Saturday, March 8, 2008

Regaining a Healthy Sense of Proportion

A recent article by Dan Zak published in the Washington Post, “If It's All About You, You're in Trouble. Why a Sense of Entitlement Can Wreak Havoc on Happiness.” was passed on to me by a friend. The article talked at length about the tendency of people today, many of them young people, to expect that everything in life must go their way. And to be outraged brats when it doesn’t.

The entitlement mindset is not exclusive to Generation X or its successors. One can make a pretty good case for the Baby Boom being the first entitled generation. But actually, the post-World War I generation described by F. Scott Fitzgerald probably was the first modern entitled generation. But who remembers them except English and History majors? Still, all that wild dancing and drinking, driving around in Model Ts, and buying land in Florida, with little thought of consequences. Sound familiar?

The Post article is about narcissism. But the fallout of narcissistic behavior isn’t just lots of public and private rudeness, it’s also gigantic personal debt. Because apparently most of us think like the rock song (now rented for a credit card ad) that goes “I want it all, and I want it now.” Which leads to buying things we don’t need, or even things we do, without a sense of proportion. (As in, “How am I going to pay for this?”)

There are seductive reasons for wanting everything now. For one, the hot item of the moment doesn’t last very long as a hot item anymore. Technology is churning out new toys so fast that if we don’t grab at them immediately, their moment is already over by the time we amble to the store. The appearance machine is doing the same thing. It’s not enough for Americans to have the best teeth in the world anymore; they have to be blindingly white. Cars and clothing and entertainments become passé as status items almost before people living outside the big cities even hear about them. And so on. In this race, the only way to win is to keep shopping, and keep buying. Right now.

But wait a minute. Remember all those people dancing in the Roaring Twenties? Remember what came next? The Depression. Yeah. Currently, we’re in an unofficial recession, which is a mini-depression only if it ends soon and doesn’t involve too many people. Despite all the economic safeguards we now have and all the governmental concern over the economy, if too many dominoes are knocked down, this nasty situation could become very big.

So if you are one of those people who want perfection, who want everything now, and who furthermore expect the world to provide it for you, maybe now is the moment to reconsider. Maybe now is the moment to gain (or regain) a healthy sense of proportion. A lot of people are already suffering bad economic times because businesses that were providing them with good incomes have tanked. Who’s to say that yours won’t be affected next? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a plan, just in case? To scale back on some of the unrealistic expectations, bratty ideas about what you deserve, and insane spending patterns?

1 comment:

eilisflynn said...

I can't help but think that those well-meaning parents who've worked hard to send those kids to college aren't doing them any favors. Let the kids pay their own way -- they learn that way, and they learn how to economize and budget too. That's planning.