Though envy is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” I’ve found that its easy to overlook or underestimate. It seems kind of silly to have it up there with big bad sins like wrath, pride, and greed. We often have trouble conceptualizing it. We know greed when we see it. We can create a mental picture of wrath with ease. But what about envy? Isn’t that just wanting what other people have? What’s so bad about that. I mean I guess you shouldn’t steal things from people, and wanting could lead to stealing, but is it really that big a deal?
I think it is, but that it’s hard to see because that definition of envy misses the mark. Just forget about wanting peoples things. That’s a part of envy, but it’s the most obvious part. A better definition might be this: hating someone simply because they’re better than you. Now I want to be clear that by “better than you” I’m not trying to say that some people are intrinsically better than others, or that just because someone has achieved success means they’re superior. What I mean is that there are people out there who you believe are better than you at something you really care about. Maybe they’ve achieved fame and fortune and you’re spending every day sending out job applications and worrying about how to pay the bills. Maybe they’re a famous artist and you’re an amateur who dreams of the day when your art can support you financially, but until then has to pay the bills by flipping burgers. Or perhaps they’re an athlete who seemed to breeze through the competition while you lost early on. Now naturally just because those people have succeeded doesn’t mean they’re better than you. But that doesn’t change the fact that you often feel that they are, and we hate that feeling. We feel ashamed at ourselves, and then that shame turns to anger. Who are they to make me feel this way? They don’t deserve their success. They don’t have to work as hard as I do. They only succeeded because they’re rich. It’s all politics. We start to hate that person, simply because they have succeeded where we have not.
That’s what envy is. And that’s why it’s a sin.
Envy isn’t just wanting what other people have. Envy is hating other people because they have what we want. Envy is a powerful and dangerous emotion. It breaks us down, makes us a little less human and a little more petty, angry, cynical, self-deceptive, and hateful. Its spiritual acid. That’s why its one of the seven deadly sins.
Just today I recognized envy in myself. I was watching reviews of anime by JesuOtaku, an extremely knowledgeable reviewer and critic. She’s talented and fun to listen to. I’ve always enjoyed her stuff. Then I found out that she was starting her own personal website. I watched an intro video for it. Everything was fine…until she described herself as an internet entertainer and independent video producer. Those seemingly innocent words hit me deep down. You might recall that one of my dreams is to make movies. I’ve been trying (without much luck) to get into either the film or television business. I want to be a writer or director someday. I know that’s an almost impossible dream to reach, but you have to dream big, right? And somehow when she described herself as an independent video producer it came home to me how far away from me dream I am. I’m nowhere close to it. And here she is, a woman about my age, and she has her own well followed internet show with her own website and viewers and fan base and everything else I don’t have.
And I hated her for it. I felt anger rising up within me. I fell into a foul mood. I wanted to kick something. I wanted her and her website to fail. I wanted her to find out that she was nothing, a nobody with no talent, a failure. If you had asked me I would never have consciously said any of that. I would have recognized that my feelings were unjust if I’d put them into words. But envy doesn’t stop for introspection. In that moment I hated her as much as I’d ever hated anyone in my life.
Then I realized that I was experiencing envy. I recognized that the deadly sin I most often ignored was running wild through my heart like a screaming two year old throwing a tantrum. So I decided to put a stop to it. Why should I be angry at her? I should be happy for her success. She’s a talented woman and she deserves it. It’s time to knuckle down and deal with the real problem: I’m not happy with my own level of success. I should do something about that.
Try to recognize envy in your life. You can only fight the enemy if you can recognize it. Once you can spot your own envy you can start to combat it. Don’t let envy take control of your heart. Envy can only help you tear people down; it won’t raise you a single inch higher.