I sometimes find myself taking offence when someone does not fulfil my rights. I mean, it’s my rights, so why shouldn’t I get offended if they abdicate their responsibility in the process? But then I felt that familiar twinge I usually feel whenever I know I’m being deliberately arrogant. It’s a twinge that causes me to rationalise in my mind whether or not that arrogance is called for, or is it really just a self-indulgent tantrum. Slowly it dawned on me that despite the rights I may have, taking offence to it not being fulfilled suggests that I feel entitled to it.
Entitlement can sometimes be justified, especially in the above scenario, but it doesn’t mean that my underlying motives cease to exist. My sense of entitlement also implies that I have an expectation, and I still maintain that expectations are at the root of much bitterness (and by the way, Shakespeare never said that, no matter how many times you see that meme on the net). So it’s better to have hope instead. But that is really beside the point. The real issue that I grappled with in all of this was the fact that when I focus on my rights that need to be fulfilled, it significantly alters my demeanour when dealing with anything that is remotely contentious relative to that right.
When I see the contribution of others as an obligation on their part rather than a blessing on mine, I easily slip into a mindset of arrogant expectation. The only time that someone is obliged to fulfil my rights is if they have an equal conviction in a common belief system where they respect the repercussions of their actions. The ingratitude, I guess, arises when I assume that reciprocation is not needed where my rights were merely being fulfilled. And perhaps in that is some truth that calls into question the sincerity of such gestures.
Sincerity is not reciprocation. Sincerity is fulfilling the rights of others even when they neglect your rights over them. But that sincerity is relative to the intent with which such rights are respected. If we uphold the rights of others because we fear the repercussions of not doing so, then we’re insincere. The benefit may still be there, but its effects will be limited and its rewards will be absent. How this all ties up is not necessarily obvious, but it is amazingly relevant.
If gratitude is truly tainted by entitlement, which I believe it is, and sincerity is often neglected when we feel obliged, then it makes sense to me that sincerity can only ever be true if entitlement and reciprocation play no part in our motivation to act. Sincerity in action is the result of a conviction we hold true in spite of our low opinion of another. It is with such conviction that we will find ourselves able to contribute towards the upliftment of those that we believe are culpable in their needy state. But it just occurred to me that even that conviction will be grounded in a belief of reward or recompense that is either worldly or other-worldly. Whether we believe the wheel will turn and smack us back in this lifetime, or we believe that we will receive our reward when we are judged for our actions, it amounts to the same thing. Self-preservation.
It seems like sincerity is a wholesome concept that is grounded in our need to feel magnanimous while feigning humility. If we didn’t feel entitled, and if we were truly capable of gratitude, contentment would not be so elusive. I look around me and I see my restlessness echoed in others. This suggests to me that we’re all lacking contentment in what we have and what we need from those around us. Like darkness is only manifested in the absence of light, so too must restlessness be manifested in the absence of contentment. We won’t be restless if we didn’t feel neglected, and such feelings of neglect would not result except when we feel entitled, and such entitlement is only present when we believe we’re more significant than others perceive us to be, and so it stands to reason that our perception of our self is what drives us to be the fools we are, in search of contentment while actively pursuing that which erodes the very goal that we aspire to reach.
Yet another vicious cycle.