Surrounded by hurting people, it is easy to confuse “entitlement” with the longing to be treated like a human. This is one of the most insidious parts of injustice; people who “have” look at people who “have not” and hate them for wanting on the same level as they do. They hate them because they don’t want to be seen as equals with “those people”, therefore “those people” must have some sort of deficiency; they’re lazy, they’re slow, they’re morally inferior. The truth is that in many cases, the have-nots are ill They’re unlucky. They are dis-graced – there is no compassion for their plight, no mercy for their pain, no pity for their suffering.
So yeah, it can be annoying to watch a homeless woman bitch out those who are trying to give her coffee because she wants tea. Shouldn’t she just be grateful for anything that she gets? But you know what, you get to choose between coffee and tea all the time. Some days you might have both. Why? Because you’re superior to this woman? Nope. Because a few things have fallen into place for you that did not for her. And yes, maybe she made some choices that weren’t great. I bet you have too. I know I have. There’s nothing as dehumanizing as lacking options. That’s exactly what poverty does to people, it takes their options away… or at least their good, healthy options.
So yes, some people will rail against their lack of options. That’s not entitlement… or if it is, it is the most basic of entitlements, being entitled to human dignity. The human spirit will scream out to be noticed and acknowledged. It will demand that you recognize her worth. It will push back against your negations and it very well should. Until a person stops demanding their basic dignity, they are still alive and they still have hope.
Originally written 1/26/14 at Re:Solve Crisis Center