My friend Ellen Cagnassola suggested I write something about entitlement. My friend Daria Giron has also been dealing with entitlement in a new series, and I wrote a bit about it after the Casey Anthony trial ended. Isn’t it interesting that so many of us have entitlement on our minds?

Maybe it’s not coincidental.

One of the most interesting things I’ve read lately has been the opening of Carol Roth’s The Entrepreneur Equation (the rest of the book is just as good, mind you). There, Carol suggests that maybe the American Dream as we have known it has passed away. The idea that you don’t just go from rags to riches but that you actually need to work your tail off to get there eludes a lot of people, or at least that’s the way it seems.

I think the online world makes this worse. We’ve seen a lot of success stories of enormous proportions, right? The person who started a Twitter account and immediately made a million dollars. The bloggers who get all of the income they need from their blogs (and they always seem to say it was a total accident or fluke). It’s easy to say, “Hey, why shouldn’t I get some of that?”

The problem is that there’s always a lot more going on than what you see on the surface. Think about a swan. They look so graceful as they float across a pond or lake, right? But what’s going on underneath? They’re paddling like mad. A lot of people want the grace and beauty part, but they don’t want to paddle.

Entitlement as an eraser and an excuse

I am not sure exactly what Ellen had in mind when she suggested this topic, but I’ll tell you something that is bugging me of late. It seems like that sense of entitlement on our minds is evolving into a sort of all-purpose tool in the online world. Have you seen stuff like this lately:

  • A defense of a person who is entitled to be above criticism
  • An attack based on the idea that the attacker is entitled to voice his or her opinion
  • A blistering attack on a certain group because it seems like they are not entitled to the rewards they are reaping

Does this sound familiar? I’m seeing it more and more. Let’s talk about each of these a bit more.

A defense of a person who is entitled to be above criticism

There are some fantastic people out there. They have worked their butts off for years…maybe even decades. They have been proven right more than they have been proven wrong. They’ve run the gamut and come out okay. They have earned our respect.

They still are not perfect.

No one is entitled to the role of “king or queen of the online world.” No blog should shut out those who might disagree.

No Twitter account should be an endless stream of “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Nobody is perfect. End of story.

An attack based on the idea that the attacker is entitled to voice his or her opinion

Like “freedom of speech,” entitlement is used to white wash really cruel things that people do and say online. They do these things because they say they are entitled to their opinions. In one sense, it’s hard to argue with that. As citizens of the 21st century world, it would be nice if we all could be entitled to our opinions. But using that freedom to wreak havoc on someone else is not an entitled person expressing his or her opinion. That’s an attack.

You are entitled to your opinion, for example, that a whole group of people is dumber than you. That’s not very kind, but if you can look yourself in the mirror and be okay with thinking that way, go right on ahead. But if you verbally abuse someone and tell them they’re stupider or more ignorant or whatever, that is what we call bullying or cyber-abuse. It concerns me a great deal that people use their entitlement to free speech as a way to entitle them to say whatever they want. That is not what it means, at least not to me.

A blistering attack on a certain group because it seems like they are not entitled to the rewards they are reaping

Entitlement also comes into play when people judge whether others are entitled to certain things. If you think very poorly of someone and that person goes on to have a lot of success, that can be a bitter pill to swallow. But again, judging who deserves what is a tricky business. Maybe your reasons for disliking the person in the first place are based on hearsay and rumor. Maybe you don’t know the full picture. In fact, you probably don’t. Sometimes, the people who make it look the easiest…the people who make it seem effortless…they’re the ones who in reality are working the hardest. Can you spot the difference at a glance? Chances are that you probably can’t. A lot of people are risking it though.

One of my favorite lines from Lord of the Rings comes in the first movie, when Gandalf is talking to Frodo about Gollum. Frodo laments that Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum when the chance came. Gandalf looks surprised and says and reminds Frodo that since we can’t decide who will live or who will die, we had better not start consigning people to one fate or the other.

So it is in the online world. There is one person you can control, and that’s you. But you can’t tell the world that you are entitled to laurels on your head, 5 million followers, or respect. Those things all need to be earned, and a great way to not earn that respect is to complain about what others are or are not entitled to.


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