This article was originally published in 7 parts on a prior version of this blog. It is included here as 1 long-form article.
Although the “Seven Laws of Salem” were written as founding principals for a German boarding school in 1930, their relevance to our own continuing education as adults in today’s post-industrial society should not be dismissed. Though they can certainly inform our modern education system, our journey will be looking at each as it relates to challenges that arise in our daily lives as adults.
Kurt Hahn was an educator and vocal anti-Nazi in the early days of their rise to power. The principals he called “The Seven Laws of Salem” (the basis for the school he founded in Salem, Germany between the world wars) became the founding principals of the Outward Bound programs now offered at independent schools around the world.
Hahn was focused on developing social change through education of the younger generation. He placed the natural world, our earth, in a position of great importance to the heath and development of a human being at a time when industrialization and modernism was beginning to over take more traditional life styles.
The Seven Laws of Salem
- Give the children opportunities for self-discovery.
- Make the children meet with triumph and defeat.
- Give the children the opportunity of self-effacement inthe common cause.
- Provide periods of silence.
- Train the imagination.
- Make games important but not predominant.
- Free the sons of the wealthy and powerful from the enervating sense of privilege.
Part 1: “Give the children opportunities for self-discovery”
I don’t know about you, but my education was focused mainly on learning facts and developing tools to solve abstract problems. Self-discovery happened, I suppose. There were occasionally teachers who encouraged these types of things, however this was not the way the system was suppose to work. For many of us I believe, our adolescent years, where we develop our own sense of self, begins with the realization that there is a system. We then need to figure out how we can maintain our individuality within or against such a system.
What typically happens as we develop our sense of self is that we are usually creating it in relation to what is happening around us. For some of us it is rebellion, taking on an outsider role, for others it is in conforming . Yes, there are extremes, but most of us have some areas of conformity and others where we take on more of an outsider role.
Little time is made for going inward, especially being guided there – toward what makes us, well, us – our sense of purpose, our passions and dreams.
Hahn’s own statement on this principal begins:
“Every girl and boy has a ‘grande passion,’ often hidden and unrealized to the end of life. The Educator cannot hope and may not try to find it out by psycho-analytical methods. It can and will be reviled by a child coming into close touch with a number of different activities…. these activities must not be added as a super structure to an exhausting program of lessons. They will have no chance of absorbing and brining out the child unless they form a a vital part of the work day.”
Dodge ball anyone? Its gym class today. So here, at the start of this exploration we hit upon one of biggest challenges faced by so many people today. Something that is at the root of so much of our unhappiness, whether it is the “mid-life crisis” or the “drifting, purposeless” 20 somethings.
Hahn goes on to correlate this lack of exploration of what truly attracts us in our early development to our spiritual health – the joy and happiness we experience in life.
“(The) undiscovered… boy rarely maintains his vitality unbroken and undiluted from 11 to 15. We do not hesitate to say: often the spiritual difference in age between a boy of 15 and a boy of 11 is greater than that of a man of 50 and a boy of 15.”
In our society these ages may vary, but think of the vitality of a young woman or man at 24 and another at 34?
How can we know our passion or purpose in life if we have never take time to explore it? & as life goes on and our responsibilities and the roles we play add up quite often we move further and further from that passion, we cease any effort at self-discovery and begin to define our selves by the circumstances of our life.
The great gift is it is never too late to begin this journey. There are many paths to this, many ways of making time and space to explore and nurture that source of vitality – on your own, in groups or workshops, with a coach or guide. The world is around us. Vitality sure sound good me.
Try taking time every day, whatever time you can afford – an hour, 15 minutes, less? Write down your agenda, the infinite list of what needs to be done. Next to each item consider why it is there. Is it because of some responsibility you took on? Something that is part of someone else’s agenda? Something you chose because it makes you feel more alive?
I’m not advocating ditching all your responsibilities to find your passion. What I can help with is finding a path to (or back to) that connection to something that gives your life meaning and vitality. Finding it in a way that enhances your life – as it is, as it can be.
