After much work and consideration, an essay I’ve been writing has been published on the blog of Al Etmanski as part of a series of essays entitled Becoming Visible. The topic of entitlement is one is constantly on my mind, and I imagine for many of those who seek change in their countries. I’m excited to share it with you and hope that you’ll consider responding either here on my blog or through facebook. Thanks for reading and any feedback you might consider sharing.

Entitlement

Being born should not mean inheriting a life where your primary purpose is to pay for the unrestrained social, environmental and financial decisions of those who came before. The abundance of today should grow and not be diminished for tomorrow.  We should not hold future generations of citizens to ransom.

In 2011, I’d like a discussion of entitlement to be taken seriously. What makes us feel entitled? Why does that justify our actions? How does this help future peoples? These questions should inform our actions. Inter-generational entitlement, should be embedded in a revision of the concept of citizenship.  It should govern, and inform our rights, privileges and obligations as citizens.

For example, a citizen should be entitled to clean air, free education and affordable housing.  If we took entitlement seriously we might have to establish laws to limit the exposure of future generations to burdensome taxation, and massive debt and ensure the fair distribution of wealth from one generation,class, or government to another. They should not suffer the consequences of a problem they did not create. A serious entitlement discussion would also look at what is fair for both current AND future citizens.

The fight to rebalance societies is ongoing.  The short-term needs of the dominant economic class should not create second-class citizens. Unfortunately, the current economic crisis shows evidence of this type of imbalance and injustice. Reduced expenditures for health care, for primary and secondary schools, for jobs, for tuition, and fair tax breaks for those who need them, all speak to a growing disparity of wealth. Witness the concentration of corporate wealth, extravagant bonuses to financial sector CEOʼs and growing military defense budgets, in the face of widening poverty and environmental degradation.

Just a few years ago it was reported, “the 500 million wealthiest people (7% of world population) are responsible for 50% of the gas emissions that produce global warming, while the poorest 50% (3,400 million of the population) are responsible for only 7% of the emissions.(Fred Pierce, New Scientist 2009) These signs of the time reflect a crisis of entitlement, not only because of the lack of fairness in the existing distribution of wealth but also because the systems used to create it; systems that no one small group should be entitled to use exclusively.

Todayʼs crises, financial and otherwise, are alarming not just because the impacts were predicted long before they occurred, but particularly because this type of short-term thinking is still largely viewed as acceptable. Somehow in the midst of our present efforts, campaigns, and policy changes, we forget we aredealing with a double whammy – the effects of previous decisions plus current decision-making without a serious consideration of entitlement.  More of us need to say, ʻthese resources are being set aside for people 100 years from now, and it is our responsibility to ensure they are kept that way.ʼ

A discussion about entitlement will force us to swallow some bitter pills. Today we need bold changes, world-impacting change, stop in the street and talk with strangers kinds of change and that kind of change doesnʼt start in the court-room,nor end in a parliament. A good place to start might be to consider this simple idea that “you are only entitled to the value of the investments you make in the future of others” and see where that takes us.

Our lives cannot be defined by a race to the bottom for the declining resources we have available on this tiny planet we occupy. Nor should it be lead by members of our human family who dictate we fight each other for the scraps they leave behind.

As the Globe and Mail has been stating recently, “The next discussion we need to have” is about entitlement. In 2011, I hope that you will sit down at a dinner table with your friends, family or colleagues and ask yourselves this simple question, “Am I taking more than I am entitled to?”