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Gratitude vs Entitlement-Battle for the Soul

Updated on October 9, 2011

Why Social Programs Fail

I've been struggling with a thought that finally came into focus at church a couple weeks ago. It is the political season and the big issues of the day are about being able to afford the money our government is borrowing and going broke because the government is spending too much money etc.

I realize this is kind of a philosophical issue but having worked for the Government, I know it to be terribly inefficient in delivering on anything it touches. I'm not going to waste your time, we all know the stories. The issue I've struggled with is the social side of governments caring for those who lack resources.

Argument For Extensive Government Supporting the Poor

There are those who believe that governments should provide for those who do not have enough. That is a genuine and legitimate opinion. After all the US is the richest country in the world. We have no excuse for having anyone go without food.

Why can't a country with so many resources not be able to care for their poor? Though I disagree with the size and scope of what is done by governments, it is a legitimate point of view and I understand the sentiment. After all, I am lucky enough to have something so why shouldn't some of our taxes go to those who don't have enough?

Argument Against Extensive Support for the Poor

The critics of using the federal government to perform this service argue we can't afford it, or the government is inefficient at delivering goods and services. All reasonable arguments again but there is something lacking in terns of the personal well being of the soul. Making a financial argument about the health an welfare of a person in genuine need seems cold.

We all want to help people. I guess we just differ on where the line is between "helping" and creating dependency and how best to deliver these services. Arguing it could be more efficient done this way or that way seems a tad callous though it may have merit. Like I said, I struggle with this conflict.

Brief Overview of Government Entitlement Programs

Let's back up a bit to define how things currently work. Just about every government program designed to help the poor works the same way. You meet certain criteria and you are entitled to the benefit. That is it. In fact in the name of efficiency, the government works very hard to streamline things as best as they can. For instance food stamps are now just given via a debit card, called an EBT card for Electronics Benefits Transfer card. Approximate 1 in 8 Americans are on the food stamp program.

The process is highly impersonal and often filled with lots of bureaucratic paperwork, waiting in lines etc. But if you make it through the process, you get your subsidy because you qualify. Once you qualify, everything just comes to them on auto pilot. Programs differ and sometimes you have to reapply or fill out occasional paperwork but it is nothing like the first time. Basically, it is worth the suffering even if it is impersonal because if you endure, you get the benefits.

Problem is there is lots of fraud. A recent study of entitlement usage in California, they found people using some of these cards or similar entitlements on cruise ships and at other vacation getaways.  Not how the program was intended. 

The Conditioning of Entitlements

My revelation came with regard to what entitlements do to both the giver and the receiver and the dependence on who and how the gifts are given.

Let me explain, in short, when the government just gives people something because they meet certain qualifications, people get conditioned to feel entitled. Once they get that feeling and they get used to having that safety net, they become afraid of anyone or anything that might take it away. In some ways I don't blame them. If you are hungry and someone even poses a minor threat to take away your food, I could see how you would be scared.

Over the last 50 years, millions and millions of people have benefited from these programs and have also become dependent on them as well. The entitlement emotion is one of feeling that they deserve what they are getting and if threatened they feel afraid of what will happen with out that benefit. The emotions involved are "self preservation" based and loaded with fear.

The Local Solution - Volunteers & Charities

The alternative to big government is local charity and volunteerism. Prior to big national government programs, there were local solutions to these problems. In the depression era, soup kitchens started popping up to feed those in need. They were established locally by groups like churches, civic organizations and charities. Food and supplies were distributed by neighbors who volunteered and understood the needs of the local community.

There are similar type free meal services today, though their numbers are fewer. Most are run by similar volunteer, civic or religious institutions. The ones I am familiar with, have no paperwork to fill out or qualifications to meet. If you come and want to be fed, you are fed.

Kindness Begets Gratitude which Begets Kindness in Return

Many people were fed this way. They relied on these volunteers and the good deeds of others. Now let me ask you something, when someone volunteers and does a good deed for your benefit how do you react?

This is where the magic happens. Kind of like when the Grinch's heart grew. You are thankful, you feel a sense of gratitude, you feel like you wish you could repay the favor somehow. It lifts you up to want to do something nice for someone in return. This sense of gratitude and desire to respond in kind is inbred in the human condition and feeds the soul.

Gratitude vs Entitlement

Now which emotion is better for society? Entitlement or gratitude. In one solution, people expect to be given things as a birthright and because of their situation. They have been taught this mentality by the system. Whether intentional or not, there can be no doubt there are millions who feel this way. Who can really blame them.

Contrast that with volunteers who donate time and resources to help someone out. If you have ever done this kind of work you know that it is both heart wrenching and rewarding at the same time. As a person you wish you could do more. But also, the people who you help know that you are doing this not because of a paycheck but because of kindness.

Whether people acknowledge it or not we all have a noble side to us. We want to do better and give back. Even those who have little in the way of worldly goods have this human emotion. It is within all of us. An act of kindness to a strange makes us feel good.

Which is Better for Society?

So which of these is better for society? People I'll leave that to the reader to make their own decision. For me, a world where neighbors and local services work together to meet the needs of their own community seems a much better solution. Maybe since governments are strained for resources, some of this should be turned back over to local communities. Seems like a logical conclusion....


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    • Tom T profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom T 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      James - thanks for the kind words. I'm just putting into words what I heard at could say the holy spirit moved me. It just became so clear in my mind.