Part 2: “Make the children meet with triumph and defeat.”
“It is possible to wait on a child’s inclinations and gifts and to arrange carefully for an unbroken series of successes. You may make him happy that way – I doubt it – but you certainly disqualify him for the battle of life.”
While I’m pretty sure that the sarcasm comes across in the quote above from Hahn’s writing on these principals I’ll highlight by saying the rest of the paragraph says pretty bluntly we need to learn how to face defeat.
Setbacks and struggles are part of this life. Socially speaking, at this time, in this country, most of us have some penchant for instant gratification. We want the wrongs righted and the gifts given without too much compromise and little hard work. If these are present we often site them as sacrifices toward getting what we deserve – many adults as well as children.
This lesson is one of growing up, of taking responsibilities for ourselves rather than blaming the world around us. If we don’t learn it early we tend to have to confront it later in life, when so much more is at stake. I’m thinking of the preverbal “bankers jumping from buildings” when the market sinks or of addicts drowning out feelings of defeat and uselessness, as worse case scenarios. But many of us, coming into adulthood have never fully grasped the meaning and value of major setbacks to our dreams and goals. I see so many people either forcing their way through by aggression or sacrifice, or walking away and ignoring a problem all together.
“Treat these two impostors just the same.”
On the other side of defeat, many of us need a lesson in handling success. Its easy to start to define ourselves as the thing we are good at – placing our self worth solely on a handful of roles we engage in every day. When challenges arise in these other parts of life its easy to hide in what we are good at, what we have control over. Whether its a career or a video game or a relationship or a hobby, what feels good and rewarding is an easy refuge.
As adults we need to learn how to balance these. There are areas of life we excel in, but that does not mean we should ignore what is more difficult for us. If you are successful in family relationships and unsuccessful in your career it doesn’t mean you should never work again and vice versa. It doesn’t mean you should be miserable your whole life either.
Part of this lesson is learning to enjoy our successes and recognize there are other challenges in life we might not be as skilled at. We then need to learn new ways of meeting these challenges, new ways of dealing with defeat that inspire us to move on, to develop new tools or to find new means of support.
It isn’t easy.
Part 3: “Give the children the opportunity of self-effacement in the common cause.”
There are so many ways to take this one. I’ll admit, my first reaction to reading this, as an American raised on idealizing the type of rugged individualism that easily fantasizes and often chooses trying to solve any problem in some kind of isolation, was slightly stomach turning. These are the hero’s we are given, that we grow up with, and how we are taught culturally that strength means.
I’m going to break this apart a bit & I want to start with “the common cause.” Most of us are too well acquainted with our own causes – our individual goals, dreams, and work. Maybe we see our community as a way to support us in achieving that – our friends and families, our employer, our religious, intellectual or spiritual community. There is something special about being the “best”, the most recognized, the highest paid. It is a reward in itself. And it is useful for our own sense of motivation and useful too for the advancement of new ideas.
When I reflect on this “law”, what I really see is a way to be in community. How we relate and interact with those around us, recognizing that though my personal goals are important (certainly to me), the others around me have individual goals as well. Together, quite often, we have communal goals.
Look through the self-help/personal or professional development materials you have come across. There are plenty of materials online about how to set and make commitments to your personal goals.
Try this. Get 3 sheets of paper. Write down your personal goals on one. On the next write down the goals of the 3 people closest to you. If you don’t know what they are, maybe ask them. On the final sheet of paper list the goals of 3 of the communities you interact with – these could be your family’s shared goals, your town’s, your employer’s. Maybe you are a member of a social or political organization, a church or spiritual community. Gyms and yoga studios have memberships. The list goes on.
On some level we are always participating in the shared goals of others. Whether communal, personal or professional. How aware are you of what these are for others? For your community? For your employer? For your 3 most important relationships? If you have even the slightest expectation that these others will support you, what are you doing to support them? To support your community?
