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The Power of Apology

First, a nod to our excrutiatingly polite neighbors to the north, on the Power of Apology from Scott Stratton:

Next, inspired by Scott and in honor of Magna Carta Day - a rerun of last year's Entitled to an Apology?

Perhaps because a central feature of both hypomania and depression is irritability, and because a characteristic of the "bipolar temperament" is a certain tendency toward an attitude of entitlement, interpersonal disputes tend to be common in this patient population. -- Ellen Frank, Treating Bipolar Disorder

Frank goes on to explain how this attitude of entitlement plays out in the clinical setting.  Unlike the usually self-effacing patient with Major Depressive Disorder, grateful for any scrap of attention, people with bipolar get irritated at imagined slights, such as when the therapist cancels an appointment, or is late.  Sometimes, the only way the therapist can maintain the therapeutic relationship is to go ahead and apologize for these imagined slights.

Yup, stick that fork in the 220 volt socket again.

Me, when I cancel an appointment, or when I call to say that I will be late -- and note, I call -- I apologize.  It's not a big deal.  It doesn't mean that I feel worthless, or that I have commited a terrible crime.  I do it is because I think the therapist's time is valuable, and that he/she is entitled to that demonstration of respect.

So let's look at that word entitlement.  Once upon a time, as recently as the end of the 20th century, Merriam Webster, the dictionary of dictionaries said this:

Definition of ENTITLEMENT
a : the state or condition of being entitled : rightb : a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract
Okay, Webster always manages to throw a word into a definition that requires you to look up that word, as well.

Definition of ENTITLE

transitive verb
: to give a title to : designate
: to furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something <this ticket entitles the bearer to free admission>

To give a title to -- mmm.  We'll get back to that.

New-Speak Entitlement

In political discourse these days, we turn it upside down.  Entitlement means something like, the unreasonable expectation that a taxpayer will receive the benefit promised by the governmental entity that legislated taxes to be collected for that purpose.  Emphasis on unreasonable.  Social Security, Medicare, those are entitlements.  People who pay 15% of their income (a lower percent if they make more than $125K) for these benefits and then, oddly enough, expect to receive them have a sense of entitlement.

That is what I take Frank to mean, unreasonable, when she uses the phrase, sense of entitlement.  In the New-Speak of the 21st century, entitlement means something to which you are not entitled.  You just happen to receive it.  If it is convenient.  Which it is not.

Etymology of Entitlement

Originally, entitlement meant that one had rights.  If somebody was entitled, that meant they had received a title, a rank.  Certain rights come with certain titles.

We have now reached the point in this discussion when we haul out the Magna Carta, a document signed by King John of England at Runnymeade in Egham, Surrey, South England, on June 15, 1215.  How do you like that.  Happy Magna Carta Day.  It said, among other things, To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay right or justice.

There they are, rights.  This particular phrase from the list is about habeas corpus, meaning that if they haul you away to jail (or even the psych ward), they can't keep you for more than three days without giving you a reason -- unless they call you a terrorist -- but that one will end up in the Supreme Court.

There were other rights, as well.  As much power as a king may have in relation to his subjects, even a king anointed by God, that power is not absolute.  Others still have rights, which the king is obliged to recognize.

Well, the rights of the Magna Carta applied mostly to the Barons, who were titled, i.e., entitled.  And it was voided by Pope (not so) Innocent ten weeks later.  But by then it was too late.  Once you have a title, you know you have rights.  You are entitled.

Flash forward to the Enlightenment, those naughty French thinkers and the revolutionaries who read them, and you get the American Revolution.  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

They didn't really mean all men.  They meant all male, white property-owners.  But again, ever since the concept was introduced, it has been hard to quash.

The really radical thing about the Declaration of Independence, the thing that propelled it forward and demanded and continues to demand wider and wider application, is that reference to creation and the Creator.  The Barons of England didn't have rights because they were going to whack King John's head off if he didn't grant them.  The male white property owners of the Colonies didn't have rights because they had muskets.  According to the Declaration of Independence, we all have rights because we are creatures of the Creator.

Once you bring the Creator into it, then the limits in the minds of the original authors have been transcended.

I suspect Thomas Jefferson knew he was slipping something subversive in there, even if he couldn't live up to it at the time.

My Title: Human Being

See, I could have taken a shortcut and gone straight to Genesis 1:27.  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  But not all my readers and not all my health care providers take the Bible as their authority on this matter.  So I went the long way round.  Actually, it was an Archbishop, Stephen Langton who was the Thomas Jefferson of the Magna Carta.  Maybe Archbishop Langton was thinking about Genesis 1:27, himself.  But the document doesn't mention it, and stands on its own.  (I wonder if he got in trouble with the Pope on that one.  He wouldn't be the last.)

But me, I went to St. John the Evangelist Parochial Grade School, where the Sisters were Franciscans.  That part is important.  Francis of Assisi appreciated the theological significance of Genesis 1.  So did Sister Marilyn.  Each day of creation got its own day's class.

Our first lesson lasted seven days, all of my very first week of school and into the second.  Each day we drew that day's verse, from Let there be light, to Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth to Let us make human beings in our own image.

We even got to draw heaven for the seventh day, the day of rest.  I think I drew a Merry-Go-Round for that day.

And each day God sat back, looked at His work, and Sister Marilyn sat back, looked at our work, and each said, "That's good!"

Including the day that God made me.

That is all.  That is all that was needed.  I am entitled.  I have a title.

I am a Child of God.

Well, you know that is not the end of the story.  To be continued...

book jacket from
photo of fork in socket by Banaticus, used under Creative Commons license
colored wood engraving from 19th cent., source unknown
child's drawing of tiananmen square tank man used under Creative Commons license
other children's drawings from Prelesne, Ukraine, used under Creative Commons


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