The Real Sins: 3. Envy

"Invidia" by Hieronymus Bosch
from "The Seven Deadly Sins
and the Four Last Things".
In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. In the first article of this series we talked about arrogance, in my opinion understood as either a wrong understanding of one's capabilities together with an unwillingness to accept better traits in others or an overestimation of one's real resources, something linked more to pride and resting on one's laurels. In the second article we talked about ignorance understood as either an inability or unwillingness to understand divine guidance and wisdom or as the lack of knowledge coupled with the lack of wanting to fill this lack of knowledge.

Now we will talk about envy. It is considered by many as being an emotion, although a rather complex one compared to something like love or fear. Envy is highly linked with social behavior and various events in the development of one's personality. We will start by trying to find out what envy really is and how we can overcome it, and protect ourselves from it. After that we will search to see what some of the more enlightened minds around the planet have to say about this.

Let's begin with an example, take a poor worker and compare him to a rich businessman. The poor man most probably will not care about the rich man and vice-versa. Yet, in a few cases, the poor develop a form of envy in relationship with the rich, generally when the latter openly show their opulence and endless possibilities. The poor man can very likely envy the power, respect, opportunities and overall lifestyle of the wealthy individual. But is this envy or is it a feeling of  injustice? The poor man may be working ten hours a day while the rich one inherited the wealth, is this injustice or is this fate?

When you envy someone, he has something you want, but simply getting that thing from him will not fix the problem. The envier needs to destroy or denigrate to get satisfaction. Does someone envy the possessor of that thing or the thing itself? Think of the frustration of the poor man, seeing that he will work for the rest of his life and never get the status reserved to the businessman (or anyone evidently higher than him). Therefore he sees the others' wealth as unjust but he himself does not want something unjust, so, the only solution would be to make all that wealth useless. The suffering produced (on the rich) will apparently remove the suffering the envier did on himself (envy has some companion emotions). Normal people just don't care about such an aspect, but events in the development of the envier in our example made him think in a wrong way. I did not attack the situation in which one can feel social and/or economic injustice.

In many Communist countries, in the transition from capitalism, the peasants and workers revolted against those who had wealth and against those who they might of worked for. Generally, the lowest of the low, dressed in clothes of justice and equality but animated by feelings of revenge and envy became prison guards of their former masters and other former rich individuals. You can imagine what this unwanted exchange of power meant. This also happened to intellectuals who were part of the opposition, their intellectual development becoming a source for mockery, in this way, the new oppressors felt satisfaction by destroying/denigrating the envied components, knowledge and intelligence.

Let's take a more clear example. (A) wants a particular type of car for which (A) has worked tirelessly for a long period. (B) arrives one day at home with that exact type of car, brand new, shining under a clear summer day like the treasures of El Dorado. What would be the reaction of (A)? Would he congratulate his neighbor, would he not care about his neighbor's recent acquisition, or will he be filled with feelings of envy, because (B) has something (A) desperately wants. He may not give up his struggle to get his own car, but, depending on individual, he will act on his feelings of envy and scratch the car and puncture the tires. This would translate in his mind something like: OK, so you bought it, but you surely won't enjoy it for long.

Envy, in my opinion, appears when you also have frustration lurking somewhere around. It's one thing to want something and to work to get it, it's something else to want a particular thing and to envy someone else who has it. An ugly woman may be envious of a beautiful woman but this is not necessarily the reason, the beautiful woman has more friends, has a better looking husband, maybe is more wealthy, smart, and others things which may even be made up by the envier in her mind. We are after all talking about an emotion, a complex one, but still something not rational.

There are some methods to protect oneself from the envy of others and the danger they may pose. You should first try to eliminate any issues or fears you may have. Coming back to the example with the car and the two neighbors, if you are the one who bought the car you should really feel, and moderately show that that car doesn't mean that much to you. The envier sensing this knows he can not inflict any harm on you, so he won't. I also don't exclude the fact that he may become envious of you for the fact that you don't give a shit. Obviously you can't take this approach every time and in any case. You must know that the envier is a suffering individual, just like the arrogant and the ignorant.

"A person is born with feelings of envy and hate. If he gives way to them, they will lead him to violence and crime, and any sense of loyalty and faith will be abandoned"
- Xun Zi
"Envy (Hasad) is desiring the removal of a blessing from one truly deserving it"
- Al-munawi, al-Tawqif
"You don't envy the ones that have the power to pray, while you are filled with malice against property owners, against those who know wealth and glory. It is strange that you live with the redemption of another, but not with the passing advantages that he can enjoy. "
- Emil Cioran, The Disadvantage of Being Born
"[Envy is] 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"
- Kant

"(...) For not many men, the proverb saith,
Can love a friend whom fortune prospereth
Unenvying; (...)"
- Aeschylus, Agamemnon
"A man that hath no virtue in himself, ever envieth virtue in others. For men's minds, will either feed upon their own good, or upon others' evil; and who wanteth the one, will prey upon the other; and whoso is out of hope, to attain to another's virtue, will seek to come at even hand, by depressing another's fortune."
 - Francis Bacon, On Envy
"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till."
- Ralph Emerson, Self Reliance (ed. 1907)

[Hope you enjoyed this article, while my research on envy and the previous two "sins" continues, I tried my best to present these as clearly as possible. This is not the last article in the series]

The Series:

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