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My Big Fat Greek (& American) Entitlement

Alex Pattakos

God bless America. And God bless Greece. Both nations
could use some divine intervention right about now. At their own peril,
the United States and Greece are moving along paths that could result in
their effective demise­-at the very least they each could become
non-recognizable when viewed through the lens of history. And whether
they like it or not, both countries are experiencing formidable
“transformational” challenges that even the mighty Heracles would find
difficult to deal with. But, we must ask, will such transformation
really result in the kind of change that we can believe in? And,
importantly, is it change that serves our highest good, both personally
and collectively? 

On March 25th, Greece celebrated the 189th Anniversary of
its Declaration of Independence. How ironic. In view of recent political
and economic events, along with the malaise that covers the nation like
a sick blanket, we might as well re-name and celebrate March 25th with
“Happy Dependence Day.” And I’m afraid that we’ll soon be able to say
the same thing on the 4th of July in the U.S.A. In this regard, while
reliance on government welfare (and I use this term broadly) in the
“Land of the Free” still may be behind that in the “Cradle of
Democracy,” although perhaps not as far behind as some people may think,
American citizens are fast becoming dependent upon their government in
insidious and, dare I say, “unhealthy,” ways.

Of course, the United States is not Greece despite the
fact that it owes so much of its system of governance and cultural
heritage to all things Greek. Economically, while there are certainly
similarities between what’s been happening in the “old” country and
what’s been happening in the good-ole U.S.A., Greece no longer has the
presumed luxury of being able to print its own currency when in need.
Unable to rely on its own economic virtues and the illusion of expanding
degrees of freedom by injecting “Monopoly” money into the system,
Greece must now depend on the good will and fiscal capacity of other
nations. And as we all know, these nations are not necessarily “good
neighbors,” frequently resulting, when push comes to shove, in
encounters of the worst kind. 

Against this volatile background, Greece, the little
country that could, is caught, much like Sisyphus, between a big rock
and a very hard place. And to complicate matters further, Greece has a
citizenry that also seems to have lost its way. Mistaking entitlement
for freedom, the core Greek values of responsibility and love of honor
(philotimo) have been replaced by a new and weird form of
greed­-government owes us a life and a living from cradle to grave! I
find this new, so-called progressive, paradigm to be bizarre and a
freedom killer rather than a freedom promoter.

Indeed, I don’t recall either my grandfather, who had
emigrated from Crete to America in search of a “better” life for his
family (and subsequently returned to his village to rest in peace), or
my father, who exemplified the authentic Greek American spirit in
Horatio Alger fashion, ever advising me to look to government for my
happiness, health, or welfare! Indeed, I learned from a very early age
just the opposite. Prosperity, to be sure, required opportunity
(something in which governance systems obviously play a key role through
their regulatory powers); but taking advantage of such opportunities
required taking personal responsibility and action, as well as being
self-confident and self-empowered. At no time was I taught (or
programmed) to feel “entitled” to anything that I did not deserve or
earn from hard work. Moreover, I learned quickly­-and sometimes
abruptly­-that what government giveth, government can take away. Hence,
slurping at the public trough, that is, being dependent upon government
action, no matter how well intended, was not a cherished value in my
proud Greek (Cretan) family, be they in Greece or in America.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, Greeks appear to want to
have it both ways. Paradoxically, while they despise government
intrusion in their private lives, a manifestation of which is not
supporting the government of their choice by paying their taxes, they
fully expect (and feel entitled) to government assistance so that they
can live out their private lives without intrusion. Too many Greeks seem
intent on showcasing to the world that they are unwilling and unable to
sacrifice self-interest in favor of the public interest during
difficult times. Whatever it takes (e.g., strikes and rioting) and
whatever it costs (e.g., depression, recession, and the like), they want
“the” government to give them their entitlements even if they are
unreasonable and, yes, unsustainable. Their sense of entitlement, be
warned, only serves to exacerbate the situation and breed even more
contempt for government due to the incongruence between ends and means,
that is, between expectations and reality. 

Now with President Obama’s unsustainable healthcare
entitlement, the United States is positioned to follow suit, catch up
with and join Greece at the edge of the cliff. But remember, the great
entitlement carnival is not a celebration after all; it’s a bandwagon of
misery that eventually robs human beings of true freedom. True freedom
cannot (and does not) exist without responsibility. And without a sense
of personal responsibility for one’s decisions and actions, the freedom
to choose, to be engaged, to be creative and innovative, and, in the
final analysis, to be self-empowered, become fleeting and disappear. 

The United States of America does not need to embrace
Greek-style retirement to experience the dire implications of what I’m
referring to here. This country has already set into motion policies
that will help to ensure that the plot unfolding in Greece also happens
here. Economic realities notwithstanding, we should all be concerned
about the role and influence of big government on individual freedom
and, by implication, the general welfare. 

ASPA member, former National Council member, and proud
Greek-American Alex Pattakos is the founder of the Center for Meaning in
Santa Fe, NM, and author of the book, “Prisoners of Our
Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and
Work.” Email:
[email protected]

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