As Hahn states in the description of the “law”;
“You want a crew, not passengers…”
We all would love a crew helping us achieve our aims. Other people are necessary and a valuable part of life for most of us. Our communities are the water we swim in. Hahn here, as I read him, is suggesting developmentally it is important to recognize that there is a “common cause.” Whether we agree with the direction it is taking may be a different story, but recognizing it and acknowledging it is there, and that it impacts our lives, is invaluable to our development.
The second piece of this for me is “self-effacement”. The OED defines it as “The keeping of oneself out of sight or in the background.” Other “online” sources add the word “humility” to the general sentiment. When we as a culture so often highlight, even celebrate, the importance of personal achievement above all else how does this work?
Again, I’m not saying we need to become a culture of anonymous drones. We are looking at these “laws” as developmental tools – as a way to improve our lives and relationships.
I believe some of this is about recognition that we are in community. One form of community is a team. Sure, there are often stand out players, but they couldn’t take the field alone, they couldn’t win championships without the others around them. Most executives I have met would be lost without a staff behind them.
Acknowledging this, that we are in it together and could not succeed without each other, can be tough for an ego to take, whether it is in relationship, as employer, a teammate, a citizen.
The other aspect of this I believe many of us learn and struggle with as we come into adulthood, is that we may not be the star player. The team, the community, the goals of the relationship, may not be about us all the time. Does that mean we take our ball and go home? Fight, force, pressure, manipulate until everything is our way? Or can we take a lesser role in supporting something larger than our own interests? Maybe not even be recognized for it?
In thinking about the pervious 2 “laws” it occurs to me this could go the other way quite often too. We may not want recognition, even for what we excel at. Hiding behind others out of fear or comfort.
I understand this “law” as a “right sizing.” Knowing, in each community, what I can contribute and learning what I may need to set aside to be part of the achievement of something bigger than my own ambitions.
Another way of looking at this is knowing your limits, having an honest assessment your gifts, and using them to the best of your abilities.
As Hahn says:
“Let the responsible boys and girls shoulder responsibilities big enough, when negligently performed, would wreck a state.”
In other words, know what you can handle and know the impact to others if you take on more than you really can.
Part 4: “Provide periods of silence.”
Sometime after kindergarten, when nap time is replaced with recess, the idea of taking time to rest throughout out day seems to disappear.
As Hahn says:
“Unless the present day generation acquires early habits of quiet reflection, it will be prematurely used up by the nerve exhausting and distracting civilization of today.”
He wrote that in 1930. That’s 84 years ago. If the 1930’s were so nerve exhausting and distracting, I wonder what he would make of our pace in life today?
Sitting alone in silence, with the express purpose of rest, is difficult for many of us. Our focus is so easily brought to “what I am I doing?”
When I was young I was taught that I always needed to be doing something. I was told “only stupid people get bored,” and taught to memorize “Good, better, best, never let it rest – till the good gets better and better gets best.” And later: “Upon the plains of hesitation lie the bones of countless thousands, who upon the dawn of victory paused to rest, and in resting died.”
So no, not much early acquisition of habits of quite reflection.
Our relationship to silence says volumes about our relationship to ourselves. With all distraction gone, the fears, doubts, the self criticizing voice within us become louder. Culturally, at least as far as I am aware, we generally share only two social references to silence as we grow.
The first is a silence of sacredness. In school, in church, in the living room on Sunday afternoon during a ball game – if we get too loud we are disrupting something greater than us. Sacraments, whether religious, social, or personal, hold reverence. Silence is one way we are taught that something is important – that we are in the presence of something greater than we are, so we should shut up, sit down and be quiet.
Depending on where and how we were raised this may be during religious services, family meals, the pledge of allegiance, during tests at school (or just at school),or during the last 10 minutes of a particularly important and close ballgame on the TV. We may be asked at events to observe a minute of silence. And of course, almost always, while someone is working. Remember, “Silence is golden.”
