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Envy is Evil

snake We live in a world of great riches and great poverty; obscene amounts of money are going to people in the entertainment industry: film, TV, radio, music, sport, writers, presenters etc as well as to people in the world of business and finance while others, who are not so fortunate, are dying of poverty and disease. Then there are the rest of us, the vast majority, just keeping our heads above water, all dreaming of getting onto some lucrative gravy train.

This opulence that surrounds us, that is always in our face, on the television, internet, or in the magazines and newspapers, driven by the modern obsession for everything celebrity, is a cause of a great deal of unhappiness. We see it and want a part of it; believe that it is attainable and we are entitled to it, that if we just had some of the things that others have got then all our problems would be solved and we would live happily ever after. Basically, at times, we all want what others have got, their car, their house, their wife/husband, their looks, their job, their life.

Envy is a natural emotion which has existed in humans, I’m sure, since the first caveman coveted his neighbour’s cave. However it is a much more intense these days as there is a hell of a lot more to envy in this materialistic society. We cannot escape having feelings of envy no less than we can escape any other emotion but we can learn how to control it and not let it sully or dominate our lives.

Envy can manifest as a drip, drip, drip of discontent in our lives, a dangerous emotion eating away inside at our self-esteem. We compare ourselves unfavourably to others, they are better than us and we are the lesser for it. They possess something we don’t have and we will not be equal to them or feel whole unless we have it. If we continue to compare ourselves unfavourably to those around us, we end up lacking confidence in our own worth and feel powerless to change who we think we are or the world around us.

Quite often envy is just a symptom of something else that is not right with our own lives, a sign of discontent that we need to tackle before we can move ahead in life. If we envy people because they are well-liked perhaps it is because we don’t like ourselves and need to work on what is the most important relationship in our life, the one with our self.

Or if we envy our friend’s relationships perhaps we should examine our own relationships with others to see if something is wrong and work at making that better. If we envy our neighbour’s car perhaps it is just a symptom of our own financial insecurity and we should get on and do some financial planning. If we envy a colleagues job perhaps we are unhappy in our own job and either need to talk to the boss or dust off the CV.

Envy is destructive, it is not a pleasant emotion, it is not an emotion to wallow in. We must not waste energy on being envious; instead we should enjoy what we have got and concentrate on improving on that. Envy does not solve anything it just stops us from facing up to the real issues be they internal or external. If envy is an issue in life add it to the list of items to monitor on rule the mind. Envy, like all negative thoughts, must be under control.

I like this quote from the philosopher Kant which relects on our own mental shallowness. He defined envy as "a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another's because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others". You need to read it a few times to grasp the meaning.

Many years ago I played Envy in Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. My lines:
'I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper and an oyster wife. I cannot read and therefore wish all books were burnt. I am lean with seeing others eat. Oh, that there would be a famine over all the world, that all might die, and I live alone, then thou should'st see how fat I'd be. But must thou sit and I stand? Come down, with a vengeance!'

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Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind. Buddha

Avoid envy, for envy devours good deeds just as fire devours fuel. Muhammed

Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. Bible - 10 commandments