      Don't get me started on the progressive socialists...that is something that truly scares me these days. The battle against these progressives is in very real terms for the collective souls of Americans... Thanks again for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      Your article is awesome! I have tried to articulate what you did so beautifully. There is a huge difference between "Thank you for helping me" and "The government owes me what I get." There was no starvation in America before the Great Depression. People down and out were taken care of by charity, usually with the Gospel included. The Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression, which enabled progressive socialists to largely take charity out of private hands and into government hands. This makes people dependent on the government for their survival; takes half the money out of the private sector so it has less for charity; and most of all for progressive socialists: eliminates the Gospel, which they abhor. How can anyone abhor the Gospel? I am sure you know the answer to that question, my friend.

    • Tom T profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom T 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      @tamarajo - Thanks for commenting. I'm not sure either but I do think if the government allows some of the private local groups to take on that challenge, it could be a win win.

      @Dennis AuBuchon - I agree that some entitlements have been earned. I don't think of those so much as entitlements as fulling a contract. For instance when you pay into social security you should get something back for that. Problem is, too many things are given and there are too many that feel entitled. Not sure how to change that other than giving those who receive things a sense of gratitude and a desire to contribute themselves.

    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 

      8 years ago

      Great hub

      Entitlements are a hot topic given our current economic environment. They must be dealt with but in doing so the decisions made must be for the right reason and they should not harm those who really need the entitlements they are receiving.

      Some entitlements individuals have earned and with that they should not be affected. There are entitlements that while they may not have been earned, they are needed by various segments of our society.

    • Tamarajo profile image


      8 years ago

      entitlement is a huge issue in our culture on many levels. Personal responsibity and gratitude go hand in hand and are much needed in todays society.

      Not sure what role government should play in that.

      interesting thought provoking hub

    • Tom T profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom T 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Thanks Jeremey. I'm not sure taxpayers can afford it and I would not expect any overnight fixes. It is kind of like a weaning process. As the government steps back more local organizations will step forward. It isn't the perfect answer but I think it is something people could look at to see if it might be better long term for everyone...not just the tax payer. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

    • Jeremey profile image


      8 years ago from Arizona

      Thoughts are rolling after reading this one. I've been on the entitlement end and have volunteered on two short-term seperate occasions while waiting to recieve "foodstamps". The "entitlement system could use an overhaul but is it something our taxpayers can afford right now?

    • Tom T profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom T 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Sherrylou57 - Thanks for the comment. I will give you one little tip about Amazon...I've got a couple of hubs about things like phones and batteries. Those have items that cost less than $5 to buy them. That is big because the cutoff for 4% commissions and 6% commissions is selling 7 items. I do that no problem with the low end things. Now when I do sell something on Amazon that costs like $100 it get $6 instead of $4. Over the long haul that makes a huge difference. Sign up for Amazon. Find something that you have bought that you like and write about it. Do a couple of these reviews and you will start the ball rolling with Amazon. That has made the biggest difference in my income. Best of luck and God bless you too.

    • sherrylou57 profile image


      8 years ago from Riverside

      I am still waiting patiently for my pay. I am glad that you got something. God bless and keep up the writing.

    • Tom T profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom T 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      FloBe - Your story is touching. I know there are a number of people like you who rely on assistance. I also believe that assistance is morally the correct thing to do. As I said, this is a tough issue for me to sort out. I still do believe that there are too many people who generationally are dependent on social programs. This is not the intent of these programs to get people trapped.

      Local solutions provided by volunteers who get to know these people as people and know the community offers hope in a way that a large bureaucracy can not ever do. It may now work for cases like yours and others like you but there are plenty of people who would benefit from a kind word from a neighbor who took the time to get to know them and was able to help them out.

      I believe that kind of generosity promotes a nobility in mankind that we need to tap into. Anyway, it sounds like you are in a place where you have some peace of mind. I wish you many blessings and keep writing for hub pages. There is income to be made here. I did almost $60 this month and I know others are making much more than me. Best of luck and thanks for contributing to the conversation.

    • FloBe profile image

      Flo Belanger 

      8 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I live in Canada but those kinds of systems are similar across the board I think. I grew up with a disability and have often not been able to work. I qualified for what was called disability pension. This was a fall-back system that was easy to go on when I couldn't work. While it barely is enough to live on, it kept me alive all those years (well, God providing for all my needs.) When I got married I was cut off and it was amazing how anxious I felt about it. I thought it was unfair that I would be "punished" for getting married. I still struggle with the inability to bring in any income and wonder what I can do to make a difference. But, there was also a freeing from being always accountable to the government for everything I did. I no longer have to be afraid of their control and whims of change. So, as always there are two sides to the story (even within the story!)

    • Tom T profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom T 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Dahoglund - Your sentiments ring true. There are many good people working for governments. All too often, there chief responsibility is to follow some process that is designed by some bureaucrat who isn't local to the problem. This takes the human part out of the equation.

      My beef is not with the people in government delivering the services. There are good ones and there are bad ones. My guess is most are good. My issue is the premise that a big central government is the best solutions for these types of social problems.

      When you take the humanity out of the equation, and large bureaucratic processes do just that, you breed entitlement and weed out gratitude. Throw in the efficiency argument and it leads me to think that more local community sponsored solutions for these issues is something worth investigating.

      Thanks for stopping by and getting the conversation started.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I have seen government from both sides. Back in the seventies I was unemployed and then had eye porblems which took a lot of waiting and surgery etc. So I ended up on welfare, public housing. I took some gove't make work jobs which were supposed to leat to full time employment but found that often the agencies just wanted someone to work that did not come out of their budget. When I was able to work I got hired by the Federal government until I retired. There I found that most employees are conscientious but are so hampered by congressional rules that it is hard to do things efficiently, especially in contracting.


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