BalanceA lot has been written about entitlement in the last handful of years.  Politically, we talk about all of the things we deserve and that the government should just provide.  Professionally, we talk about how our companies owe us a raise or more benefits or how we should be making six figures straight out of college.  I’m not really sure where this sense of entitlement comes from but believe we can start doing something about it at home.

As parents, my wife and I try many things with our kids.  We try to communicate big ideas to them in a way they will understand.  And, by understand, we mean something they can internalize, apply, and even explain back to us in their own words.  Rote memorization won’t help.

There are patterns to every family.  One such rhythm in ours  was an expansion and contraction of privilege that often lagged a corresponding display (or lack) of responsibility.  Regardless of the goodness or badness of this pattern, I wanted to find a way to communicate the ideas of privilege and responsibility to my kids.

One day, I held my hands out flat in front of myself – one a little higher than the other – and explained:

This hand represents responsibility and this hand represents privilege.  Most of the time, responsibility should exceed privilege.  We should only get rewards for things we have earned.  Sometimes privilege will exceed responsibility, and that can be okay as long as it doesn’t happen very much.  But when privilege exceeds responsibility too much, we stop trying and start believing we should get whatever we want for no reason.

Over the weeks and months that followed, I could simply put my hands out in front of myself and ask one of the kids, “where are you right now?”  And, they would take my hands and move them up or down to show me where they thought the level of privilege was relative to the level of responsibility.  They once asked, which hand is which?  It’s an honest question, but the reality is that they have never once been confused when we are out of balance and the hands don’t matter.  And no, I don’t just ask them in a corrective manner – I often use this as an opportunity for them to see why we grant them new privileges.

While I would not use this visual with my team, I do think it remains important to consider our freedoms with regard to the level of responsibility we carry.  Earned versus expected.

I’ll admit to having been out way of balance in the past and I will most certainly have times out of balance in the future (probably even today).  Hopefully, these times will be dwarfed by my times of being responsible.  I’ll look to external accountability for that.

In the meantime, “where are you right now?”