Issues, Musings

UNtitlement


By Colleen Ladd, University of Central Florida

I’m a 90s kid. Born in ’91. With orange bits of Nickelodeon TV shows, printed bits of Goosebumps chapter books, pleather bits of K-Swiss and Sketcher shoes and color swatch bits of the Power Rangers, my childhood memories make a nostalgic, mosaic painting. I woke up early on Saturday mornings to watch Acme Cartoons on a TV that wasn’t paper thin with eyes that could have been drawn by the cartoonists themselves. Trips to Toys R’ Us and Christmases filled with commercial gifts — my upbringing was much like any other average 90s kid.

My mother gave and gave and when she didn’t have anything to give, like magic she made things appear before my youthful eyes like the combustion of kernels into popcorn. Being naïve and innocent, I hadn’t realized the times she’d serve my brothers and I dinner first and eat last, if she even ate at all. Not until I had come to college and inherited the responsibility of financially supporting myself. There was a time when I took everything I had for granted (gasp). But with that inheritance came an appreciation for the things I would come to work hard for that has shaped me into a rare individual among my peers.

When I first came to college, maybe I would have thrown a tantrum to the very idea of my mother not supporting me. Maybe I would have told her I hate this and I don’t understand why she was allowing this to happen. Today, two and a half years later, I can’t thank her enough for letting me fight my own battles even when I wasn’t equipped with the correct weapons. My hardest moments have been my most cherished because with every terrible conviction I was able to find an embrace of peace within my heart and a cathartic piece of mind. The inheritance that had seemed like a curse became a gift in the form of an imperceptible pair of glasses that cut through the surface of bullshit to the deepest meaning that waited with a clever, patient smile. I was able to see with 20/20 what my generation had been doing on the other side of the spectrum.

I brought the issue up to a friend, who had nodded his head and said it was a concept in his business class textbook. We are known as the “Entitlement Generation”. Sounds pretty good, eh? It’s not that we are entitled and therefore we are the generation that receives with ease but it’s that we think we are entitled and therefore becomes a problem when we actually have to get up and work for the dreams that we greedily demand. Among some of my friends and co-workers to overheard casual conversations in a local coffee shop to the workers behind the counters in those coffee shops themselves — everyone seems to have the inclination that since their mommy and daddy gave them what they wanted as a child, they can still possess that disguised “privilege” today as an adult. There are only just a few problems with this thought process.

The economy is not what is used to be (another gasp). I know, I must be real enlightened to utter a statement of that stature but as obvious as a statement that is, people within my age group don’t seem to add that thought among the what-can-you-do-for-me’s and when-does-class-get-out-so-I-can-black-out’s. It is the very idea that the U.S. economy was the envy of the world when we were growing up that makes us innately spoiled. Having everything handed to us wrapped in parental guilt when all we had to do was emotionally blackmail them gave us a power that should never have surfaced and never have persisted. If we are all asking each other the same question, as a means to achieve what we can get from the other questioner, how will anyone ever have an answer of satisfaction, let alone an answer at all? Times have changed but the people have not — an unfortunate unity, the wrong kind of unity.

With the economy not being what it used to be, there’s always the ever-popular issue of the job market. Almost anyone my age that I know can get a job. I’m not talking about an actual career (although many have obtained that, too) but I am talking about the job that you work throughout college — whether that is the bagger boy at the local supermarket, a server at a restaurant or sales clerk at a retail store. And it’s at these locations that I, as a customer, have been truly dissatisfied. And I know I’m not the only one who experienced that worker who looks miserable and has that, “I don’t give a shit what you need” tattooed in a lovely fine hand-picked print on their forehead. I’m sure many of you just get pissed and leave a bad tip or complain to a manager for your own benefit or shrug it off.

The thoughts that run through my mind are of a nameless man who just lost his dedicated job at a failing corporate company who would do anything for money to put a meal on the table for his family. I don’t know this man, but I know I more than likely have driven past him on the street or thanked him for opening a door for me, unaware of the flashes of struggles he was running over in his mind that he was about to tackle for the next few years. If you have a job, you are a fortunate individual. At a job it is never, “What can I get out of this?” because with a clean, firm grasp on the realization that what you can do for others is the most rewarding experience — mentally and financially.

What this country needs is our generation to go out of his and her way to help one another, not only because it makes that customer want to take care of you with a tip or go ahead and buy what they came for (instead of somewhere else) but because it’s contagious. Quite frankly, it will put people in awe since this has become a rarity in our every day lives and thus will leave a refreshing and lasting impression.

