Guess who coined the term, “the green-eyed monster,” and in what book it was first used? William Shakespeare, Othello. Might as well just give you the answer and save you a 15 second search. I’m “green with envy” at how quickly the kids of today can do research. Remember going to the library and using something called a card catalog? Is that even a thing anymore?
Envy is a feeling of discontent or resentment aroused by a desire for someone else’s possessions, abilities, status, or situation. Jealousy, covetousness, resentment, bitterness, discontent.
The deadly sins we’ve discussed to date are all tempting because of the temporary pleasure they appear to provide. Sloth is relaxing. Gluttony brings us tasty treats. Greed buys us something fun. And with wrath we get to let off some steam. Envy on the other hand does nothing but make us unhappy. There is no upside…so stop it!
Envy causes us to think the worst of and for others. This is obviously not a “Love your Neighbor” outlook. Unchecked envy sets off a vicious cycle of resentment, anger, hatred and wrath. It leads to the sins of gossip and lies, and maybe even violence. For what? Do we really think tearing down others will build us up? In fact, it does quite the opposite.
Seriously, what is there to envy in another that you don’t already have? Stuff, material possessions? Do they really matter? Once we have met our basic needs, the rest is all want. Maybe even greed. Should we envy greed?
What about the attributes and accomplishments of another? Should we envy those? Why not admire them and use them as inspiration and motivation to do the same? To use our talents and abilities to achieve great things in this world. We should be grateful for all that we already have, and for all that we are. Let’s build on that.
Yet we continue to envy. Why? Is it our competitive nature? Our need for recognition? The desire to prove our self-worth to ourselves and others? All of the above and more? Sometimes I think envy is just an excuse for our own lack of becoming the person we know we can be.
My personal opinion is that we are envious because we tend to get our sense of self-worth by comparing ourselves to others. Here’s the problem. There will always be someone else who has more possessions, abilities, and status than you. We set ourselves up for constant disappointment with this outlook. So stop comparing!
Do you think God compares us to each other? Or does He instead compare us to the ideal He has in mind for us? How about we do the same? How about you compare your present self to the best possible self that you can imagine becoming? Then set out to be that person. Become the saint you are meant to be!
That is what true champions do. By champion I mean someone who has become the best in their field of endeavor. Champions don’t worry about beating someone else to become the best. They continually strive to become the best they can possibly be. Their outlook and attitude is what gets them to the top and keeps them there. They have an ideal state for themselves in mind that they aspire to achieve. Being better than others is merely a result of their efforts, not their aim.
I find it interesting that all great champions have a rival. I’m thinking about sports in particular here, but I’ll bet this has general applicability. They have someone to compete with who serves to make them better. They push to make each other better. And in doing so they both achieve a higher level of performance than they would have on their own.
These rivalries are often portrayed as bitter at the time they are happening. Yet as time passes the rivals nearly always become friends. They have a deep respect for each other and an appreciation for what they got from the other to help them achieve excellence. That’s the other side of envy; brotherly love. Let’s call it the virtue of kindness.
Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Caring, helpful, thoughtful, unselfish, selfless, altruistic, compassionate, sympathetic, understanding, big-hearted, benevolent, friendly, hospitable, neighborly.
Kindness wants the best for others. We are truly happy for their success. We are inspired and motivated by who they are and what they are achieving. We want to help them and learn from them. We know that by working together we can all achieve more.
Life is not a zero-sum envy game. Your win is not my loss. We can all win. We can push each other to achieve more than we could on our own. We can be friendly rivals, encouraging each other to pursue excellence. To becoming the saints we are all meant to be.
Two familiar sayings just popped into my wandering mind. A rising tide lifts all boats, and loose lips sinks ships. I think these mean that kindness to each other keeps all of our boats afloat, but take care to navigate around the rocks of envy that are always lurking in our path.
Like charity, kindness extended with no expectation of a return always comes back to you in some way. So help others become their best selves. Know that somehow that will help you to do the same.
As with the other virtues, kindness begins with an attitude of gratitude. If you are truly grateful for who you are and what you have, it is difficult to be envious at the same time. And be grateful for the good fortune of others as well. Let those around you know how much you respect and admire them. Especially those whom you might have envied in the past.
If you are not yet completely over envy, do this. Pray for those you envy. Pray that they continue to be blessed with all the good things in this life and that they remain in God’s good graces. I find it impossible to pray for someone with envy in my heart. Try it for yourself.
I feel much better now. That sick green feeling is gone. Ending envy might just be the quickest path to lasting happiness.
To your happiness, Scott