As we grow up this silence of the sacred sends a message – you are in the presence of something greater than you, something you should not disrupt. How easily do we consciously adopt these values? Some of them have great social value. Others we learn we may struggle with our whole lives. We can learn a lesson about putting aside our personal interests and desires and to observe a larger social interest.
The second predominate time we are taught about silence as we grow up is in punishment. Prisoners are sent to solitary, children are told to stand in the corner or go to their room and be quiet, adolescents get detention – meant in most cases to be a period of reflection on what they did wrong.
Hahn, sees quiet self-reflection as an asset, a life enhancing, and preferably chosen activity. We are taught generally that we should only reflect on ourselves, our choices and behavior, if we are wrong or bad – out of line with the socially accepted.
If these are our only exposures to the idea of silence, by the time we become adults, silence, quietness, is a quality we can hold with sense of real conflict. Being quiet and doing nothing is either for the holy or for the wrong. Why would a regular guy like me want to take time for quiet reflection?
The truth is somewhere in-between. When we make space for quiet or reflection we are making space to listen to see our selves and the impact our often habitual and unconscious behavior has on our lives, what our bodies are telling us, and gives us a chance to connect to the wisdom of what some us call god, or big mind, or inspiration (among other things).
One of the most difficult challenges faced by clients and others I have worked with around sitting in silence is that an intense sense of anxiety arrises. They begin to experience thoughts or fears that they can’t quite seem to push away. Its a common problem for beginners in most meditation practices.
Why do so many of us struggle with this concept? Either as silent meditation or quiet self reflection, the challenge to be at peace and be still seems common among us.
The most reliable way to become more skilled in silence and quiet reflection is, as with most things, practice.
There are 3 basic practices I teach and recommend – Quiet reflection, active rest and meditation. Though there are invariable forms of each, they all work toward stilling the mind, easing overactive nerves, and creating a clearer sense of who we are beyond the fears and doubts. Here are some examples of each…
There are plenty of great self reflection exercises out there. Some of them have specific aims, others are meant to build our self awareness. The majority of them have one thing in common – sitting in quite and expressing or considering what is on our minds.
The most basic practice is journaling. Sitting at some set time of day and recording our thoughts. By placing them on paper we are able to see them more objectively, to get to the heart of that is charging or driving a specific event or emotional response.
Prayer is also a form of quiet reflection. Often used to express fears or hopes for ourselves or others, a prayer infers a relationship with God or a higher power, however we define it. In this act, in may ways, we are recognizing our limits and our potential.
In Integral Life Practice the authors set out what they call the “3-2-1 Shadow Process.” Which is essentially a self examination of the relationships that give us trouble and the part we play in perpetuating them. Many 12-Step groups use a different method, with the same aim, in their inventory processes – looking at the role the individual plays and what they can change, not the other person.
What all of these methods create is an opportunity to view our behavior in an objective way, giving us more knowledge of ourselves, our relationships, our emotions and ideas.
One of the concepts I have been meditating on and finding ways to practice in my own life is the concept of active rest. Meaning, as I have come to use it, doing nothing but focusing on rest. Most people I know, myself some days included, rest by sitting on the couch and turning on the TV. Even on the beach most of us dive into some book. We our constantly feeding our nervous system. Our sense tends less toward being at peace and healing, as it does feeding ourselves information to drown out our thinking.
Having been diagnosed with fibromyalgia at a young age I became aware pretty quickly that my nervous system needed rest. TV and may other forms of entertainment could have a negative effect on my condition, my ability to relax, rest or sleep.
The easiest way I have found to practice active rest is in savasana. A yoga pose where I am simply laying on floor on my back with my hands and legs relaxed, eyes closed. The pose is often called corpse pose (because of course something that still and at rest must be dead.) The aim, as most yoga teachers will give with their instructions is to “melt into the floor”.
Savasana is great way to rest. Focusing on relaxing the body and breath, practiced over time, the brain starts checking in with its more basic functioning. Tensions held in the body for years can simply release and be gone.
