Envy, Part 3

Being Zion

Beware of Envy's Path

The pathway leading to envy will likely consist of admiration, aspiration, and/or ambition. Any one will do. Multiples of them can escalate to a nearly psychotic, self-righteous state of calm, self-assured, but false security, and an insidious undercurrent of vainglorious pretention. We might call it the Chosen People Complex often supported by institutional emotional conditioning. 

It's as if we've broken through all that was restricting the limits of human knowledge and experience, and reached godhood on earth, all by ourselves. You'll forgive my look of haughty derision and repetition of the comedian Steve Martin's catchphrase: "Well, excu-u-use me!"

I was stunned at the raw truth contained in the following quote about the effects of knowledge and its acquisition, “Epistemic humility doesn’t mean that you don’t aim high. It means you don’t pretend you reached it.” (http://www.spirithome.com/humility.html)

We are, indeed, like five-year-olds in a physics lab thinking we can constructively contribute to God's great plan. But I ramble...

Unbridled ambition looks for shortcuts rather than patiently doing the work. There is no shortcut or cheat to the top of the ladder of competence. Anxiously desiring what another has, with no intention of earning it, is envy. Envy wants something for nothing, or very little. Envy-fueled ambition robs dignity and honor and leads straight into tests of integrity. Envy says, "You have to cut corners to be successful like ________." (Fill in your object of envy.)

Admiration and aspiration are more ambiguous. What you find will be what you expect to find. Both a positive and negative case can be made for either concept. However, admiration tends to the positive where it is the opposite for aspiration. Hence, the Lord's warning relative to the honors of men.

Envy is selfish while sincere admiration is, essentially, gratitude. And gratitude cools the fires of envy. Humility leads us to gratitude for the effort and sacrifice of others, resulting in beautiful art, invention, and all worthy endeavors.

Envy just wants to be a star, a show-off. Much of our most successful entertainment is based on envy. We cannot leave it alone. The current string of star-making TV shows like The Voice and American Idol attest to our appetite for envy. That collective appetite supports billions in revenue for both the entertainment and advertising industries. Envy is big business.

Ambition tends to the negative as a result of moral weakness. In reality, ambition is neutral until we determine character, virtue, and self-mastery. Ambition at its core is simply "an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction...and the willingness to strive for its attainment..." (Dictionary.com)

An earnest desire for some achievement is laudable as long as the achievement is laudable and the sacrifices for attainment are worthy. The honors of men and the things of this world are not laudable achievements in, and of, themselves. Hence the difficulty with ambition, and the Lord's warning about "vain ambition." It tends toward the visible, and is jealousy inducing.

After a concert, it is common to hear a remark like: "I would give anything to play like that." No, actually, you wouldn't. The thousands of hours of practice required to play, as did the concert musician, are beyond your willingness to sacrifice. If not, you would be a musician, and not envious of a musician.

A more honorable after-concert comment might be more like: "I admire the effort and sacrifice required to produce such beauty. Truly beautiful music is made in no other way and those who have worked to make it, deserve admiration.

A comment about a wealthy individual might be, "I would give anything to have that kind of wealth." Again, no, you wouldn't. If you knew the sacrifices of integrity, honor, family, relationships, health, or similar fundamentals traded for wealth, you would reject the proposition outright. Envy, however, wants the reward without the sacrifice.

Envy of position can cause a lifetime of miserable chasing after, well, certainly something fabulous! Here’s are some particularly cogent thoughts about fame, I've paraphrased from the source:

“Neil Maxwell talked about it, he said yeah, it’s out there, but you just don’t inhale. The perfect characterization is the curse of “celebritydom.” 

“We turn them into celebrities; we want to turn them into Brittany Spears, because that’s the ultimate end of celebritydom. It is hollow, it is stale, it is flat and it is unprofitable--there is nothing to it. Why do you think Brittany Spears is the mess she is? Because fame and fortune are nothing. 

“And I suspect those who enjoy the envy of position, who ultimately managed to weasel or brown-nose their way to where they thought it would be great, arrive at that point and look around and say, ‘well this is just like where I was, nothing has changed’ because the change has to be a change internal to the person and not a mere change in geography or topography—going from the third floor to the tenth floor, doesn’t change you. You’re still that same hollow, miserable, envious chap.” (Transcript from the Zion Symposium, Denver C. Snuffer Jr., February 23, 2008; spelling and paraphrasing mine.)

Admiration, aspiration, and ambition are always available to us, and can also be used in a variety of positive ways. Admire with gratitude, aspire to goodness and charity, and let righteous ambition lead you to God. Envy is the "Evil Twin" of each of these attributes. A ready guard is always necessary. Question your own motives. Drive envy away by your lack of attention. Don’t inhale.

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