Avoiding the culture of ‘entitlement’

Africans are known to be hospitable and have a sense of community. We believe that a whole village raises a child, so everyone looks out for the person around them. This is even more so within families where any of the older siblings can assume the responsibility of raising younger siblings. This often goes beyond the case of a nuclear family and extends to aunties, uncles and second and third cousins. Even in cases where there isn’t any particularly definable family tie, a successful relative is expected to share in the responsibility of ‘helping’ younger and struggling family members.

Whilst this is a noble idea that has worked well over many decades, it has also become a case of people believing that they have an ‘entitlement’ to certain benefits and privileges from their well to do relatives. I have seen cases where a family member secures a job in an oil company and has the ‘misfortune’ of rising to a senior post. The ‘misfortune’ is due to the fact that his siblings, cousins and extended family members all believe that he has the power to find them work in the same company. He is declared a persona non grata if he doesn’t deliver.

It does not matter that the person in need of work is not qualified for the job to which he aspires or that there is a procedure for interview that must be followed including sitting for a written examination. What they believe is that having a relation who works in ‘Chevron’ automatically negates the need to excel academically and to strive to pass the interview. The ‘Chevron’ uncle becomes an enemy because he failed to deliver a fantastic job. Sadly, this may not be the opinion of just one person as this uncle may have many brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, first cousins, and second cousins.

The mentality that people are entitled to some benefit from a family member or even a close older friend who is wealthy often destroys family and friendly relationships. Sometimes it is a case of a young person who becomes acquainted with an older person in their community or religious setting. It could also be a technician who visits a house to carry out maintenance work or domestic workers within a home. It may be a mentee to mentor relationship. It may even just be someone who has extended a helping hand to a young person in their time of need. In many of these relationships, a person who believes he is not as well to do as the other assumes that he has an eternal ‘entitlement’ to help, money or other privileges from the person who is at the ‘higher end’ of the relationship.

There is nothing wrong in asking for assistance from anyone who is in a position to offer it. It is however absolutely imperative that one seeks such assistance within reason to avoid destroying relationships that would have been otherwise mutually beneficial. It is important to start from the position that no one owes you anything. This means the wealthy uncle, aunt or cousin may or may not be able to assist you financially or get you a job. If they are able to do so, of course, this should be appreciated. If however they are unable to do so for whatever reason, there should be no hard feelings.

Even if they are perceived to be stingy or mean, it is still their prerogative whether they give out money or not. It is only fair that they are allowed the privilege of making such a choice freely. No one has a right to another man’s pocket, even if the pocket is running over with money. It is the choice of the owner of the pocket where he offloads his overflowing pocket.

Having a mindset that there are no ‘guaranteed entitlements’ would mean that a person is set free to relate well with others without expecting anything in return. If there are no expectations, there is no disappointment and no damaged relationships. An entitlement means ‘the right to guaranteed benefits.’ In many Western countries, only the government can offer this type of guarantee for example in welfare programmes that guarantees a small income to purchase food and ensure survival for their unemployed citizens. Individuals should not and can not be expected to offer such guarantees.

Sadly, many relationships end abruptly when an unreasonable demand has been made. An example is a young person who decides he wants to start a business and needs a sum of 300,000 naira to do so. He writes out a plan of how to get this money by writing a list of people who he thinks has the money. Usually the criteria for choosing these people would be the size and brand of their cars, the size of their homes or their lifestyle. The reality is that these factors can be highly misleading in judging someone’s pocket. The fact that a person appears rich doesn’t mean they have money in their pocket. Placing a huge demand on them will strain a relationship as often the person who is assumed to be rich may be scouting for money for children’s school fees or rent that is due. Making such a request makes a person uneasy as they ponder over why such a large sum is being requested and the dilemma of how to convince people they do not have the money. It is never a pleasant experience.

The truth is, a big car does not equal a big bank balance. A big, cosy house may not necessarily mean the person has liquid cash either. Let’s avoid the culture of entitlement as it only destroys relationships.

We all benefit when we do things right!