We have all had the serendipitous experience of reaching under a table and finding a chewing gum: a battered, amorphous, not-quite-white, chewed chewing gum.
With that appetizing context, meet empathy and pity, two emo’s that make us both nauseous. Empathy is like finding that chewing gum, pulling your hands away, pulling out a tissue, removing the gum, and throwing it into the bin. You then wash your hands and move on with life.
Pity is finding the gum, pulling away from the table in disgust, washing your hands 17 times and not using your hands to eat for the next 24 hours. With pity, nothing changes.
Now, imagine touching that gum often in order to get a nice feeling. Disgusting? We all do it. It’s known as self-pity.
Do you remember how in the movies there’s this villain who is cruel as heck and then you find out there’s actually a guy above him giving him orders? Self-pity is the guy above; the inconspicuous smoker who chews gum. The cruel villain hogging all the sour limelight is Entitlement.
Entitlement is a feeling of “I deserve,” synonymous with the current generation. In other words, when my Dad was a kid, if Grandpa bought him chocolate, my Dad would be ecstatic and eat the chocolate over 2 days. When my Dad got me chocolate, I would say I don’t like this flavor and eat the chocolate anyway.
Now, when sometime in the distant future, I get my kid chocolate he/she goes, “I thought I asked you for a PlayStation 10 Dad. Are you like, ummmm, deaf or something?” Entitlement happens between the wrong flavor and the PlayStation 10.
Entitlement reports into self-pity. Entitlement in all its fanciness has masked the real problem and therefore leaving the entitled like me (and my unborn kid) in vehement denial. Because the René Descartes in me argues: I seek, therefore I am entitled. So what?
The one constant across generations has been the insatiable need to seek. With my generation, the seeking has a timer. Because we don’t seek to find an answer. We seek to find a bigger problem. And in the seeking, we make the mistake of falling into the self-pitying trap.
We watch people get their Audis, so we feel terrible for ourselves. No one seems to understand us, so we feel terrible for ourselves. We seem to be trying for so long and nothing’s happening, so we feel terrible for ourselves. All of this is feeling the gum under the table. So, naturally, when the older generations sit across us on the table to try to understand what our problem is, and we say we need a different table, they ask, “who stuck all this gum under the table?”
The problem is not that we feel we deserve something. It’s that we feel something is being taken away from us. And we feel bad for ourselves because of that. We feel like we have a right to get back what was rightfully ours; the feeling often thought of as a ‘deserving.’ Only, of course, we have no freaking clue what has been taken away which makes us feel all the more bad for ourselves which makes me what to have it more and so on ad-infinitum. As we wallow in the self-pitying pit, we feel the only way out of it is to have a license to deserve everything because that’s the only way to find out what was taken away.
The challenge to find a better challenge is the greatest challenge we have. Sure, it would be nice if the mountain just showed up and said: “Here I am. Now, move me, millennial!”