Os Guinness states that the sin of envy has several common characteristics:
1. Envy is the vice of proximity. We are always prone to envy people close to us in temperament, gifts or position.
2. Envy is highly subjective. It is in the eye of the beholder. It is not the objective difference between people that feeds envy, but the subjective perception. As a Russian proverb says, “envy looks at a juniper bush and sees a pine forest.”
3. Envy doesn’t lessen with age. It gets worse, as we run into more and more people of happiness and success, offering more fodder for envy.
4. Envy is often petty but always insatiable and all consuming. However small the occasion that gives rise to it, envy becomes central to the envier’s whole being. The envier “stews in his juice.” Envy begins with pride and then plunges the person into hatred.
5. Envy is always self-destructive. What the envier cannot enjoy, no one should enjoy, and thus the envier loses every enjoyment. The envier’s motto is “if not I, then no one.” As an eighth-century Jewish teacher put it, “the one who envies gains nothing for himself and deprives the one he envies of nothing. He only loses thereby.”
So, how does one get out of this Salieri-like sinkhole? Where does one run to find the antibiotic for this soul poison called envy? Well, first off, you’re not going to get the cure at Walgreen’s. If this thing is on you like stink on a monkey, you must quickly realize that you are in way over your head and you need some divine assistance to get you out of this small-minded and venomous trap.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, tabled the virtue of mourning (try this) in contrast to the vice of envy. Again, Guinness writes, “If envy is defined as, ‘sorrow at another’s good,’ its counterpoint (mourning) is sorrow at another’s evil, grieving with others in their affliction or loss. Whereas envy weeps at those who celebrate and celebrates at those who weep, mourning weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice.”
Guinness goes on: “Envy stands apart from others, aware only of differences that rankle. Its typical movement is from self-centeredness to self-sufficiency to solitariness. Mourning, on the other hand, stands beside others. Its movement is from suffering to sympathy to solidarity. Whereas envy is competitive, mourning is compassionate. Envy never sees people but only comparisons between itself and others; it treats giving as a matter of diminishing returns for itself. Mourning, however, ignores comparisons and sees people. It treats giving as a matter of compound interest and multiplying dividends.”
This column’s running long, and I really don’t know how to wrap it up—plus I’m running late for dinner—so I’ll just slam in an appropriate quote regarding envy by John Adams. Check it out :
“This passion, while it is simply a desire to excel another, by fair industry in the search of truth and the practice of virtue is properly called emulation. When it aims at power as a means of distinction, it is Ambition. When it is in a state of mortification at the superiority of another and desires to bring him down to our level or to depress him below us, it is properly called, Envy. These observations alone would be sufficient to show that this propensity in all its branches is a principal source of the virtues and vices, the happiness and misery of human life, and that the history of mankind is little more than a simple narration of its operation and effects.”
To be continued . . .
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