What is the Western Entitlement Syndrome?

What is the Western Entitlement Syndrome?

If this article is a little to abstract or ambiguous, ask questions in the comments thread and I will gladly make sure you get what I’m trying to say.

In the interests of ensuring that everyone understands everyone as much as possible, I will write about something today that I have chosen to label:

The Western Entitlement Syndrome

Whole world in hands

But Mwangi What is the Western Entitlement Syndrome?

I am so glad you asked. It should be noted that this syndrome is most visible in either people who are from the West AND (this is important) people who are Westernized, i.e. anyone from a city is at risk of getting this disease. The Western entitlement syndrome is a rather complex thing that has a few parts:

It is the genuine heart felt belief that goodness and blessings are a birthright for the simple fact that I was born. This is coupled with a belief that God, the world and everything in it is on one’s side and anything that isn’t one one’s side and/or takes away from the goodness is either an obstacle that must be eliminated or a weird, creepy thing that must be ignored.

As I said, it is a complex thing (and I was too lazy to split it up into parts and explain each different part) and so to illustrate just what this syndrome looks like I will tell you a couple of stories:

The Young Men Who Thought they Were Supermen

SupermanI remember back when I was still in high school I went to this house party. It was in a small secluded home at the very top of a dark, well forested mountain. I showed up in there with three of my “brothers from the motherland” determined to make cross-cultural exchange a double entedre.

I was the loudest, most obnoxious fellow in the room. And after singing, hugging, grabbing, joking, huffing and puffing, I packed my bags because I was going home alone. As we were packing up to leave a panic hit the party.

Are those Boys Mad?

It turns out that the girl hosting the party had had a spat with three vveerrrryyyyy drunk boys who had attended the party and somehow the boys decided that the way they would get vengeance would be by trying to take the 5-10 kilometer extremely-convoluted-and-pitch-black hike down the mountain on their own. Well, their technique looked like it worked because this girl was horror stricken.

The Search Begins

We packed my friends saloon car with 5 males and 2 girls and off we went in search of these three young men, as the rain came pouring heavily down. We screamed their names and drove around for close to an hour and a half before we found the first boy. Soon after we found the second.

The Third is Always the Special One Isn’t He?

I will never forget the way we found the third one. I want you to imagine the Blair Witch Project or the Exorcist. The world around us was in a blanket of darkness but for the meagre lights of my buddy’s Nissan Silvia. As we descended down a hill, at the very bottom of it, the spotlight rest on a what-the-heck-is-that-doing-in-the-middle-of-nowhere street post that had two signs, one pointing to the left and one to the right. Leaning against that pole, completely drenched and looking like he was among the walking dead was the third boy.


I don’t even know if he was fully conscious as we brought him back to the car and put him in the backseat. Feeling very much like self-sacrificing heroes, me and my buddy got in the trunk of the car so that these boys could have room in the back seat.

What I have never forgotten about that day, aside from the hyperbolic drama, was the last thing the third boy said to me just as we were dropping him home:

Thank you. I didn’t know what I was thinking. You know we thought we were superman. We thought we were invincible.


God My Provider

Prayer time

If you have no understanding of Christian faith or theology, see you in the next headline below…….

Of late, I have been going to church and church related events A LOT. One thing that seems to come up over and over and over and over and over and over again is a little process that I like to call cognitive dissonance that probably should never have happened in the first place:

Step one: People in churches all over Australia reach out to people by telling them that, “God and His love will fulfill your every want and need and so surrender to him and he’ll give you everything your heart hungers for.”

Step two: People join the church believing and expecting that now that they have “surrendered” they will get everything they want and need….ooohhh, I “need” a car, a flat screen, a mouse trap, an X- box 360 (Wii is way better but whatever)

Step three: Tragedy strikes: They get sick, lose a job a car or a nail.

Step four: They cry out for God to fix it

Step five: He doesn’t

Step six: They get very mad because God isn’t some vending machine that pops out miracles every time they pray and actually brings pain to their lives.

Step seven: They realize that God won’t always provide and either really struggle with this or leave the church.

Now I know a lot of folk reading this raised in a third world country, when they read step 6 said:

Well, d’uh ( In Indonesia this means bye, seriously try it go to an Indonesian and say da! ) ! He runs the Universe, He does what He wants, when He wants and sometimes we are beneficiaries, some times we are not. But he isn’t here to be our vending machines.

And yet, a lot of folk out here struggle with this. Why?

Because of the Western entitlement syndrome

So What’s Your Point?

I really have no point. I just wanted to put a post out there and make you aware that this exists. That some people really do think that human rights ARE intrinsic human rights not limited to the UN conventions but also including material prosperity and health. Is it wrong? I don’t know. Is it real? You better believe it and you best find a way to handle it. Our complaining won’t make it go away…………………..

To hear more about what I have learned from 6 years + of being an African immigrant ensure you stay in the loop via RSS or email .

Have an empathetic day,


  • By Caustic Blonde, July 3, 2008 @ 5:18 am

    You lost me on the Superman story so I won’t comment on that except that I have a funny story concerning Superman which I will have to write about in my blog.

