Don't you hate it when you witness a scene in public? You know what I mean--when somebody chooses not to follow those nice, polite rules laid down (either physically or in unspoken ways) by society? I witnessed one such scene a couple of weeks before Christmas at the Louetta Post Office in northwest Houston some years ago. The horrible discomfort of the situation lingers with me still. In all fairness to the offending parties--it is probably the busiest post office in the country. I never waited less than 20 minutes in line there, and on that day it was probably closer to a 40 minute wait. The title is dubious, to be sure, but I'm sure anyone who has ever lived in that area will back me up here. That ugly moment of social discomfort brought new meaning to the phrase "going postal."
Fast forward to the Hampton Inn in Nampa Idaho last month.
After our late night foray into Turner Movie Classics, we pulled those wonderful hotel black-out curtains tightly shut and we all slept until nearly 9 a.m. This is no small feat for my clockwork children. Breakfast only ran until ten, so we quickly dressed and went down. (Side note--Hampton Inn has the best 'continental' breakfast I've ever been to. Just a little public service announcement when you are trying to travel on the cheap.)
As we arrived late, some items they typically have were gone, like bacon, though there were still plenty of sausages and I-wish-I-was-real-egg-omelets. I was unconcerned about the bacon crises, not being much of a hot breakfast eater myself. When there was only about ten minutes to go in the breakfast, I noticed a couple come to the little area. I noticed because she had fantastic hair and a very cute dress. What she didn't seem to have was a kind word or expression for her hapless companion as she went off at him about the fact there was no bacon.
He tried to placate her, but she ignored him and found instead the sweet breakfast server girl who, with a lobby still full of breakfasting guests was unable to clean up the area yet. The young woman apologized profusely for the lack of bacon and took some really mean abuse with quite a lot of dignity. Upon being offered some freshly cooked sausage, Cute Hair/Mean Face gritted her teeth and declared, "I can't eat sausage!" She then threw her napkin on the table, stormed from the breakfast area declaring loudly, "I'm speaking to a manager!"
I was reminded of this clip that aired on Conan O'Brien last year. The clip is titled, "Everything is Amazing and Nobody Is Happy." The comic's point is that we have all this stuff-technology-privilege, but it hasn't fundamentally made us better or more grateful. He is really funny, but surprisingly profound at the same time. He talks about a guy next to him on the plane who is happy when he learns that the flight will have Internet, a new technology at the time. Some minutes into the flight, the flight attendant comes on the intercom to announce that the Internet will be down for the flight, due to technical difficulties. The guy next to him is completely hacked. The comic points out that the guy felt entitled to something that he didn't even know existed ten minutes before.
I've talked here before about my opinions on entitlement, and how it isn't just an attribute we should attribute to the "undeserving poor." We are quite possibly the most entitled society in the history of the world. As our financial "recovery" sputters along with the recent government data released I am struck again by the idea that our welfare system had nothing to do with the current state of the problems. Too many middle class Americans felt entitled to live in homes they couldn't afford, because don't we all seem to constantly be needing more room for all our stuff? Wall Street and banking executives responded by giving the people what they wanted--easy money--because the short term gains were enormous. After all, they all earned their MBA's and were running the system, weren't they entitled to make fifty million dollars a year?
I'm sure that King Benjamin could enlighten us on his ideas of entitlement. His amazing talk found on pages 147-157 of the Book of Mormon points out, sometimes with kindness and other times with sharpness, that any time we don't give the credit back to God for each and every blessing and act in a spirit of love and charity, we are behaving with a sense of entitlement. This idea is at odds with our entire society and financial system. The great challenge of modern life is learning charity (and teaching the same to our kids) in the face of overwhelming societal encouragement to acquire, out-compete, fit in and recreate.
In his book, Heart of Darkness, Conrad describes Brussels--one of the most progressive European cities of its age--as a "whited sepulcher." It is a biblical reference used by the Savior in reference to the Pharisees and hypocrites in general. It means that some things might be beautiful on the outside, but are dead and unclean on the inside. The surface of our society gets prettier all the time. Whiter and straighter teeth. Highlights and dye for just the perfect color. Gym memberships, plastic surgery and diet pills to keep us skinny despite the unnatural food that we eat. Beautiful, cheap, immodest clothes made far away in ugly places we don't have to think about to show off our time-consuming bodies. Suburbs filled with homes that would have been seen as mansions just a couple of generations ago. Cell phones that allow us to stay constantly connected to everybody and everything while simultaneously distancing us from true relationships . . .
As the surface gets showier, we die a little bit more inside.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not pointing my finger at you, or even really at Cute Hair/Mean Face. My musings here are to point the finger at me, to juxtapose my own sense of entitlement against Father-in-law's encouragement to consecrate. Aren't these two things, after all, the antithesis of one another? Entitlement says, "What do I deserve because I'm better than others?" Consecration says, "What can I give back because I'm equal with all of God's children?"
The manager visited Cute Hair/Mean Face in the lobby just as we were packing up the kids to leave the breakfast area. With much apologizing for the Great Nampa Bacon Shortage of 2010, she was given a free room next time she condescended to stay with Hampton Inn again. The first time I saw her expression change was the horrible smirk she gave as the manager walked away. I wondered momentarily if she was a con-artist. Maybe. Or maybe just overly-entitled.
Maybe there isn't actually much of a difference.