Without distraction, without constant input, we can relax more fully. Quite often this practice can give us new perspective or insight into our lives. Many yoga studios offer restorative or yin yoga classes, where 3 or 4 supported postures, similar to savasana, are done over the course of the class. This can be a great way to learn and experience active rest.
Odd are you have a picture in your head of someone in a robe sitting on a cushion contemplating absolutely nothing.
There are countless forms of meditation. I have come across seated, walking,and written meditations. I’ve used guided meditations, shamanic journeying, meditation focused on a single object or mantra, mindfulness meditation focused on building awareness, and meditation using sound or drumming to create a trance. And quite a few others.
The simplest, and most effective technique I learned is to find a comfortable seat and bring your attention to your breath, with or without your eyes closed. Feel the cool air coming in, feel the warm air going out. If you have a distracting though just gently bring your attention back to the breath.
A tool I learned from a recored class with yoga teacher Erich Schiffmann, that I found online is the 50-1 technique. Similar to the above, except adding a count down to the mix. As you breathe in start with “50”. As you breathe out – “49”. Until you get to “25” then just use the count on the out breath. When you reach “0” continue with observing the breath.
With both of these its worth it to use a timer. Set it for anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes.
Meditation, when you hit the sweet spot, provides the same type of benefits to your body as deep sleep. It can help the brain repair the body and correct imbalances in brain chemistry.
But it takes practice. Be patient with yourself. If you struggle doing it alone find a friend or a good instructional CD, or a teacher or a practice group.
So there are many ways to make periods of silence for ourselves and many benefits to it. Whether we or not we learned a healthy relationship to silence when we are young, or not, its never too late to learn stepping back, taking a few breaths, and renewing our relationship to ourselves, our bodies, our relationships.
Part 5: “Train the imagination.”
“The power to resist the pressing stimulus of the hour and the moment can not be acquired later in life; it often depends on the ability to visualize what you plan and hope and fear for the future”
I do disagree that these skills can not be acquired later in life. Few of us though are willing to put in the effort to do so. (I’ll get to that in a minute).
What I think is interesting here that Hahn is specifically talking about the imagination put to practice use. Our ability to visualize our future – to recognize not just our plan, but our hopes and fears about it.
I feel this is probably pretty sophisticated understanding for the time. While he focuses on the practical use of the imagination, he is also seems to be implying that it is not just the rational “plan,” but also the recognition of the impact our emotional life has on these plans and our ability to carry them out.
He is not just talking about visualizing a future we want – where do I see myself in 5, 10, 15 years. He is saying imagination is important for visualizing what we desire. Not just thinking outside the box, but feeling deeply into it and embracing what we hope and fear is on the other side. That takes courage, almost a leap of faith. We do not want to be disappointed or wrong, having to face our fear.
This distinction, between want and desire, is an important one. Want, is charged with the intellect. Its often connected to how we see ourselves or how we want others to see us. It is measurable and usually concrete. What we desire is charged with emotion, with feeling, with hope and fear. It is often immeasurable.
Want is usually something within our control, something we can achieve and benefit from. Desire is something deeper, usually beyond our control, and taking a greater imagination to access and bring into life.
What we want can be held onto if achieved. What we desire is fleeting.
It takes, not just imagination, but courage to step into desire.
The biggest challenge to imagination, especially later in life probably cynicism. As we grow and our imagination, however well developed, is faced with harsh reality, it tends to shrink unless we use it. “It becomes atrophied like a muscle not in use,” as Hahn puts it.
Imagination can fall out of balance in two ways.
First, as Hahn says, it becomes atrophied. We can’t use our imaginative power even if we wanted to. We lose site of where we are headed, our plans for getting there, and our emotional connection to our future. Life becomes about tasks. We endure or suffer through. Our lives are governed by routine and responsibility. Our hopes and dreams, maybe even our entire emotional life, seems out of reach.
