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How do we prevent a breeding ground for entitlement from forming?

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Written by Laura Albertyn of Makomborero, Zimbabwe

Entitlement. It is a word we come across in our HALI circles and causes blood pressures to rise and huge frustration at times.  It is also something all of us fall prey to during our lives.  We recognise it and dust it off and learn from how we fell. How do we help our students recognise the stench of entitlement in their own lives? Do they see it creeping in? Changing who they are?

I think as HALI partners we see this happen fairly often. We address the issue and find often there are two possible outcomes.  The first, we talk, we appeal to their hearts but the smell still lingers and grows and they don’t change. The rewarding response is when a confrontation is met with heart felt remorse and recognition of what their hearts have become; changes are made to attitudes and we see a student move forward. The latter is not guaranteed but is beautiful to behold.  It also means that often when they are confronted with those feelings of entitlement again, they quickly identify them and move on!  One of my worst scenarios is when entitlement creeps in once they are at university and we have so little opportunity to speak into it but we can smell it and see it’s devastating effects! It’s often hard not to feel disappointed or embarrassed by their behaviour.

Poverty, and then being lifted out of poverty, can be a breeding ground for entitlement. How do we as organisations continually address this effectively?  We can certainly try by creating an environment that is not a breeding ground for entitlement.

Our students should learn to act on sound principle, not feelings!  Isn’t that in essence what entitlement is – acting on a feeling of being superior or above others? In the heart of every student is a deep desire for justice – a cry for fair play!  I think one way that this works deeply within our students‘ hearts is when we help them to distinguish between their rights and their duties!  Entitlement is when this becomes grey and duties of life become beneath them, duties of others become what they feel entitled to because their rights have become muddied!!  We as human beings, across cultural barriers, race, religion, class, level of education – have all exactly the same rights!  Not one of us has more rights than the other! Although, sadly, this is not a reality due to our own cultures’ issues of entitlement, this is often further muddied in poverty and what is viewed as a right is actually a duty given to us or someone else.

Thabo grew up in a family that could afford to send him to a top private school in Zimbabwe. His parents worked hard at clawing their way out of poverty and he struggles to accept Kuda into his territory.  Kuda comes from a family who live in one room, can’t afford to put food on the table, who can’t speak English well and he got a full scholarship to be at that school.  Both these students are struggling with feelings of entitlement – Thabo feels entitled to his position at the school because of his parents’ new place in society and he’s finding it hard accepting Kuda.  Kuda feels entitled to his position at the school because of his incredible O-level results. If Thabo and Kuda took time to get to know each other, hear each other’s stories, walk together in duty towards each other, what a different scenario might outplay.

Our students have their duties towards others, as well as others having duties towards them.  Not only what is owed to them is duty, but they too owe duties!  It is a give and take – those duties may look different but it is a healthy give and take.  We also can’t dictate how others perform their duties to us but we can give ourselves 100% to the duties we own.  It is imperative for us to help our students envision this! It is something so much bigger than self!  Their eyes have to be taught to see and knowledge, as well as consideration of others, go hand in hand in achieving this in our students.

What is justice of thought?  It is helping our students to see that what we think of other people is a matter of justice or injustice.  That there is a certain manner of words/action due from them – to ALL manner of people who they come into contact with – and that not to speak/do those words/actions is to be unjust to them.  They need to be able to see the truth in a situation, that is, justice in word and deed, is their due and that of all other people.  There are few better ways to equip our students than to help them obtain minds that are capable of discerning truth, and this just mind can be preserved only by those who take heed of what they think.

If a student is to be guided into justice of thought from which sound opinions emanate, how much more does he need guidance in arriving at that justice in motive which we call sound principles? Principles are what are of first importance to us, which govern us, move us in thought and action.  As humans we often pick up our principles in a random fashion – good or bad.  Our upbringing, what we read, type of education, where we live.  Exposing our students to inspiring stories of everyday people from all walks of life (doing amazing things and also not so amazing things), poetry, instructive history, art, wonderful tales, revelation of science, learning to articulate and reason and unfolding travel – if only through great books – that help them experience other cultures and life.  These are but a few of the things we can lay before our students as a feast for them to consume as well as academic accomplishment.  This is how I feel we can help them build sound principles in their lives!  As educators we have to continually be aware of how we teach this, that students are not drowned in talk and repetition, where the mind is bored.  I think we underestimate sometimes the incredible benefit of laying before our students an incredible feast that touches all facets of life that formative influences of knowledge bring, and not solely focusing on their strengths.

I love that if the right feast is spread before our students, each student will express what he has received as knowledge, through record or impression ,and then we will see it work itself out in his life as he assimilates it and then gives forth an original, modified, recreation by his mind and this originality.  Incredibly this comes from the same feast laid before all but is outworked differently – individual to each student! No room for entitlement as they see where they fit in the bigger picture of humanity.  Having students who embrace their knowledge like this will help alleviate long term entitlement.  The amazing thing about living in the country I live in is that entitlement is probably the back bone of our political arena and so has trickled down to pretty much any person in authority.  For us to find examples and discuss them – it is oh so easy!  The just stories are few but shine like beacons of light to our students!  Far rather they learn from life stories than have us drone on about it and their ears switch off to it.

We’ve only been doing Makomborero Zimbabwe for 9 years and the thing I’ve come to realise we win some and we lose some to that stench of entitlement.  So what are some of the practical ways that we at Makomborero Zimbabwe take to try and help students avoid this devastating trap – flesh to my waffle above?

  1. Openly talk with students about the trap of entitlement, why it is such a stench, how it affects relationships. “Service and gratitude will fuel your relationship; entitlement and expectation will poison it” – Steve Maraboli
  2. Get students to have a vision for more than just their education – how are they giving back to their communities, what positive role can they currently play in society without money, how do they use their words to bring justice?
  3. Often talk about how they are not different to any other low income student (in fact any other student in general) – they just got lucky. Do they deserve to be here – hell yes!  Are they entitled to this scholarship – no!  They are no more important that thousands of others in their communities who would give anything for the opportunity they have been given.  The duty that comes with that is to embrace all of the feast laid before them – consume it graciously, vigorously, wanting to be shaped and moulded as they learn what it means to live out the justice in their hearts.  Viewing all people as people – seeing them all as people of value and worth irrespective of culture, background, religion etc.  This is to be modelled in our organisations continually – not something just talked about.  Students see how a cleaner in our organisations is treated.  Though their role is different, their value and worth is not different to the CEO.  This doesn’t breed entitlement – this breeds mutual respect and understanding between people.
  4. Talk about what entitlement looks like, how it pushes people away! People are not interested in their world or what they want to do because the stench repels them!  BUT when entitlement is not present people come on board, cheer their on, are giddy with excitement at what their journey holds and what lays before them.
  5. Openly share about times you have found yourself walking the road of entitlement and what you did to shake it off. Being vulnerable and real about our shortcomings!

By no means do we walk this road perfectly and we are learning every year as a new curve ball of entitlement comes our way but I want to encourage you all that the foundation we (HALI organisations) are laying in our students is so important to their future success.  This is a key foundation stone in helping our students be just, principled, outward looking people – who are successful – but hopefully without the lingering stench of entitlement following them along their path!


  1. Dear Laura,

    Thank you for a very touching post, indeed a sense of entitlement is what we see everyday with our hali students. The moment they secure the scholarship offer letter, it becomes a right, they even start making demands. Indeed the feel they are on top of the world, one told me he is now an international figure I should know that.

    Thank you once again, am going to share this post with all our current students.


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