Avoiding Envy

Every day I take a walk and pass by many nice cars, but one caught my eye. It is a handsome Jeep Wrangler, customized and quite fancy. What grabbed my attention, however, were the key marks someone left in the paint; big “X”s that ruined the perfect black on the doors. Why would someone spoil such a smart-looking vehicle?

Envy — the feeling of resentment that arises when we see someone else’s possessions or good fortune.

Of course we want nice things and should work hard to have the life we envision for ourselves, but other people will have possessions beyond our finances or jobs above our abilities. Their spouses will be more handsome, their children more successful, their houses will be bigger or fancier. They will have more power and influence.

For the unrefined person, this brings about feelings of jealousy so great that the only response they can muster is to lash out like children and destroy the item or person they envy. The envious individual doesn’t consider how he too can have a handsome car through hard work and saving money. He doesn’t raise himself up when it’s easier to pull others down.

If one has an inclination to feel envy towards others, it is important to work on this weakness to become a refined person of Tao. There will always be those who have more or better. A sophisticated, learned person does not go through life marring the possessions of others or spreading lies to damage the reputation of a person they feel jealousy towards.

To work on this human failing, one must:

Count every blessing. It may seem trite, but you have health, wealth and good fortune beyond what many on this planet could imagine. Failure to be thankful with every breath for the life you enjoy is a grave mistake.

Find perspective. Even the wealthiest people in the world don’t have it all. Wealth doesn’t assure youth, vitality, happiness, good fortune or a peaceful mind. No one has it all. It is therefore important that we do not condone or engage in ruining the little goodness others do have.

Avoid messages of envy. Whether it is coworkers and friends hounding you to upgrade your possessions or marketing wizards bombarding you with constant messages that imply you are not good enough as you are, you need to recognize when jealousy is being cultivated within you to encourage materialism and greed.

If you over-esteem great men,

people become powerless.

If you overvalue possessions,

people begin to steal.

— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 3

It can be said no more plainly. When we hold aloft certain individuals, the average person feels inferior. When we say certain possessions are desirable and scarce, expect those items to be ruined or stolen.

But does this mean we can own no possessions that may produce feelings of jealousy in others? Are we to wear rags, travel by goat and do menial labor?

Okay, that was dramatic and I have no idea how you would travel by goat, but here’s the point. In addition to avoiding feelings of envy within ourselves, we have a greater responsibility as developed people of Tao to address how our possessions, wealth or attributes arouse feelings of jealousy in others.

In many ways this goes against the culture we live in that practically demands we purchase items so our neighbors and friends take notice — but being envied is not enviable. Hostility towards us is the result, along with a car that has a lot of unwanted scratches.

Make it a practice to raise others up with heartfelt compliments and acknowledgement of their efforts. Be known as a person who walks a humble path, who sees and acknowledges the good things in others rather than a braggart who engages in endless self-aggrandizement.

You have total control over your ability to quell feelings of envy within. You also have great strength to raise others up through your kindness and acknowledgement. Humility is more powerful when it comes to generating respect and esteem than any material item ever could. And most likely you would rather have the respect and esteem of others than a scratched car.

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About Leigh

Leigh is an American Taoist philosopher, exploring how modern life and its problems can best be addressed with ancient teachings. She is also a doctor of psychology.
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