Attention Entitlement

The other day I was walking down the street and a stranger interrupted me. After confirming the interruption wasn't for any sort of an emergency and was just because they wanted casual chitchat, I declined the invitation and went back to what I was doing prior to the interruption.

The story should end there, but it doesn't. The stranger then became upset with me for declining the invitation for chitchat and started calling me names. As the interrupt-ee, I was somehow viewed as the rude one in this situation.

It would seem that this stranger felt entitled, not only to my attention, but to be able to interrupt my life to get it. And the sense of entitlement was so extreme that they seemed to think that when I turned down their offer for chitchat, that I was somehow violating one of their rights. This sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and the inclination to take advantage of my time so that they could get the attention that they wanted might sound like I'm talking about the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. But I'm actually talking about social expectations that are considered "normal" by many in our culture.

The story may sound strange and unusual, however this happens to many people every single day. In a week that I go out to lunch each day, this would happen 5 to 15 times. And I'm not the only person this is happening to. This is an extremely common occurrence for members of a social group that I am part of. And the people that are doing this are almost always a member of another specific social group.

This perceived social power is a very dangerous problem. Group A seems to be under the impression that they have the right to control the time, attention, and behavior of group B. This coercive power is established with threats when group B does not comply, or by punishment of name-calling and humiliation of group B when they do not comply. And because group A perceives that they have this power, they develop resentment when group B resists that power.

In what world, when my life is interrupted by somebody else's unhealthy demands for attention, am I somehow interpreted as wronging the interrupter by continuing on with my life? This one.