In literature and history, the heroes Othello and Antony were noble, brave, and ingenious. However, their virtues were the cause of envy among their colleagues. In modern times, the outstanding individuals who excel in the fields of science, art, business, law, academe, and public service trigger pinpricks or gnawing pangs of jealousy.
The seven sins are Pride, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Anger, Hate, and Envy.
Hate has always been considered the opposite of the virtue Love. However, Envy is worse. “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies,” Gore Vidal wrote.
Successful, beautiful, popular, accomplished, noble and multi-awarded persons often provoke envy — mild or vicious. The degree varies in the spectrum according to the extent of recognition.
The famous individual is a target of envy. It is, in fact, celebrity’s only contingency. It is the means of definition, especially now that talent is no longer a requirement. What would be the point — if not to induce “Gore Vidal-levels of hatred” in his peers?
The defensive reaction could be, “You’re nobody until somebody hates you.” (Or so the envied person likes to think.)
Hate is corrosive, violent and destructive. It is also righteous at times. One can say that he hates injustice or cruelty. It is justified in this context.
In real life, a conceited narcissist likes to fantasize that someone he/she has envied, has in fact, been envious of him/her.
The monster has had a long masculine heritage. But could it be that Envy might be a “woman thing?”
The vice is non-gender specific. It afflicts many people, especially those who are insecure and have personality conflicts and low self-esteem.
Envious friends can be weeded out and should be replaced. The safer alternative would be to reach a level of envy-management. It is wise to have relationships wherein feelings of envy can be diplomatically exchanged rather than hoarded by one person.
To illustrate, among friends, there are subtle comments on status opposites. A child vs. an adult. Talent vs. will. Material success vs. psychic fulfillment. Fame vs. privacy.
In modern society, the old sins are no longer vices. Everything is relative. Some things are called archaic. Pride is often considered a virtue. Anger is justifiable or contingent on the situation. Sloth, lust, and gluttony are tendencies that may not be necessarily “vile.”
Greed is so common that it barely troubles the conscience. It is kept conveniently under the category, “It’s a Free Market Democratic Society.”
“Where love (in its ideal form) seeks out the good for its own sake, envy not only refuses the good but resents it, attempts to destroy it… It cannot conceive of a good that exists external to its own desires,” a wise counselor observed.
The only things worth envying are the things that cannot be possessed: Natural talent, natural beauty, and goodness.
A social scientist once met an extraordinary singer with the such wonderful qualities. Her own feeling of resentment — that anyone could sound and look so great, overwhelmed her. But she also felt a sudden admiration of the singer and what could be described as “a moment of love.”
One of ethical challenges of adulthood is to learn how to handle “envy-management.”
Famous individuals are perceived to have everything. There are friends who seem to do everything perfectly. Without meaning to stir the atmosphere, they cause ripples or waves. They are natural magnets who attract both admiration and envy.
Celebrity and fame provoke intrigue, controversy, and other effects. Being in the limelight has its glory but it has a downside. It draws out the sharp claws, sharp tongues, and caustic comments.
What is more difficult to understand is how some “well-meaning friends” can appear concerned. They give “helpful” advice that is actually hurtful. Deep inside, they nurse secret resentments that fester like raw sores that never heal.
Occasionally, when a good friend achieves a cherished goal or a well-deserved reward — big or small — the nastiness can suddenly erupt in the other friend. It could be in the form of a left-handed or insincere compliment. It is a curve ball that is cleverly disguised to sting. It may be so subtle that one realizes the damage only much later. Such behavior bursts the illusion of camaraderie and it exposes the concealed real and raw feelings.
Envy undermines and erodes many friendships. In the end, it diminishes the envious person.
Iris Murdoch defined ideal love as “the proper recognition that other people actually exist.”
When we love, we are given a glimpse of a universe that does not revolve around the self. We are able to understand and accept that other people are not merely props on our own great stage.
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.