"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both." (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
Due to my extensive travel, I've been "Diamond" status on Delta for the last 6 or 7 years now, and I am always thanked for being a "Million Miler."
So, I get lots of special privileges: 1st class upgrades, free club memberships, expedited everything. The great folks at Delta are trained to practically genuflect in my presence, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the perks of my status.
I have rightfully earned these privileges, paying thousands of dollars and sacrificing invaluable family time to work with people & organizations around the world. These privileges have sometimes blessed my family as well, though, as we've gotten discounted or free travel for some amazing trips every year.
Last year, however, my sister used her privileges on another airline to fly my son, Brandon, and me to Texas for a visit. This was a generous gift, and it made for a vastly different experience.
There we were, waiting to board a different airline, in a totally foreign part of our otherwise familiar Atlanta airport. What's more, we were having to wait till the back of the line to board the plane. I'm used to being first onboard every flight, and now we were bringing up the rear!
Strangely enough, though, I liked it. I felt no pressure to be first, felt no right to be recognized, and felt no urgency to board the plane. I remarked to Brandon, "Man, this feels weird, but I kinda like it."
His reply: "Yeah, Dad, we actually don't like flying with you on Delta, 'cos you act so entitled."
Ouch. I've always coached us parents to be approachable, welcoming even criticism from our kids. This doesn't mean we have to agree with them, but it does mean we're humble enough to listen.
Here I was struggling to heed my own advice. "Entitled, huh? You're dang right I'm entitled! I've put my butt in so many freaking Delta seats I deserve to be entitled! And do you know how many trips YOU'VE gotten to take because of my 'entitlements'?!?! How dare you question my attitude about the privileges I've earned..."
Thankfully, I didn't say any of that. Thankfully, I was somehow able to press my own pause button and ask, "Entitled, huh? Tell me more about that..."
Our principles are far more valuable than our privileges, even the ones we've earned. Here's why:
1. We can always lose our privileges. Turns out I'll be losing my "Diamond" status next year. Delta changed some of its requirements, and I haven't flown as much this year, so I'm regressing all the way back to "Platinum" instead.
But no one can take away my principles but me. If I get pouty as a mere "Platinum" next year I cannot, with any integrity, blame Delta for my attitude.
2. Our privileges can never fully define us. Sure, we can be known for our socio-economic or cultural status, but our reputation is built by how we relate to that status. Do we see ourselves as better than others? Do we act entitled when people don't respect our superior accomplishments or accumulations? This is what most truly reflects our self-definition.
Defining ourselves by our privileges is the surest way to communicate our core insecurity; if you need someone to recognize your status then you're putting your inner validation in the hands of everyone else.
3. And so...privileges can never create true respect. The respect we crave from others can lead us to double-down on what we think we have. So, we proudly display our Diamond bag-tags, our employment titles, or even our amazingly accomplished sons and daughters...whatever we can use to draw out the respect we think we deserve.
But no one will ever respect us more than we respect ourselves. And we can't respect ourselves as long as we continually sacrifice our principles to gain more privileges.
(I'm sure there's an application here for our current political, racial, and gender conflicts, but enough preaching; I've got a plane to catch.)