In a recent Newsweek review of a book titled "The Narcissism Epidemic," Raina Kelley scrutinizes the disproportionate sense of self-importance held by what one of the book's coauthors, Jean Twenge, has previously described as "Generation Me." Comparing her own upbringing with the experience of today's child-rearing era, Ms. Kelley writes, "Gorged on a diet of grade inflation, constant praise and materialistic entitlement, I probably would have succumbed to a life of heedless self-indulgence" ("Generation Me," April 27).
Of course, not every modern child is being raised in such a narcissistic way, and those who are don't need to succumb to the temptation to see themselves as the center of the universe. But the sense of an entitlement culture, for adults as well as children, is of broad concern in many countries today.
Is there an antidote to the temptation to feel a sense of unearned entitlement – or, conversely, to feel like a victim of others' sense of entitlement?
What about a different approach to entitlement – one that rests on a spiritual, instead of a material, outlook? Expressed in biblical terms, one could say that everyone is entitled to fulfil what Jesus described as the two great commandments: to love God with all one's heart and soul and mind, and to love one's neighbors as oneself (see Matt. 22:36-40).
What stops us from recognizing and staking our claim to this spiritual entitlement? Kelley's assessment of the problem facing children and teenagers today includes the phrase "material entitlement." A material sense of entitlement – whether it seems to be satisfied or frustrated in practice – detracts from discerning, claiming, and reaping the rewards of the longer-lasting entitlement to sincerely love the Creator and His creation. Also, a material concept of entitlement is necessarily divisive, pitting one person's sense of deserving against another's.
A spiritual sense of entitlement, on the other hand, includes the ability to perceive in prayer and prove in practice that the nature of what one truly desires and deserves is universally accessible – equally to one and all – because it is sourced in God.
That idea is developed by the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, in a comment about what occurred when Jesus fed thousands of people with only two fish and five loaves of bread (see Matt. 14:14-21). In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she wrote, "In the scientific relation of God to man, we find that whatever blesses one blesses all, as Jesus showed with the loaves and the fishes, – Spirit, not matter, being the source of supply" (p. 206).
This pinpoints the delusive nature of feeling entitled to self-preferential good, gained at the expense of another. If something is acquired that doesn't bless one and all, then its source is not Spirit, God, and its benefits are fleeting. God desires – and empowers – the spiritual prosperity of one and all, and a right sense of this universal spiritual entitlement can result in the healing of disharmonies, including financial problems as well as sickness. Many have proved this to be true in the 135 years since Christian Science was first articulated in Science and Health.
"The Narcissism Epidemic," according to Kelley, concludes that some of the answers to a misguided, material sense of self-worth are "humility, evaluating yourself more accurately, mindfulness and putting others first."
These are timeless qualities natural to a God-centered view of life. It is this spiritual view of existence, and the qualities of active goodness it inspires, to which today's children, and all of us, are forever entitled.