Morality Series: Envy

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“Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not achieve peace.” ~ Buddha

Let’s say that you and your close friend try out or compete for the same thing. It could be making the team, getting either a promotion or an award, or winning the lottery. You learn that your friend makes the team, got the promotion, or won the prize. You did not. How do you feel?

First, if you are an adult, you’re happy for your friend. If you’re a teenager (or you need to read The Untethered Soul), you may get out the voodoo doll and some pins, or begin some plot against your former friend.

envy-4We may begin to feel something else. It’s an emotion that we don’t want to feel, but it’s there. It’s a twinge we feel on the inside that is directly related to our disappointment and that other person. We feel envy. We do! It’s normal, and it’s okay as long as we don’t act-out on that negative emotion. I’ve never received recognition or a promotion (that others also wanted) without someone letting me know of their displeasure.

One time, I asked this guy, “Did you want me to turn it down so you can have it? I know you think you deserved or wanted it more than I did. Don’t you feel just a little petty right now?” I have been on the losing end enough times to recognize his emotion. Myself and I have had talks about that. I don’t like feeling envious. It makes me feel worse. Envy is not unusual. I often admit to the feeling.

So, if this is normal, why is it considered another breach of all that is good and holy within us? The reason is simple: this is not a good thing about our human nature. We know that envy is normal, and that it will pass, but it’s also dangerous. Loving friendships have ended. Businesses have suffered. Shame and embarrassment have been coopted by envy because the accompanying behavior make us feel worse. Envy is part of us, a dark corner of who and what we are. We must acknowledge that part of our dark side.

There is a shallow envy that is part of daily life. When I see men of my age with huge locks of thick, beautiful hair (usually gray), I feel mild envy. I admit it. I want what they have. That guy did nothing to deserve to have more than his share of hair follicles so late in life. I did nothing to promote my loss of the same. I’m almost proud of my envy. It’s true. I own up to it. I get it: envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.

In Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas said, “Envy, according to the aspect of its object is contrary to charity, whence the soul derives its spiritual life… Charity rejoices in our neighbor’s good, while envy grieves over it.” Why do we do this? Because other people are so much luckier, smarter, more attractive, and better than we are. Lucky bastards.

envy-2But there’s good news. If you go to Hell, your punishment awaits: you’ll be put in freezing water. I looked it up. Think about that. Hell, fire and all that; and you and I are hanging out at the ice bar. Now, it’s their turn to be envious, right?

I don’t know why, but envy is associated with the dog and the color green. Oh, right, the green-eyed monster. Not so fast. I use envy and jealousy as two different words that apply to different kinds of situations.

Envy and jealousy are not the same emotions. Envy, as unpleasant as it can be, usually doesn’t contain a sense of betrayal and outrage. Jealousy needn’t contain a sense of inferiority. The difference is in the numbers.

Envy is a two-person situation, jealousy is a three-person situation. Envy is a reaction to lacking something. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something or someone. Of course, when we feel jealous, we often feel envious as well.

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The opposite of envy is supposed to be charity. I think the more accurate word is love. Some experts say kindness. I say love, not because love will prevent envy, but because our love will help us overcome that part of our dark, selfish selves and we’ll find peace and happiness sooner. Love is the primary emotion. Envy and jealousy are both subordinate to fear, which is also primary. Both fall under the heading of wasted time and emotions since neither accomplish anything.

But, as long we are normal humans, we must deal with our feelings and emotions. It’s all about how we feel. The actions we choose to follow our emotions are up to us. Can we at least balance some light with our dark side?

Envy is real and normal. So is jealousy.
We generally see them as bad, weakness of the spirit, and damaging to life and our relationships. Consider both to be among life’s gaps.
Mind those gaps and look both ways. We need to see our own human darkness and weaknesses and deal with them.

Zephyr

ZThere are four brothers. They struggle to get along with each other, due to more than a little sibling rivalry. Three of them like to cause trouble. These three are selfish and annoying to humans and gods alike. They like to hide things from the sun, whose name is Sol. The three are very jealous of Sol. They think that they exist purely to keep Sol from comforting the earth and its inhabitants with his warming rays of light. Sol despises the three troublemakers, and openly favors the fourth brother. Sol knows how the earth, plants, animals, insects, and most people respond to his warm presence when the three annoying brothers are resting.

The four brothers have names, and each does something different. Of the three who cause problems, each believes his importance is greater than any of the others, and greater than Sol’s. Only one brother seems to have a workable relationship with the sun. Because he works so well with him, Sol overlooks the mischievousness of the fourth brother.

Zephyr11Boreas is the north wind. While he can be out causing problems at any time of the year, his favorite season is winter. He is cold, icy, and wild. Boreas has a reputation for causing trouble and making a mess. He is a bully known for pushing the other three brothers around, especially Notus.

Notus is the south wind. He pushes back on Boreas’ bullish winds, often making things worse for the earth and its inhabitants. But he doesn’t care. Notus is a wet wind. He carries large drops of water in his beard which he rains down onto earth when he chooses. Zephyr10He is sometimes careless. Boreas sneaks under him and freezes his rain, sometimes just as it falls, causing havoc on the earth. At other times the north wind pushes back, causing violent destructive storms. This embarrasses Notus, but Boreas thinks it is funny. To confuse his brothers, especially the irritating Boreas, Notus sometimes spreads fog over the land and sea.

Zephyr12Eurus, the east wind, is foolish and lazy. He seldom does anything, preferring the amusement of watching the conflicts arise between his brothers. When he is bored, he teams up with Boreas to create problems and confusion. Together they make a north and east wind, known as a Nor’easter. Eurus watches from the comfort of his room and laughs at the chaos he creates with his brother. He is the most evil of the three problem winds.

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The fourth brother is Zephyr, the west wind. He is the only brother honored by humans. They call him by his name — not so for the other three. To humans, “Zephyr” is a gentle breeze. He is a soft, dependable wind. Zephyr is loved by all inhabitants of Earth, be they human, animal, or plant. Sol is fond of him because Zephyr makes it possible for him to do his job. When the sun does his job too harshly, Zephyr pleases the people and animals by cooling them with a gentle breeze.

Zephyr8Zephyr enjoys seeing humans smile as he touches them, blowing into their faces, caressing their bodies, and messing up their hair. Often, after his brothers make a mess, Zephyr works to clean things up. He sweeps the sky clean of clouds so that Sol can warm the people, melt the frozen ice and snow, and dry the soil. Plants can grow, people can honor the sun, and animals can forage among the plants. Life goes on.

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The inhabitants of Earth understand that they must deal with both Boreas and Notus. They have little use for the east wind, Eurus. Their favorite is the one whose name they know and use: Zephyr. As they watch and feel him at their back, they see the night fade as Sol rises in the east. Then, at the end of a day, feeling gentle breezes on their faces, they watch the return of night as Sol sets in the west. Every day, they love the work of Zephyr and Sol.

So ends the story of the four winds, the sun, and the 2016 a-to-z blog challenge.