I thought I am a person who is comfortable to have around all sorts of characters. A conversation with a woman who emanated envy towards me proved how wrong I was. In fact, after the respective encounter, I remembered about previous situations when I had been uncomfortable around envious people. I started reflecting more on this side in human beings and I identified few reasons for ignoring others’ envy.
The decision to stay away
Not along ago, I was having a smooth flow of discussion with another person. Since my toddler is the main conversation partner, I was excited to discuss with a grown-up, for a change.
When I started rambling about the joy of having my blog, I saw a grimace on her face and envy floating in her eyes. I tried to carry on with the trail of thoughts but the excitement was replaced by the feeling to take distance.
I felt naked, vulnerable and inhibited when my eyes met the envious eyes. Our discussion ended abruptly with an embarrassing silence.
After the incident, I wished I had continued talking, to get to know her better.
Why do we feel envy?
Envy is a negative feeling which occurs when someone lacks another’s quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it. This is how researchers Parrott and Smith define envy in their paper, “Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy“.
Another aspect of envy is reflected in a popular Romanian saying, “If my goat died, I wish my neighbour’s goat would die too!”. This saying shows that when people are miserable, they want the whole world to suffer just the same.
The feeling of joy when others go through hard times is expressed in English by the term “schadenfreude”, which has been borrowed from German.
Most likely, linguists can provide similar sayings in other languages which reflect the same dark side in human beings – the envy.
Charles Darwin’s social evolutionary theory explains that envy is rooted in our genes for survival and procreation.
So, every human being experiences envy under different circumstances, whether towards friends who are happily in love, colleagues who have been recently promoted or random strangers who seem to have something we don’t have.
Coping with our own envy is not enough
When I was a child, my mother would tell me, “Don’t be happy about others’ failures!” So, I got the feeling that I have to cope with any seeds of envy that are growing in my soul.
Later on, I read the ten commandments in the Bible and found that envy is one of the sins that God is urging us to avoid.
What my mother didn’t tell me was how to react when I feel spitefulness in people with whom I talk. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. I did feel the envy like a slap on my face. And I walked away.
Getting inspired by the good
The Bible teaches that we should not be hasty to throw the stone at those in whom we see bad sides, i.e., lying, vengeful, unfaithful, etc.
Instead, we should remember about the benefits of cultivating compassion towards others. There must be something good in each one of us based on which relationships can be built.
If others are envious towards us, most likely they see something in us that they lack. We should only hope that for their sake, they’ll find a way to work on it and find their peace of mind.
Let us be happy, flattered and pleasantly surprised that others want something that we have. This something must be damn good and appealing!
Let us be humble and remember not to make the same mistake as the envious person – avoid comparing ourselves with others. My personal approach is to be aware of the envy resulting from the comparison.
Maybe others are more beautiful. That’s a fact of life. Another fact of life is that others can be more creative, more generous, funnier, smarter, wealthier and so forth.
We are unique in our own way, a blend of virtues and imperfections. Somebody has to be the best at something and it’s absolutely fine if that person is not us.
We can be the best at changing our way of thinking into a more constructive one, by focusing our energy on being a better person than we were yesterday.
I remember writing something similar in a previous post: what if we start looking at others as sources of inspiration for a better self?
I didn’t give a chance to get inspired by the good sides in the person I was talking about in the beginning of the post. Instinctively, I locked her away on grounds of the spitefulness I saw in her.
What should we strive for?
According to Buddhism, the opposite of envy is sympathetic joy, or taking joy in the good fortune of others. I’d like to add another side to the opposite of envy – accepting others’ envy.
Some of us choose to share others’ happiness. In any case, we should not be judgemental on those who are unaware of their envy or unable to do anything about it.
We can only hope that one day, they’ll have the opportunity to get out of the grip of envy and choose the love for others.
How about you? How do you react when you are surrounded by resentful individuals?