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Cardinal Sins V: Envy

    Continuing the little series on Christianity's cardinal sins, I'm going to talk about envy, and how it betrays a fundamentally flawed sense of life.

    Contrary to Christian belief, there is absolutely nothing wrong with coveting someone else's things, be it a material possession, a virtue, or a skill. To covet simply means to desire that which someone else has. It is the uncomfortable acknowledgement that a certain value is achievable - someone else has it, after all - yet you haven't achieved it.

    There are two ways in which one can react to this uncomfortable realization. Someone whose feelings are guided by the primacy of existence understands, in an emotional level, that the coveted object is indeed a value, and seeks to understand how to acquire it. Someone who has acquired that value needs to be studied, and emulated. How did they achieve this? How is that different from what I do? How can I become like that?

    The proper response to coveting is admiration.

    Someone guided by the primacy of consciousness, however, reacts in an entirely different way. If reality is what I decide it is, there are many ways to end the feeling, depending on what exactly my uneasiness is focused on. If the focus is on the object itself, I can devalue it by pretending "it isn't so good after all". If the focus is on the virtue of achieving it, I can make myself believe it was - or can only be - achieved by bad means. If the focus is on the other person as a whole, all I need to do is shift my focus to their flaws. Those are all different instances of the same thing - what I hate is ultimately reality itself, because it includes someone capable of greater achievement than my own.

    Working with music on a daily basis has given me a very concrete grasp on this. When witnessing greatness, musicians always have one of two responses. They either smile in awe, thinking "Holy crap, this is amazing. How is he doing this?", or blurt out some angry noises, in what amounts to "Why is he so much better than me? This isn't fair!!".

    The envious reaction is usually followed by one of the three smears. Either a very unconvincing "yeah, I don't like this type of thing so much" (object), an awkward "this is great, but if you focus too much on technique, you overlook feeling" (virtue), or an embarrassed "yeah, this guy's really great, but I hear he never shows up on time" (person). Whatever your field, if you see someone acting like this, avoid them like the plague - you're witnessing envy, and it is not an isolated response, but a systematic way of thinking about life.

    We can either admire our betters, or wish for their destruction - and that's one of the most important choices we ever make.

  -  March 23rd, 2020