The second way is that imagination, though strong, is not put to practical use, leading to daydreaming and fantasizing. Instead of using our ability to vision our future and take practical steps to change our lives, the lure and mailability of our imaginations become a retreat where we can have what we want, or desire, at anytime – without having to put the work in.
Harnessing the Imagination
As I said in the beginning, I disagree with Hahn that the imagination cannot be acquired later in life. It just takes some work.
If the imagination is weak, atrophied, making a commitment to build it up just means identifying the right practices for our specific case. Exploring our ability to visualize could take many forms – drawing, shamanic journeying, dream work, meditation techniques, spending more time in nature, or maybe all we need is vacation.
Often something as simple as stepping outside of our daily routines is enough. Though the work put in should be focused on quieting the voice driving us on the “need to do list,” and give us time to open up to what we want and desire, and creating a plan to get there.
If we struggle in the other direction with lots of imagination, but no focus, we need to develop better techniques for seeing life as it really is, and taking action using our imaginations. In this case, more time spent planning and practicing putting your vision in your life is beneficial. Start small and specific. If you space out on kung fu movies, go take a martial arts class. If you dream of being rich, work with someone to build a financial plan that sets money aside.
Think of your imagination as a body of water. Cool, clear, refreshing. Water needs a structure, a path to flow or rest in, or else it floods and drowns out everything around it. How can you build a structure for its flow that is aimed at your goals and dreams.
Part 6: “Make games important but not predominant.”
His brief description goes on to say,
“Athletics do not suffer by being put in their proper place. In fact you restore the dignity of the usurper by dethroning him.”
Hahn is talking about athletics and their role in education and while that is surely a loaded topic for people concerned with those things I believe the more interesting exploration is how we include ‘athletics’, and more broadly ‘games,’ in our daily lives as adults.
What happened to play?
These skills are essential throughout our lives, skills we need as adults functioning in society. As Hahn points out though, when we make the game predominate we can lose track of the other values and aspects of life that are important. Whether as a player or fan when sport (or video games or competition in general) becomes our main focus we can easily, and almost unknowingly, fall out of balance in our relationships, our work, and perhaps most importantly with our emotional sense of reality.
As a participant, especially as a high school or college student/athlete, at the age where we are beginning to form our own identity, the danger is in creating too strong of an ego identification with the role. Pop culture is filled with references to the athlete who yearns for the glory days, unable to come to terms with his role out of the limelight. Especially with athletics, as we age our bodies become weaker, softer, more delicate. Over identification of our self image with our physical health sets us up for a struggle of incoming to terms with the truth about how our bodies age and change. At some point in the future, whether permanently or temporarily, we have to face the fact that we cannot compete as well as we once did.
Watching sport has many benefits. We can learn from our teams success and failures, we find a larger sense of community, but it is also common to over identify and replace our own goals, dreams, commitment and relationships aside to live vicariously through the team we support. Placing our own emotional state it the hands of our teams success or failure is a way of abdicating responsibility for our own feelings.
Even off the field, as fan, stories and “scandals” of athletes impact our lives. Athletes who have over identified with their role often don’t have the lives we expect our heroes to have. Trouble with drugs or money, abusive relationships, violence, are all symptoms of making the game more important, or making our self image as an athlete more important, than developing coping mechanisms or life skills off the field.
As a fan, especially a young fan, its easy look at those behaviors and think that is how successful people behave – mimicking that behavior will make me successful like that athlete. Its a logical fallacy, but one its easy to make for many. Its not to say that there aren’t athletes out there who have found ways to balance their lives healthily – there are. Scandal is highlighted in our culture. There is a sacrificial quality professional athletes take on – carrying the hopes and dreams of fans and often being expected to be more than human, even flawless. Whenever we expect this from others, or from ourselves, we are bound for disappointment.
So what’s the solution? How are sports & games suppose to fit in to our lives healthily? I’ve found nothing from Hahn which spells it out implicitly, but I think the main piece is that in connection with his other “laws” we are striving for a broader, more complete experience in the world. In many ways these “Laws” are about building humility, seeing ourselves in the larger context of the world, natural and social.
