So often, we complain about how our ‘needs’ are not being met. Expensive housing, high inflation, not enough young people giving up their seats to the elderly—the list goes on. On a trip overseas this summer, I was just about to launch into a spiel about the tiny amount of space in Singapore’s HDB flats, when my companion started praising our housing system. “In Singapore, everyone has a house to live in”, he observed. His simple statement started me wondering why we feel so self-entitled to the privileges that we have, always complaining and assuming that we should have it all; a comfortably spacious house, a cushy job, comfortable efficient public transport. My time overseas in a province filled with gracious people humbled me, however. Watching them feel so contented with the little that they had set me thinking about some of the lies that we’ve been making ourselves believe:
1. You have a right to live a comfortable life with no pain or as little pain as possible.
Every day we are faced with countless ads and commercials that claim to be able to make our life better, easier and more comfortable. In Singapore, we are blessed with so many conveniences that we find a slightest blip in our routine which costs us more time an intolerable pain. We cut across corners and fields to save us milliseconds in our packed schedules. We try our hardest to find the shortest line so we don’t have to stand for longer than we feel we should. Inconveniences like this year’s MRT breakdowns leave us complaining for months on end about the terrible inefficiency of our public transportation system. Complaints stem from the assumption that we deserve something and that our expectations were not met.
Perhaps what we could have done instead was to offer feedback; feedback that comes from a ‘let’s improve’ perspective rather than the perspective of clamoring rudely for something without taking into consideration the other party. Quite a few times this year, I have heard the comment ‘must complain or else cannot get good’. This is simply not true. Perhaps we need to adjust our mentality of self entitlement so that as a society, we can help each other advance and improve. We should not seek improvements for the sake of our own ‘need’ or ‘entitlement’ of a comfortable life. Even if in the short run we are able to garner a more comfortable life for ourselves, in the long run, society’s development will be lopsided as we impose burdens upon each other without thought of the social consequences of our actions.
So many of our choices and priorities revolve around the belief that we deserve a comfortable life, a great career and no pain. When we encounter pain, our first response is to distance ourselves from it. Medicate it. Divorce it. As a result of this, we find ourselves running from a difficult module (or, heaven forbid, a boring lecturer), from job to job, from relationship to relationship. There exists an underlying belief that everything in our lives must either make us comfortable or happy, and should certainly not bring pain; something must be terribly wrong if there is pain.
But sometimes, we have to allow ourselves to go through the whole life cycle of experience-connecting with different (and sometimes difficult) people, experiencing pain, and then coming back to work it through. It may be so much easier to shop around for whatever makes us comfortable for the moment, but this will only cause us to remain stagnant in our comfort zones. We may lose the chance to discover truths that may initially be difficult to grasp, but which could potentially be life-changing.
There exists an underlying belief that everything in our lives must either make us comfortable or happy
2. You have a right to be entertained.
Board any train or bus and you will be able to find at least three quarters of the people staring intently into their little gadgets, headphones plugged in. We live in a society that abhors simply doing nothing. We like to be entertained. We have come to believe that entertainment is one of the key ways to unwind after a stressful or long day. I’m not so different. I love movies and music and even play the occasional smartphone game. But the problem comes when we begin to view it as a right and start filling up our lives with only activities that promise to entertain. I focus on pleasing myself and think little about having to ever sacrifice my pleasure to meet someone else’s need. How often have we had free time and immediately thought about how best to fill it up for ourselves?
Take a look at the pie chart showing how an average student spends their day. Perhaps yours may be different. I am not advocating that we cut off all entertainment and spend all our free time doing social work. What I am highlighting is how we have fallen into this cycle where we must have something entertaining us in our free time, and how we must not waste time reflecting and daydreaming.
How often have we had free time and immediately thought about how best to fill it up for ourselves?
We must not be selfish with our time because ultimately our time is not our time at all. It is a gift that is shared by the people around us. While we do have the choice to decide what to do in our free time, we need to realize that our choices affect the people around us. We can choose to entertain and satisfy ourselves or consider how we affect other people. It can be as simple as choosing to watch the television with your parents instead of retreating to your room to watch the show that you want.
3. You deserve to be accepted and loved for who you are.
This is perhaps the most prevalent message that the media is touting to us now, with popular shows like Glee telling us that no matter who we are, we deserve to be loved. No doubt, this is an extremely attractive message. One would be hard pressed to find someone who did not want to be loved by anyone. However, the danger comes when we decide to take it as our given right, validating our actions by demanding deference to the notion that everyone should be free to act as they pleased. We use it as a free pass to well be whoever we want to be.
‘Well I’m just blunt and loud. You should accept me for who I am.’
‘I can’t help being bossy. You should accept me for who I am’
‘I’m born messy. You should love me for who I am’
We begin to demand acceptance and love without thought about loving others. When we do this, we devalue the gift of acceptance and love from our family and friends. We take these things for granted and instead of receiving it with thankfulness, we baselessly take it as our due. Acceptance and love become no longer about a relationship between two people but about only satisfying our own need for them.
We begin to demand acceptance and love without thought about loving others
Our culture has us baying for blood at the slightest shift in our comfort zone, running from suffering or discomfort. We have become lovers of self, unconsciously carrying an unwarranted sense of self entitlement. It is my hope that we grow to critically examine our daily choices to become aware of our underlying attitude of self entitlement and the true state of our self centeredness. Let us become more aware of how we are living our life and see the world with fresh eyes. Let us not be so quick to reject the painful, tedious, boring and inconvenient things in our lives.