November 21, 2009

Gratitude: the Antidote to Entitlement

The Kitchen Table by Cezanne. 1888

My mind is all over the place lately. Life is returning to it's formerly predictable and boring routine, accompanied by fortuitous moments of utter exhilaration and soothing gratitude. Like the surprising thrill of purchasing a mixer to knead my bread after grinding wheat in a new mill and gently caressing four little loaves into non-stick pans designed to keep crusts firm, not burnt.

Going to the store to purchase a new mixer touched something deep inside myself. And no, it wasn't my appetite---it was my sense of self. The nurturing, care-taking, love bein' a woman self; the mother, and auntie, and big sister all rolled up in a totally unremarkable self pitted with cellulite, wrinkling with sags, and older-aged bags pocketing under my eyes. My chin is beginning to look like the rest of the centenarians in my family; though so far, (thank God!), I don't have stiff hairs poking out of moles or heavy-duty warts scaring the willywonkers out of little children.

It's true. I'm a typical woman who's grateful about the smallest things in life. My gratitude makes me sooooooo grateful that I'm grateful that I'm soooooooooo grateful to be grateful. Yea, there are days when my appreciative attitude kinda makes me sick, too. Maybe there's an eventual benefit to formerly hating your life so much and being so scared and fearing utter destitution and isolation to such a degree that anxiety temporarily blinded your eyes to noticing that you weren't living on the sidewalk yet, that the world wasn't going to helll in a handbasket and that you were NOT a despicable, worthless or replaceable human being?

Maybe healing our pain and overcoming our anxiety increases the value of life's simple pleasures because finally, we recognize our own entitlement through the noticing of our good fortune? I mean, who says a woman deserves to own a Bosch mixer?? I used to think it was just part of my job. That any woman running a household SHOULD have a Bosch mixer and if she didn't, she wasn't taking her job seriously enough. I got my first Bosch mixer as a young mother in my twenties and yes, I appreciated it (of course, ha!)---but not like I appreciate my new Bosch after the steady old mixer went up in flames. Along with the kitchen. And my ego.

I admit to my homemaking self that in truth, nobody HAS to have a Bosch mixer. You can make bread the aerobic way and knead the dough with your hands. And, you certainly don't HAVE to have a fine wheat grinder because millions of women have crushed kernels with nothing more than pestles and stone. And, you don't HAVE to have an oven, nor are you entitled to have an oven even if you make the best bread in the world. Some people still cook over an open fire. Why, I'll bet you could whittle a willow, wrap the end of the stick with a glob of dough, dangle it over a fire and end up with a fairly decent chunk of protein to fuel your body for another day gathering tubers, grinding wheat and searching for firewood.

Perhaps my desire to continue studying narcissism is enhancing my understanding of 'entitlement'. Entitlement is a key component of narcissism, either clinical or social. While my nephew and I were shopping for a mixer, the thought occurred to me: "I am not entitled to have this Bosch mixer but damn am I ever glad to have the money to buy it." To be honest with y'all and myself, when examining myself for signs of entitlement, it was shocking to admit that yes, there is a sense of entitlement precluding honest appreciation for things I often take for granted. Like indoor plumbing, for example. People don't HAVE to have a toilet, you know---nor a shower. But it makes for better relationships in the neighborhood if we do.

My nephew and I spent time shopping online, checking out e-pinions, and YouTube mixer-races and a few hundred consumer reviews along with recommendations from expert cooks who've been perfecting bread to a nutritional art form because they took their family's health just that seriously. Then he and I drove to the store where culinary products were stacked to the ceiling along with piled up bags of wheat and the lusty smell of yeasty bread emanating from ovens. Health food stores didn't use to have full kitchens with granite counter tops. But I'm thankful today that they do.

Now for those who are not bread-making aficionados, the Bosch mixer has the best motor on the market though the aesthetic appearance leaves a little to be desired. At least it does in comparison to Massive Professional Machines looking for all the world like super-duper-commercial mixers burly chefs use in a top-notch restaurant. The heavy stainless steel and shiny black metal surfaces beckon a buyer, even making a girl feel proud of herself when she manages to find the 'On' button.

