Am I Right?

How to live ethically

On Envy

Envy is a destructive form of power

To be envious is to measure yourself against another’s talents, reputation or possessions. Jealousy is closely related to envy. Here not only do you want these for yourself, but you also want to take them away from the other person. Envy and jealousy, therefore, are forms of power, ineffectual and harmful as they are, because you want to deprive others of what they have.

Envy arises from feelings of inadequacy, a sense of hollowness and unworthiness. Closing the gap between what others have and what you want by having others lose what they have is to bolster yourself at another’s expense, always a risky enterprise.

Envy is a hunger that cannot be filled. A sense of well- being and happiness cannot be achieved at another’s expense.

The truth is that we can never be deprived, no matter what others have. The world is wide and all the riches are before us. Life is a treasure trove, and we will have what we need, if we look in the right places.

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Here is a story from the Jewish tradition:

A storyteller said, “Once there was a bird that lived on the far side of the mountain, a beautiful bird of many colors. People compared this bird to a rainbow or glittering jewels. Whoever saw this bird had their hearts filled with joy.

“The bird was happy whenever he looked at its own feathers. But mainly the bird was sad because it had ugly feet, feet covered with sores and scratches and scabs. Whenever it looked down, it burst into tears. ‘So ugly,’ it thought. ‘I am ashamed of myself.’ “

 Here the storyteller stopped her story.

“That’s it?” the listener asked. “That’s the whole story?”

“No.” The storyteller continued, “My mother, who told me the story, then asked me what advice I would give the poor bird. I couldn’t think of anything. I was still a child.

“Then she said to me, ‘You should advise the bird to raise its eyes and look at its beautiful feathers. The beauty brings happiness to others and it can bring happiness to the bird itself. Don’t lower your eyes to look at your feet. Look at your feathers and then look at the others who see you. You make people happy. There is no reason to be ashamed.’ ”

 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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