    Christianity – I am not convinced that “lukewarm” [insert any religion you please here] is confined to the West. I am sure there are a great deal of people in many religions the world wide that when they don’t get out of it what they want they leave it. I will tell you I am Christian and that in the churches I have attended I was told to bring all my problems to the LORD, but I was also told that the LORD answers your prayers in HIS own way and in HIS own timeframe. The only time that I have ever been upset with GOD was about nine years ago when my fiance was killed in a car accident. I was so angry because I knew GOD could have prevented it. When I found out I was very angry, pounding my fists on the ground asking HIM, why?! I was never so angry – enraged in my entire life and I hope to never be that angry again. But in all the emotional turmoil and anger I did not denouce GOD or curse HIM. I do remember later on that night there was a lightening storm and it was very intense, words could not begin to convey how strong the storm was and it was lightening, nothing else. It was as though all my rage was released in that storm and I was reminded of WHO is in charge….

  • By kenya.fm, July 3, 2008 @ 6:32 am

    I like your “honesty” – I really have no point. I just wanted to put a post out there and make you aware that this exists.

    But you bet, anytime u write somethign to do with God, u are bound to get me out of my hiding:

    Now, for a definition

    A god who does what you want when you want, who you control but does not control you, who you want to obey your prayer request but you do not want to obey is: A god of your creation, an idol.

    Now, the other God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is one who is loving, yet has the freedom to do as He wishes, one who gives life and takes it, gives health and allows disease and and is answerable to no one but himself.

    Those who are proud hate such a God, for they think he demands too much from them. But the humble ones discover his ways and are happy to deal with HIM.

    As for God meeting a believer’s NEEDS, He indeed does/must, because He promised to do so, but He does not promise to always meet your WANTS, and there is a big difference between the two.

    Caustic: Sorry for your loss, and i am hope you got to make it up with the Lord

  • By Evan, July 3, 2008 @ 10:51 am

    Thanks for a great post.

    I grew up middle-class and western and christian so it’s easier for me to relate to the second story. I do have some understanding of the first story too from experiences my friends have had.

    This syndrome sure does exist and I thank you for drawing our attention to it.

  • By Leeban, July 3, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

    Pretty much agree wit it all. Cept i dont believe in god. Even though i’ve lived a pretty “blessed” life, too much fucked up shit in this world for me to believe theres any god out there who cares about us.

  • By meek meek, July 3, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

    That was a funny post… btw try and get your hands on ‘Jungfrau and other short stories’ by the Caine Prize for Frican Writing-7th annual collection… it has some really well writen stuff… been getting goosebumbs reading it… and your post reminded me of it :)

  • By rags, July 3, 2008 @ 11:55 pm

    cool entry

  • By Daniel, July 4, 2008 @ 1:09 am

    The flip side of the entitlement syndrome, is the belief that any poor person, or person going through a rough time (sickness, marital problems) did something wrong, because surely God would have solved the problem? This is especially true in some of the wealthier churches.

    I know this syndrome is kept in check in developing countries, because, one can allways find a person/person who did everything right and everything does not work out.

    You have boiled down the message of the book of Job.

  • By Mwangi, July 4, 2008 @ 3:00 am

    @Caustic:Wrong use of the Superman story? Drats, and it was such a cool story too. On to Christianity…..sorry for your loss, Caustic and thanks for sharing.
    I am pretty much contrasting this to the impression I left of God and Christianity in Africa. Whereas, this “vending machine” idea of God was definitely talked about, I left African Christianity with the knowledge that it was very much a hierarchy, with God being the father and us being unworthy of his perfection and being saved only by His love and Mercy in our lives. Here, God being the boss isn’t spoken about as much, though it definitely is. Here there is definitely more discussion of God being your friend and guide. I think a hilarious way to illustrate this is in a bit that Steve Harvey, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, its longer and compares how white people pray as though God is their buddy and African Americans introduce him as though he is the president, commander in chief and ruler of the Universe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvCd_ANIKys

  • By Mwangi, July 4, 2008 @ 3:06 am

    @kenyafm: Sometimes you gotta keep it real, I didn’t know what to do with that article, I just wanted to put it out there. You do come out in force any time I speak about God: God , politics and romantic/sexual relationships: the three topics that guarantee a huge turn up. God to have you hear.
    As I was saying to Caustic, now that I am intimately getting to know Christians here, it amazes me how some of their issues aren’t issues in African churches at all. When people here that God has an agenda beyond what is good for you, a lot of people struggle with that and that has always amazed me.
    Though I am not quite there yet, as I go along, I am noticing more and more, just how insecure and unassured we as African people, even the ones outside of it, are when compared to what seems to be intrinsic self-worth and self-assuredness of a lot of people in the West: of course its quite nuanced, but I think theological differences like that definitely bring the issue to the light a little bit.

  • By Mwangi, July 4, 2008 @ 3:07 am

    @Evan: Thank you for reinforcing the idea….hmm, there just might be something worth discussing in the future here.