"What about THAT machine?" my nephew asked, pointing to the technological brute. (Considering that my nephew is a welder, metal will always be a superior product to plastic; though I'm sure he's tried welding plastic, too. I know he tried welding his calculator to his Mom's CD collection.)

"Nope." I told him. "That machine looks as if it would last through Armageddon but it will not, cannot, does not hold up to the daily grind like an ordinary-looking Bosch."

"But!" he argued, "The Bosch is white and the bowl is plastic and it doesn't look like the machines they have on Top Chef!"

Well, folks. There ya have it. Reality TV is setting the standard for the family kitchen. Since when did a mixer become a 'machine' anyway? Now my kitchen is supposed to look like a restaurant instead of what it is: a room where people eat what I serve 'em and if they don't like it, well, I Do Not Take Orders. Eating may be a pleasure of the senses but first and foremost, it's a necessity. Anybody turning up their nose when the bread has a dark crust or might be a little sticky in the middle, gets no apology from me. Cut off the crust or eat around the doughy center and be grateful somebody cared enough to feed you. And when you say 'grace' before dinner, be sure to include thanks for mixers and mills and double ovens with timers and kind old Aunties who love you enough to serve whole wheat bread.

Here's an untasty dose of reality: Just cuz you live on the planet, it doesn't mean you're entitled to eat dinner on porcelain plates, or sit on cushy chairs around a hand-crafted table positioned on a wool rug in the center of a well-stocked kitchen. And just because your Auntie loves to cook and stand on her feet for hours combining secret ingredients for a pot of medicinal chicken soup, doesn't mean you're entitled to eat the food she bought and cooked by herself. If you wanna show appreciation, do the dishes. Mop the floor. Scrub the pans. Chop onions with her. Any human being can survive on Moon Pies and Pepsi but when someone cares enough about you and your health to devote her time to nourishing both body and soul: reciprocate the favor and give back. At minimum say, "Thank you", and "Please, may I have some more?"

At this point in my life though, having been devalued and discarded as a non-essential laborer, hearing folks say "thank you" isn't enough. Why not? Because I appreciate my devotion to refining care-taking skills and refuse to let others (or myself) take them for granted. I also refuse to diminish my achievements as 'natural talents or inclinations' without recognizing the hard work required developing nurturing skills. For too long, I accepted my role as chief-cook-and-bottle-washer without expecting participation. But now? Well, now I believe we do our children a grave injustice when they perch themselves like royalty at dinner tables, demanding what they WANT to eat and then scurrying off to bed (or TV) rather than cleaning up. Eating needs to be restored to the 'family time' it used to be when I was a kid, which means: working together to serve one another. Granted, it's frustrating putting up with belligerent, complaining children who expect to be served because that's what parents are for. But part of our responsibility as parents is to DEAL with their belligerence, not giving-in or giving-up because we don't like being the cause of our children's unhappiness. When we yield to their displeasure, we are abdicating ourselves of responsibility for teaching them to respect the hard work it is to do tasks that nobody finds particularly fulfilling or enjoyable.

When people are served by others without reciprocal respect or contribution, they develop a sense of superiority: a narcissistic disdain for those who do the ordinary work connecting us to one another through the menial tasks of life. If we allow our children (narcissistic spouses included) to say "Thanks" for dinner, but "No Thanks" to participating in the work, we are doing both self and others a disservice. Washing, peeling, cleaning, and surrendering to the daily grind hones not only the wheat, but the character, too.

To Stay-At-Home CareGivers Especially

Ever hear this excuse? "I am a manager in a Fortune 500. I don't do dishes." Or how about this one: "I spent the entire day breathing down a firehose. You have the luxury of staying home, so you do the dishes."

For a long time, I let my husband and kids use this excuse to get out of KP duty. What never occurred to me is that "I" had spent the entire day on my feet, too. If you've ever been home with sick toddlers and babysitting a 'working' neighbor's sick children at the same time, it's truthful to say you did your fair share of breathing down a fire hose, too. Besides, I have gained a certain humility in working without applause, finding 'meaning' in the 'cleaning'. I never demanded a confetti parade when dragging my tired be-hind to bed at night and didn't expect my family to cheer (or even notice) spit-polished silverware.

