Since stepping out of the writing cave and hitting the open road almost a month ago, I’ve been experiencing sensory overload. There is so much I want to rant talk about. So much, in fact, that it was hard to choose a single topic for this Coconut Chronicle instead of unleashing a stream-of-consciousness babble on you that looks something like…
Why can’t semi truck drivers put their plastic bottles of pee in the garbage instead of tossing them out the window as they drive? Montana is cold in the winter! People need to get off their cell phones while driving in a blizzard. Denny’s cheeseburgers have improved significantly. Utah has casinos?
Now imagine twenty-five paragraphs of that.
Lucky for you, dearest Nutters, there is one thought that keeps returning to smack me in the face. That is: What do we deserve? General ‘we’. As in, ‘We, the people’. What do we, particularly in North America, Land of Entitlement, deserve?
You see, I’ve noticed a shift. My parents’ generation, and those before them, hoped, dreamed, wanted, and wished. My generation and beyond? We expect. Why?
I had a conversation with author and former speech writer Matt Hughes this past May in which we discussed advertising. Specifically, when ads made the leap from extolling the benefits of a product to convincing the consumer that they “deserved” a product. Rotten Ronnie’s may have lead the charge with their iconic “You deserve a break today!” but they are far from the only company who sent out (and continues to send out) that message.
We bought it. Oh, baby, did we buy it! We bought it and over a billion greasy, disgusting hamburgers because, hey, we deserve it! Stay at home and make real food that involves taking things out of the fridge, and chopping, and cooking with heat, and then putting dirty dishes in a dishwasher? Do we look like suckers? WE DESERVE FOOD THAT APPEARS IN 30 SECONDS, IN CONTAINERS WE CAN TOSS IN THE GARBAGE!
We deserve it.
On the road, the affects of this mentality are obvious. Between Nelson, BC and Palm Desert, California, every city of any size was a shrine to consumerism, to vanity, to greed. Everywhere I looked I saw retail megaplexes, billboards for cosmetic surgery, lawyers, casinos, and the glow of giant golden arches. Mile after endless mile of stuff we should have because we deserve to have stuff!
There were smaller, more personal examples, as well. In a coffee shop in Palm Desert I eavesdropped on a conversation between three well-dressed women. They were discussing a local restaurant and loudly decrying its abysmal lack of customer service. After all, one of the women had dropped her napkin and the waiter didn’t even pick it up. HE DIDN’T EVEN PICK IT UP! What has this world come to? What if she had bent over to pick it up herself and the act of bending over had triggered a rare genetic mutation that put her into a coma? She should sue!
Suing is the logical course of action for those who do not get what they deserve. Coincidentally, one of our friends on this trip was actually at the tail end of a frivolous lawsuit brought about for exactly this kind of crazy entitlement mentality. She was on the non-crazy side. (The non-crazy side won this time. Yay sanity!)
This idea of ‘deserving’ is powerful voodoo. It taints our outlook on life, it creates artificial suffering. We can accept not getting what we want, even if we’re disappointed. Not getting what we deserve, what we are entitled to, however, damages our self esteem and makes us feel wronged.
I’m as guilty as everyone else. I’m a child of the You Deserve a Break Today generation. I catch myself thinking that I deserve things all that time. Usually these things are made of chocolate or have delicious frosting on them, but sometimes my sense of entitlement also spreads to nonessential items.
This has all started me wondering what we really do deserve.
In the broadest philosophical sense, humans, as a species, don’t deserve anything. Good or bad. We exist. Things happen to us. Good things are nice and bad things are awful, and it’s as random as that.
Narrowing my vision, and considering us not just as animated bits of flesh, I think there are some things that humans do deserve. The basics, of course: food, water, shelter, clothing. But beyond that I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t be murdering, torturing, enslaving, or raping each other, that we function better if we have some degree of safety from and respect for each other. We deserve that. Going a little further, in wealthy nations (Canada and the US, for example), all citizens deserve a basic standard of living—decent health care, affordable housing, food that provides real nutrition, good education, etc. Hey, the richest people only get that way with the help of those who either build or buy their widgets.
Going even further, we deserve to be treated as equals, regardless of age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
And that’s where my list of things we deserve ends. Maybe I’m missing something but past that point I think we cross into “want” territory. You could also argue that there is a difference between things we need and things we deserve, and I wouldn’t disagree.
The root of all this ranting is not a desire to wag my finger and make everyone feel guilty, but a wish for more genuine happiness and fulfillment. Shedding feelings of entitlement opens us up to gratitude and protects us from the inevitable sense of inadequacy that hits when we don’t get what we want. (Let’s face it, there will be lots of times in our lives when we don’t get what we want). Furthermore, dropping the “I deserve” mentality liberates us from the corporations who created this insane fantasy in the first place.
Am I wrong? What do we deserve? And what should we do if we don’t get it?
Also, I still want to know why truckers can’t throw their pee bottles in the garbage. I deserve to know that.
Until next time, I hope 2014 finds you healthy, happy, and lovin’ life!