As I settled in at the high school ball game, there was a sense of excitement in the air as fans and student athletes braced for what was sure to be an intense matchup between two great teams. Parents and other fans staked their claim to good stadium seats as they tried to sit around others who would support their team and create the synergy of a loud and energized fan base. I fully expected this night to reflect the purity of high school sports at its best: competition, love for the game, and pure passion to see the athletes perform their best. While the night started with all those qualities, it eventually transitioned to something very different. Looking back I can’t really tell when the mood of the game shifted in the stands, but at some point parents and fans for both teams began to react in anger and entitlement toward each other. It all escalated when a ref called a questionable foul against an athlete from one team and several parents stood up in concert with fists raised and choice words for the ref. From that point on, things degraded fairly quickly. Words were exchanged between some fans in the stands and a “how dare you” attitude started to pervade a lot of the comments made. If I had to describe in one word what took over the tone in the stands it would have to be angry entitlement. Unrestrained anger was returned with more anger in a degrading cycle of bad sportsmanship by fans of all ages.
What I witnessed that night at the high school ball game is a reflection of the unrestrained entitlement and anger that seems to be sweeping us culturally. There’s no doubt, entitlement and anger and a “how dare you” attitude is pervasive. It only takes one trip to the grocery store or scroll through your social media feed to find examples of the kind of angry entitlement I observed in the stands. The problem is that this unhealthy codependent posture does not stop with the adults. Our kids are watching us interact with one another and then they are modeling our behavior. I bet you’re not surprised to learn that as the parents and fans escalated that night in the stands, the players got more and more aggressive on the ball field. It’s a mess out there and we are all responsible to be a part of the fix. Here are some strategies that you can implement in your own life to take responsibility to be a part of the solution for the angry entitlement that’s creeping in all across our land.
1. Don’t let the anger of others become contagious
Many times we feel compelled to respond to the anger of other people in like manner. It’s almost a defense mechanism in which we react to anger with our own anger in an attempt to shut it down or “protect ourselves”. The problem is that the minute we give other people, and the emotion that they carry, power to create an emotion in us, we have officially lost control. Emotions aren’t contagious. Period. Just because someone else acts in an angry way does not mandate that you respond in like manner. It doesn’t make you weak, vulnerable, less than, or a wuss to maintain your sense of control over you. If we’re ever going to change the rising tide of entitlement and anger in our culture, it has to start with you and I deciding that we refuse to allow an angry person to get us angry.
2. Don’t let anger be a cue for you to do something
People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. Sometimes the anger and entitlement of other people just does not warrant a response. We are not responsible to fix other people and what seems broken about their personalities or their opinions. That goes for opinions about fouls called during high school ball games as well as political or social attitudes. If you find that other people’s anger is always a cue for you to respond in some way, you’re a part of the problem. People who are not codependent and have the ability to draw good healthy boundaries allow others to be broken and messed up.
3. Set healthy boundaries when necessary
Obviously there are going to be moments in which you have to respond to the entitlement and anger of other people. My hope is that situations where we have to respond to anger is reserved for moments in which the anger or entitlement of the other party poses a significant threat to you or your loved ones. Let’s be honest: that’s probably not the case for the majority of the entitled anger that we see typically. For instance, if someone says something on social media that is contrary to your political belief, that’s really not putting you in danger. Take my experience at the football game: a difficult call by the ref might put you in jeopardy of losing points, but it’s not going to matter in the grand scheme of things. However, when someone is harassing you or consistently belittling you with their own angry entitlement, there might be a need to draw a good healthy boundary. The key here is to adopt a relational strategy that will breed peace in the situation rather than more anger. “Speak the truth in love” is always a good motto to live by and it’s not ironic that that kind of response typically deescalates most situations. There might even be a moment where you have to be prepared to use physical distance or other limits that enforce consequences and boundaries with others. That’s fine as long as you’re conducting yourself with character and ensuring that anger has not become contagious for you. The beauty part here is that if you hold yourself accountable to act and react in ways that are assertive, not aggressive, you actually are in the more powerful position relationally. With any luck, those who are angry at you will have to learn self-control for the first time instead of constantly being able to use their entitled anger to control others.