Now that people are engaged in so-called sexy workplaces with critical timelines feeding egos and distracting people from their True Selves (the 'self' requiring basics like food, water, clothes, and nurturing relationships), kitchen-patrol-duty might foster the growth of humility and gratitude---antidotes to superiority and entitlement. Don't let your children's narcissism flourish. Demand respect and dignity for other people's hard work and encourage the growth of their self-respect for working hard, too.



  1. This article reminded me of a couple of things. One, that I have a hand mixer that is over 25 years old, and doesn't stay plugged in. I figure if it still works, why get a new one. I guess maybe, because I deserve one. As woman, we put ourselves on the list last many times. Like buying a bra. How often do we wait until it's in mere shreads, before we get a new one, because we think they are too expensive, yet we spend that money on others.

    The other thing it reminded me of, was my relative owned their own business for awhile, and he said the young kids would stand around if their so called jobs were done. He said, "back in my day, you would ask what there was to do next to help out." We don't need a generation that thinks everthing should be handed to them.

  2. I'm so glad you brought up the 'lack of entitlement' as an issue some people need to confront. Especially if they were raised by narcissistic parents who neglected their children's needs.

    Eventually, the child neglects their own needs, feeling as though they don't deserve even the most basic necessities. I thought about that after posting my entry and wondered if it would be useful to address the unhealthy flip-side: "The Lack of Entitlement."

    An appropriate title might be "Increasing your Having-ness", though in our society today, fewer and fewer people need to read a post like that. ha!

    I've heard numerous complaints about our entitled kids who presume they should be collecting the same salary as people who've worked in the company for decades. And as you've written, my relatives tell me that their young employees ask "What's in it FOR ME?" rather than contributing to the group just 'cuz there's a need.

    I think a lot of the entitlement we see today is the direct result of fairly 'affluent' parents. Plus, advertising is based on people's GREED...telling us we DESERVE to have this or that when clearly, we cannot afford it. People get angry when they are denied what they believe they are entitled to.

    So now we've created a media monster and it's time to undo some of the damage. How to go about it is the question...This is where my focus is today.


  3. CZBZ,
    I am very grateful for your blog/this website. It has allowed me to do much self-reflection about my own life and my own narcissistic character traits.
    In my household, much is done by my parents, more-so my dad's significant other. I find myself not doing chores, etc, because I am not asked to. However, I do recall a time when I use to clean the house, wash dishes, vacuum, and just ready the home. I would say such activities relax me. I eventually began to feel as if I was being used. No matter how often I cleaned the kitchen table, it always seemed to become dirty again. I wanted others to clean as well. I did not want to be a house maid. Such is not the nature of things, however. I felt as if I could not rally the household to be productive cleaners, so, I stopped cleaning as well, at least, for other people. I will still clean the items I use most often.
    In my self-reflection, I want to conquer my self-entitlement, and become a more productive member of my household, and of my neighborhood. I don't want to be used a cleaning maid, however.
    Thanks for your blogs - they are really expanding my mind and helping me understand.

    1. Hello Anonymous! It sounds like you live in a complicated household, with a family that doesn't function cooperatively. That can be a challenge, especially since you're not the parent or head-of-household. Feelings of being treated like a housemaid can lead to long-term resentment so finding a way to participate in the family without resenting their "lack" of mutual participation will be a challenge. BUT I can encourage you a little bit because each time we Step Up to a challenge, we learn something new, we gain healthy coping skills, we LIKE ourselves a whole lot better than "cutting off our nose to spite our face."

      If you VALUE a clean house and if you VALUE discipline and self-mastery, then DO what YOU value and let the other folks live according to their values. Whether they see you as the maid or not, you'll be living in accordance with your TRUE SELF. This makes your self-respect grow even when other people insult or criticize you. Set limits where you can but whether they cooperate or not, whether they have the same values as yourself or not, YOU are acting in accordance with your true self and this will serve you well your entire lifetime.

      I'm so happy to hear that my writings have helped you better understand yourself AND the world! Good luck (and don't be a stranger. Let me know how you're doing from time-to-time).



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