  • By Mwangi, July 4, 2008 @ 3:08 am

    @Leeban: You know I am kind of on the flip side of the same coin, I see that so many people live so much worse than I do and the fact that I have been blessed the way I have is either a really successful cosmic game of Russian roulette or there’s someone out there looking out for me and giving me challenges just great enough that I grow but not so great that they flood me.

  • By Mwangi, July 4, 2008 @ 3:11 am

    @meek meek: Glad you liked the post. Thanks for sharing the book with me.Do a post on the stories on your blog? I would love to hear more about it, but considering the stacks of books I have yet unread, the chances of me getting to any new book over the next twelve months appear slim.

  • By Mwangi, July 4, 2008 @ 3:11 am

    @rags: Glad you liked it….you have to do better than that bwana. Tell me why you liked it, what you didn’t like. :D

  • By Mwangi, July 4, 2008 @ 3:15 am

    @Daniel: You know, when the pastor of our church preached about how this “consumer mentality” to church and life isn’t the healthiest, he used the book of Job. There is so much about the Christian faith, what’s wrong with it and what’s right with it, that can be discussed just from the book of Job e.g. Why would God test the most faithful of his servants like that? Why not test someone who needs to grow in their faith? Why make him suffer for so long?

    That belief in action = curse/blessing is quite strong in Africa. You will find some preachers who say that all the natural disasters only occur in countries that are apart from God and that makes sense, and find all sorts of “punishment for sins” links everywhere. Thank you for commenting………..

  • By Evan, July 4, 2008 @ 10:51 am

    The flip side of the Western Entitlement Syndrome is western inferiority (to the East). Ever since the Athenians copied the Egyptians to build the temple of Zeus and the Romans copied Greek culture there has been this undercurrent of inferiority – that wisdom comes from the east.

    The self assurance of westerners, so often remarked on (and deeply unattractive in so many ways), has another side to it.

  • By Mwangi, July 4, 2008 @ 6:08 pm

    @Evan: That’s news to me, thanks for sharing. I never would have even heard of that or known it existed had it not been for you telling me. Thanks

  • By Daniel, July 5, 2008 @ 2:58 am

    As per you comments about testing someone who does is faithful… I struggled with that one. I know we are not capable of grasping everything that God can grasp, and it is not only us that he is working to build. Isn’t it quite common for us to ask that God use us? Well he/she does.

    I know of someone in a church I attended who was involved in an accident, he had spilnal injury that resulted in him losing control of his hands, legs. He ended in a wheelchair, on public assistance. He used to be in the military, then in civilian life worked in a outdoor occupation, he was the epitome of the Macho man. From that, to being fed and taken care of by his wife (who he used to support) and then the publlic assistance.
    I now realise some of the wonderful lessons the rest of us in church got. Children raised in the church got to be comfortable with people with disabilities… you could see, and hear as they would race around screaming in delight on his wheelchair. He was a living testament to the need for compassion, most in the church were fully employed, some had very successful businesses, and many lived in neighbourhoods where there was disdain for “welfare cases”, he put a human face to it.

    He made me confront what it meant to be a “man”, what do you do if you cannot provide for your family, and have don’t have the strength?
    His, and his families struggles also taught me that life actually goes on and can be enjoyed after a tragedy. I still have not internalized that, but when I am down, I always come back to the idea that I need to find a way out, there is a way out.

    We also had another person with chronic pain, chronic debilitating pain from a back injury, and who was facing the prospect of being laid off. She did not take it well, and was very angry, but as she worked through her issues, I learned that no body is perfect, and I don’t have to be a saint going through her trials.

    The biggest lesson was one day when she was really having a bad day and I just did not know what to say to her, I had no idea how to solve any of her problems, I was even angry about the way she was being treated at work. At the end of my polite listening, I told her that I was so sorry for what she was going through, and that I felt so bad I could do absolutely nothing to help her. She told me thank you for listening, and it was a deep felt thank you. I got it. Listen, empathetic listening. I tried it on some women, and wow!!! No more cheesy lines.

    As I get older, I appreciate Job more, I do not know God’s plans ( and many who profess don’t), and do not pretend to know them, and sometimes they look absurd or cruel, maybe some of his plans will be evident to me, some will not. I look at it as God has more variables he is working with, i.e. the several billion, past, present and future.

  • By Mwangi, July 5, 2008 @ 4:49 am

    @Daniel: Speaking for me I must say I love that perpective of Christ because it takes the idea of “God working for the good of all who follow him” and makes it a communal as opposed to a narcissistic idea which it is a lot of the time.
    The one time I felt listened to I never forgot so it definitely works in reverse too. I think it’s because ultimately as much as we may try to avoid it, we crave each other’s approval or recognition as people in some way and when someone listens to you, you genuinely feel like they let you in and accepted you for who you were.

Other Links to this Post

  1. Why Do Our Accents Change When We Immigrate Abroad? » The Displaced African — July 6, 2008 @ 4:16 am

  2. Discussion about One of the Greatest Books of the Bible - The Displaced African — August 2, 2008 @ 7:03 am

  3. False Entitlement Syndrome « TimWoolery.net — February 6, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

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