The reason for the first murder according to the Bible was envy. Adam and Eve, the first parents as per the Biblical story had two children first. Cain and Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain was a tiller of the ground. Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to God. Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat to the God. Then it so happened that God respected Abel and his offering. He did not respect Cain and his offering. Cain became angry and when Cain and Abel were in the field, Cain rose against his brother and killed him. Cain was upset when Lord told him, that because he did not do well, his offering was not accepted. In other words, Cain was envious of his brother and killed him. ( Genesis 4:1-9) It is interesting to note that it was envy which caused the first murder in the Bible. Envy is one of the earliest vices of humanity and throughout history, numerous crimes have been committed in its name. When it comes to the 3rd decade of the 21st century, things are not very different. Envy continues to be one of the most common human emotions and a major stumbling block in man’s pursuit of happiness. What envy does to us and how do we deal with it?
What envy does to us
Aristotle defined “ envy as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune.” There may not be a single human being who was never envious towards someone at some point in his/her life. There are certain things which all societies consider as essential for a happy life. They include wealth, good career, sound health, leisure, happy married life, successful children, etc. For some others, power, beauty etc are also very important attractions. However, we may find that these possessions alone do not make many people happy. Despite having an abundance of many good things they become unhappy because their neighbour or friend also has the same things or still more. That is the way envy operate in one’s life. Some people always tend to compare themselves with others and they become sad at other’s good luck. Nothing they have can excite them as they constantly burn at someone’s fortune. This is a real problem and unless one addresses it, he will have neither peace nor happiness in life. In 1930, Bertrand Russel published a book titled “ The Conquest of Happiness “ in which he identified seven causes each of happiness and unhappiness and envy was one of the causes of unhappiness in that list. Russel wrote,
“an envious person, instead of deriving pleasure from what he has, derives pain from what others have.”
This is the envy we encounter in every walk of life. We produce and consume a substantial amount of it every day and seldom realise that a life free of envy could be much more beautiful and rewarding than we can imagine.
Cultivate a sense of uniqueness
Envy being such a basic human emotion, it may be futile to imagine its total abolition from our lives. Man will continue to be lured by it. However what we can do is to face it, understand it and cure ourselves with a simple change in our attitude. While most thinkers and religions categorise envy as a vice, there may be a few who think that envy may be useful and can act as a motivation for people to do well. They think that when people see the good fortune of others it may spur them into action. Of course, if envy motivates people none has a problem with that. But most of the time it does not happen that way. People end up consumed by envy which spoils their lives. This forces us to search for a cure for envy. The point is not to feel overwhelmed by any guilt on account of envy but to address it. Envy stems from our constant fixation with the lives of others. We feel that life is a perpetual competition and fail to see what we already possess. Always we want to be someone else and lead some other life. In this constant chase, we forget that we are the product of our unique circumstances and choices and it is entirely up to us to work on these things to improve our lives. When we have that constant urge to outperform others in everything we do we must realise that we may never be the best in everything we attempt. That is a human limitation. There will be always someone who may be richer or smarter or beautiful than us. Whatever is the field, only one person can be the ultimate there and there is no point in spending an entire life chasing that ultimate. We can never be everything in life. The best attitude is to find one’s calling and to perform to the best of one’s ability.
Further, why one should always compete with someone when the real competition can be with oneself. Can you become a better version of yourself? Can you do your task better than how you did it yesterday? That is the only question which matters at the end of the day. Try to look at yourself and fix your internal scorecards instead of seeking external benchmarks. Many of our schools serve the idea that life is always a competition with winners and losers. Life need not be a game which always needs a winner and a loser and instead, it can be an event where everyone wins. When kids are freed from envy, it may just bring the best out of them. Every individual is unique and one unique product can never be compared with another one and hence envy has no place there. This sense of uniqueness is the best antidote for envy. Teach kids to appreciate one another and that will be a lesson for life. Envy is absolutely curable when we realise that the removal of envy opens up a new world of happiness and satisfaction for anyone. That’s an enviable proposition, right?