We all rather desperately need one another.
None of us is entitled to anything from anyone else (with the exception of young children, entitled to appropriate care from the parents that bring them forth).
It is sort of fascinating, that the existence of legitimate needs does not imply any entitlement. How often we explain it away — either it must not be a real need, or else we must have a right to the fulfillment.
Is it the hardest lesson of all to learn? How to ask for what we need without demanding it, even in established and committed relationships, and how to live well when our needs go unmet?
It starts with such little things.
Make eye contact and ask the baby if she wants to be picked up.
Ask before tickling. Stop instantly when asked to stop.
Speak to children not so as to display your wit to the other grown-ups, but to make a real connection.
No one, even a relative, is entitled to hugs or kisses.
This evening someone started teasing my daughter about her dessert. She didn’t catch on right away but was answering him seriously. When she started to seem confused, I mentioned to her that he was teasing. She told him, politely enough, “Besides, I don’t like being teased.” The guy said, “What, don’t you have a sense of humor?” He continued to tease her a while longer, until I repeated, “Amy doesn’t want to be teased right now.” He stopped talking to her altogether.
I get it — the guy wasn’t malicious or creepy or abusive. He was having fun. He wanted to include her in the fun. But no matter how friendly what you’re doing is, if someone asks you to stop, how is it possibly respectful to persist? I wonder if he would have persisted like that if he had been talking to a boy instead of a girl? Or to an adult instead of a child?
The vast majority of people don’t get violent with their sense of entitlement and unmet needs. On the other hand, the equation of unmet needs and entitlement is a pervasive problem — whether you’re a child or a woman or anyone bearing the brunt of someone else’s sense of entitlement, as mild as our dinner partner this evening or as threatening as the fellow in this comic. And it’s a pervasive problem we find in ourselves — and I think we all do, if we’re honest. We have all experienced moments when we felt we didn’t have all that we needed, and that it seemed so perfectly easy and reasonable for someone to provide it, and maybe we asked, or maybe we just expected, and we didn’t get it, and what do we do with that? What kind of friend or spouse or whoever wouldn’t do this thing for us? Is it not a real need? How often do we not even recognize this kind of thing as a sense of entitlement?
Merton reminds me that “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.”
Willard reminds me to ask — to make a request — and not to demand.
Peter reminds me to cast all my cares, including the distress of unmet needs, on Jesus who cares for me.