As I stand here, pretty scarce among a few valuable people I have in my life — at the side of the spectrum that speaks truth — I wait for that right kind of unity and I desperately invite the people who sit lazily and comfortably, waiting to see what the world will give them, only moving ever-so slightly as to wave the opportunities good-bye. The doors will be presented, we are the ones who must open them and even then it’s not that simple. Maybe I stepped on the fast-forward button and woke up in an awareness I was supposed to hit later down the road. But what I really know is that what this generation needs is to stumble upon that button, and apprehend the world around them and what we are called to do, which is something far greater than ourselves and our seeming necessities as individuals.

Colleen Ladd is a columnist for The New Student Union. Follow her @colleen_ladd

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “UNtitlement

  1. This might be my “entitled generation” talking but I don’t think I quite agree with the point that comes out in the end. The “what can I get out of this” attitude isn’t always laziness. Often, it’s ambition to do something better and more valuable with your life than a dead-end job at a fast-food restaurant. That might be a degree of entitlement but I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t be content just working a job like that and being grateful you have it. You should constantly be striving to do better and make something more of yourself. Sure, don’t be an entitled brat and treat your customers like crap — then you’ll never get anywhere. But I don’t want to live in a society where everyone is happy doing the job they were doing and never have the itch in their brain to strive for something better.

    Posted by NEW STUDENT UNION | September 13, 2011, 1:15 pm
  2. That was never the point I was trying to make. If you can’t even harbor a good work ethic at a place where you are working for side cash because your parents are paying for everything- then how are you even supposed to have motivation to live a life of motivation to manifest your maximum potential? Those who have the idea of everything being an entitlement without effort are the ones who I pity.

    -Colleen

    Posted by NEW STUDENT UNION | September 13, 2011, 1:26 pm
  3. The difference is passion. When you’re really passionate about something you’ll work your ass off and be motivated to attain your max potential. When you outright hate whatever you’re doing, you won’t. I know plenty of people that would make terrible employees at more menial or mindless jobs but that will probably end up very successful in their career.

    I think your point is fair that a lot of people in our generation feel entitled and that this is bad for society. But it is also often the case, I believe, that our generation is more self-aware of their potential and less willing to “wait in line” for their opportunity. I’m one of those people for example. I don’t feel entitled for anyone to give me a check for $1,000,000 just for starting a company but I sure made one terrible employee at jobs I didn’t feel my skills were being utilized.

    Posted by Alex Schiff | September 13, 2011, 2:09 pm
  4. I’m with Colleen. Who knows what less fortunate people would give to have even our crappiest job?

    “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

    Difficult to take to heart for sure, but that’s what makes it so refreshing to see lived out.

    Posted by johnroemhild | September 15, 2011, 8:12 pm
  5. I like that quote, really insightful. Where’d people like MLK jr. go?

    Posted by Colleen Ladd | September 16, 2011, 12:22 pm
  6. Colleen, I’m struck by how your piece reads very much like the Port Huron statement of 1962, which if you haven’t read, can be found here: http://www.h-net.org/~hst306/documents/huron.html. The statement seems to be a call to action for social change, brought forth by people “bred in at least modest comfort” and who look “uncomfortably to the world we inherit.” This seems to mirror both your thesis that our generation has an entitlement mentality because many were brought up comfortable economic environments and also your call to action that our generation wake up, come together in the spirit of solidarity, and demand social change.

    In essence, however, I would caution anyone from assuming this is a sui generis moment- that we are “the” entitlement generation- the students who wrote the Port Huron statement seemed to think their generation had also bought into a passive entitlement mentality that needed to be disowned.

    Another important inference from this parallel is that an “entitlement mentality” problem does not beget getting rid of entitlement programs (not that you suggest this in your column- but those simply skimming your piece might think that this is the point you were making). The authors of the Port Huron statement strongly favored the social welfare programs that would be created by Lyndon Johnson during the 60s, including medicare and medicaid. In this light, could shedding the “entitlement mentality” actually mean more entitlement programs?

    Anyways, I was struck by how your call to action mirrors those, like the Port Huron statement, that were delivered in the past. There might be some very valuable lessons to be learned from this comparison.

    Posted by Tom Pavone | September 16, 2011, 2:01 pm
  7. Wow! I am in shock at how history really seems to ring true of repeating itself. I certainly only touched an emotional base on the subject and not nearly as in depth or as long as the Port Huron statement, but as I read through it I was comfortably overwhelmed with how they mirrored events to their ideas of their generation.

    You are definitely correct in saying that we are not unique in the fact of having that mentality. Clearly, since it was the same angst in the years of my grandparent’s growing up. I really enjoyed finding this out, it puts things into perspective as to how the American mindset can jump from generation to generation.

    I, for one, politically don’t particularly agree with entitlement programs and didn’t even think as beyond as that but it could be a developing piece that could correspond with this first one.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and that connection you saw with the Port Huron statement. I love me some food for thought.

    Posted by Colleen Ladd | September 16, 2011, 2:27 pm

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