We turn now to Envy, defined by St. Thomas as “sorrow at another person’s good”; or, captured exquisitely by author Gore Vidal, “When a friend of mine succeeds, something of me dies.” The other side of it is schadenfreude, pleasure taken in another person’s failure. It is the “closest daughter of pride,” Thomas would say. My take on that: like pride, envy tries to establish Who I Am To Judge others as worse or better than I.
From the vantage point of our Creator, we are equal recipients of love, fundamentally connected to each other as organs working for a body. God is Love, and that Love is not partial—not favoring one over another, never fragmentary. But we unfinished symphonies tend to look at ourselves in the incomplete moment, “as in a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12, now “dimly, as in a mirror”). Lacking the full story of ourselves and others, we see others’ projected selves through the prism of what we can barely tell of our insides. At the root of this and all sin is the fear that I am not loved into and through my existence.
The possible motives for envy include traits, status, abilities, achievements, situation or relationships. Maybe someone else has what we want; maybe we cannot or will not expend the necessary effort to obtain it. Envy leaves us diminished by others’ successes and pleased for their deprivation, even if it doesn’t result in our enrichment. It is hard in envious moments to realize that good is not divided by being multiplied.
There is a rampant sense of entitlement out there/in here. Life simply is not fair. Nobody owes us anything. Expectations do not automatically or necessarily match reality. This ends up being something to “grieve” like any loss, though not without also denying, bargaining, and hopefully accepting (other dimensions of grief).
Scapegoating is a product of envy. Undermining, blaming, isolating, gossiping about others, all follow from it. We can see how envy lies at the root of so much violence. Think of the bullets and bombs that men have discharged over the past couple of years.
The counter to envy is admiration. Look around at the traits, status, abilities, etc. of others (especially those you think you don’t have, or have “less” of) as one fellow member of Christ’s Body rejoicing in the other. Make a point of acknowledging those gifts to the person. Publicly note a good quality of a person being vilified, in the very midst of a gossip session you “happen to be” in. Revel in the differences around you and cherish your unique role in salvation history.
At the Wedding Feast of Cana, when the wine ran out, Mary was lovingly detached from whatever excitement an envious person might derive from that awkward situation. Instead, she did something about it: she took the matter to Jesus. There is always something we can do to improve our situation. Praise and service are good examples.