yet, that's exactly what's happening. The question that's buzzing in my mind when I see this can be best summed up in one word: WHY?????????? It really doesn't take much to see how what you have in front of you has helped you in tremendous ways, no matter how insignificant it might be. There are people out there who have it worse than you do, and we may even have gone through these instances where we didn't have much of anything but still remembered to have gratitude for the qualities and relationships that help us get through the darkest of times. And in that sense, it helped us realize that it was never about ourselves. IT WILL NEVER BE ABOUT YOU. IT SHOULDN'T HAVE TO BE ABOUT YOU ALL THE TIME, 24/7. There's more to this life than satisfying your own desires and wants on your time specifically, and if you end up not getting your way you make sure others don't forget it. We're not meant to be entitled human beings all the time. It simply doesn't work that way. We're meant to express gratitude for the people, things, and memories that got us through times like the past 16 months, or even as simple as a bad day. We're so much more than just being spoiled, selfish, and unkind to others. I firmly believe that we are all capable of being good human beings, and all it takes is being open minded to the love, courage, kindness, vision, compassion, humility, intelligence, and hope that was shown to us from our parents, siblings, relatives, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers. It's time to break that cycle of entitlement. It's time to make GRATITUDE be in our vocabulary and in our psyche again. (I realize that what I said here today may not sit well with others, and that's okay. We're not meant to agree on absolutely everything. If we did, we would be robots, and that's the last thing I want all of us to be. These are just my observations and reflections on what I've witnessed, and you are welcome to disagree with me on anything I say. But what I won't tolerate is any hate speech, derogatory comments, or anything offensive. That's where I draw the line. If I see any of that, I will block you. And I will also pray for you.)

A big reason why we've become so entitled lately is because we're unwilling to allow ourselves to let the experiences of others be theirs and not how we imagine it to be through our eyes. Another important reason? Honestly, we're only concerned about ourselves and not the other person impacted by these experiences. Throughout this whole pandemic, I've witnessed great acts of selflessness from those on the front lines, local communities, and individuals with the biggest hearts, but I unfortunately also saw large amounts of selfishness from others. We shouldn't have to become a nation of entitled individuals who only care about our own well-being. We're better than this. I know we are. I BELIEVE we are. Especially after the past 16 months. We've become a powerhouse of a nation that fought for the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I think we should include helping others and expressing gratitude as part of our declaration as well. Yes, I'm aware that so much has hindered progress in the past 245 years, let alone over 400 years for the black, indigenous, and persons of color, as well as for the LGBTQIA+ communities and women. But that shouldn't stop us from doing our best to transform this nation from one that only focuses on ourselves to one that is grateful and kind, and especially helps others in need. Each of us is capable of doing kindness and showing compassion. The best way to do is to take the time to get to know one another with an open mind and heart - learn about their childhood, their struggles growing up, their experiences with prejudice, their beliefs, and their values. You may be surprised to discover that we're not as different as we think we could be. We can't force others to change their minds if they're unwilling to listen or even open their hearts. It's their personal journey they must go through, and sometimes it may take losing everything in order for them to transform into individual you want them to be. What do I want to see from here on out, especially as we head into the 4 July weekend? All I ask is that we open our minds and hearts to one another. We're not meant to be entitled for the rest of our lives. It will NOT get you far in life. After what we've been through, it should be a time to slow down, reflect on both the light and dark times we've experienced, and honor our strength, love, kindness, courage, and compassion that helped us get through a global pandemic. We were ALL impacted by this. Not one person had to do through this alone. It was never about one person. As we celebrate our nation's 245th birthday, take the time show gratitude to the people who helped you get through some of the most darkest periods of your life. You never had to go through this alone. You never were alone to begin with. We're worth so much more than "gimme gimme gimme" or "me me me." To put it in perspective, think of the last time someone gave you a gift. Remember the joy on your face after you've torn away the wrapping paper or opened the card or even heard the words of affirmation. Now think back to the individual who was willing and open hearted to share this gift with you. They did it because they wanted to see you happy and show how much you mean to them in their lives. They didn't do it for the publicity or the recognition. They did it because they simply cared about you. No entitlement was in their bones when they presented that gift to you, so why do you think it should remain there in yours? It's time to become a grateful nation again. And it CAN be done.

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