One of the effects of sport or games is that it allows us a break from the more dangerous stakes of reality. Its not life or death. As fans we don’t need to think of the larger social impact of the Pats beating the Giants, or Brazil losing to Argentina. There is one, definitely, when one’s self identity (or national identity) is placed in the hands of a game – but according to Hahn it shouldn’t be.
Play is an important part of a balanced life – a way to switch our field of operation and experimentation into now with lower stakes. In play, in games, we have an opportunity to see our strengths and weaknesses. Over identify though, to make the game as important (or more so) than other aspects of our lives, and we can loose our sense of reality, our ability to be present in our own life and relationships.
Part 7: “Free the sons of the wealthy and powerful from the enervating sense of privilege.”
The great promise of this country has always been “equal opportunity.” Its easy to forget over 200 years later that our government was the first to make this a vision for the country. Aristocracy still held most of Europe through the early 1900’s, and when it shifted toward republics and parliamentary systems the land owners and business owners still held the majority of the wealth and political power. When Hahn wrote these “Laws” this was shifting in Germany – the world was moving toward greater democratization and socialist ideas of equality were beginning to take root. In America however power was shifting through the 1800’s from farmers and land owners into the hands of industrialist.
There is no denying there is an imbalance of wealth or pools of consolidated political power in this county today. Under the law we have “equal opportunity,” but some start the game closer to finish line, while others are further back with legs tied together.
But this is not what Hahn was getting at. He is speaking about entitlement. The sense that a person has inherent rights and power over others because of wealth, political power or social position. Hahn believed that “the ‘poor’ rich girls and boys wholly thrown into each others company are not given the chance to grow into men and women who can overcome.” Believing this led to idleness and decadence Hahn encouraged mixed classrooms and schools.
What I think he missed though is that in larger schools (he was talking about a private boarding school with less than 500 students) the student population can more easily segregate into groups or cliches with common background or interest. In my experience it is the common interest or activity that breaks down the social and economic barriers.
School aside thought its important to look at this concept of entitlement in our lives – not just in relation to others we work and live with, but as citizens locally and globally.
A good definition of entitlement would be “I expect what I want to be there, exactly as I want it, when I want it.” That could be in a relationship with a romantic partner, with co-workers, with our parents or children. I’m thinking of you guy in the coffee shop agitated and pissed because the staff not getting him is double-decaf-mocha-skim-frapachino fast enough.
When we feel entitled what we are really doing is shutting the world out and making ourselves and our interests more important and valuable than those of others. We also take the gifts we have and abandon any gratitude for them.
The desire to make the world a certain way to satisfy our unmet needs only leads to the subjugation of others. We spend our time and energy trying define roles for others and trying to keep them within those roles. This can only lead to frustration, anxiety, and depression when these needs are not met.
There are two remedies that I see. First we need to be able to see ourselves with a sense of humility – an accurate humility recognizing our strengths and weaknesses, our smallness compared to larger forces at work in the universe and our incredible human power to change and influence the world. These are not “rights” they are part of the gift of being human. The ability to have gratitude for the things we have and the circumstances of our lives, not pride but gratitude, helps us to meet others as they are – not as reflections of ourselves.
The second is in pointedly and purposefully meeting and talking with others from different backgrounds. Hear their stories and how they overcame their struggles. Share your own. Learn from each other. Nothing else will help you recognize our shared humanity more fully than curiosity about your fellow human being.
Before closing though I think we need to see this idea not just in our personal lives, or our local economic and political structures. As Americans we have and feel entitled to certain rights, a certain sense of freedom, and luxuries and amenities that 2/3rds of the world don’t have – things like running water, freedom of speech, choice in education, religion, career.
So be grateful, learn from others struggles, remember the world isn’t here only for you.
Kurt Hahn’s School’s and Legacy by Martin Flavin was the primary source for these posts.