In the Declaration of Independence Jefferson wrote
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
All men are created equal – in those days it was indeed free men he was talking about but if we take seriously the fact that God created each and every one of us and made humankind in God’s own image the statement takes on a very powerful meaning. We are equal. We all have rights.
Rights. What are we entitled to? Life – does this include enough to eat, shelter, healthcare, care in old age? I think so. Liberty – we value our freedom greatly in this country. We are willing to put our young people in harm’s way to insure it, even if the wars we fight seem unconnected to us in many ways. We are free to go about our lives without fear for the most part. Slavery is illegal. Pursuit of happiness – this is beyond just having basic necessities. We have the right to pursue that which adds to our sense of well-being. The rights bestowed up on citizens of the United States of America are documented in the Constitution or by legislative act of our Congress. These entitlements reflect this idea of life, liberty and happiness. In that light they are truly entitlements. Lately, the term has been used in a negative sense. There is a suggestion that maybe social security, or welfare support, or food stamps, or even health care are “gifts”. That doesn’t jive with the idea that there are certain things people can depend on in this country. Do you have to pay into something to be entitled to it?
I am far more concerned with the entitlement felt by the people in this country who have enough or more than enough, often upon the backs of those who don’t. Why is it that we have to have more and more? It is as if wealth is not enough if it isn’t more year after year. Why do companies who make fantastic profit feel that if that profit isn’t greater the next year they are failing? While I think growth is good, a decent profit should be acceptable to shareholders even if it isn’t as great as last year. It is one reason large corporations hurt employees with layoffs or cuts in pay in order to bring the “bottom line” higher each year. That to me is entitlement in the negative sense. Just because you were able to rip off customers one year doesn’t mean that now you are entitled to do it into perpetuity. I believe our nation which was built on racist ideology has come to believe that this is the way things should be rather than seeing it for what it is. As a country we have been slowly starting to see the dangers of a racist society where one race benefits while all others are oppressed. In actuality it hurts all involved. Yet, we still have many who see themselves as entitled to privileges because of their birth into a certain race. This is the dangerous entitlement we should be fighting. Not entitlements as named in our constitution or by our laws. If we can find ways to stop greed based on the bad entitlement mindset we would have no need to damage our good entitlement programs which allow our citizens have basic necessities for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
I believe that when basic needs are met, people are more likely to thrive, to be productive citizens and care for one another.