Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Different Definition of Being Less Envious

As I was preparing to write my New Year's Resolution post for this week, I felt prompted to review what I had written last year while I was focused on the idea that "charity envieth not".  I will post my thoughts this week as part of my resolution post next weekend, but tonight I want to re-post my introductory thoughts from last February.  I needed the reminder at the end of this week, and I hope someone else benefits from that post, as well:
Last month, my New Year's Resolution focus was on the first manifestation of charity - that of suffering long in kindness. This month, my focus is on charity's second characteristic - that of "envying not". As I tend to do, I want to look first at what this phrase ("envieth not") means - followed throughout the month by why it is important, how it is internalized and how it flows from suffering long in kindness.

Envy often is looked upon as covetousness - and, in fact, in some modern dictionary usages the verb "envy" is listed as a synonym of the verb "covet". However, in its original meaning "envy" carries a much more fundamental connotation. From

c.1280, from O.Fr. envie, from L. invidia "envy, jealousy," from invidus "envious," from invidere "envy," earlier "look at (with malice), cast an evil eye upon"

Thus, charity does not look at others with malice or in an evil manner. "Malice" is defined as:

desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness

[NOTEA reader last February sent me a link to the 1828 Webster's Revised Dictionary definition of "envy". It carries a slightly more modern interpretation of the word, and I really like it as an extension of this post for modern times.]

"To feel uneasiness, mortification or discontent, at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by another; to repine at another''s prosperity; to fret or grieve one's self at the real or supposed superiority of another, and to hate him on that account."

This aspect of charity (like long-suffering and kindness) is a foundational one, since it defines the very eyes with which someone sees others. In a very real way, someone is able to look upon others without malice and evil specifically because of one's long-suffering and kindness - recognizing that all the myriad types of pain and suffering experienced in this life come from living this life, not strictly from the people who surround us in this life. Thus, someone who possesses true charity is able to look past the instrument of suffering - kindly seeing the inevitability of suffering and not allowing herself to get caught up in a maliciously evil mindset that would eliminate kindness in her actions and reactions.

Notice that this phrase ("envieth not"), as defined in this manner, does not carry the connotations of possession that generally accompany its use in modern times. In other words, there is no delineation of wanting what another has in this phrasing. That is covetousness - and envying, in this usage, can rear its head no matter of socio-economic status. One can look upon another with malice and an evil eye even if that other person is almost exactly like one's self. Malice is the desire to hurt someone else, and envying not carries a connotation of being totally unconcerned about differences of any kind - of not being upset and angry in a way that causes someone to desire to cause another to suffer.

This ties directly to my point in one of the resolutions posts last month that someone who truly has learned to suffer long in kindness will not attempt to transfer his own suffering needlessly onto another. Developing that type of kindness for those with whom we are close is relatively easy compared to what "envying not" entails - extending that type of kindness to others, even those who cause the suffering we feel.

My final point this weekend is that "envying not" deals most purely with our outlook - our perspective - our vision - our thoughts concerning others. Our actions are secondary to this aspect of charity; they merely are the manifestation of whether or not we envy (look at other with malice and and evil eye). Certainly, the most obvious proof that we "envy not" is found in how we TREAT others - but it is found most fundamentally in the subtleties of how we SEE others (which is exhibited outwardly, I believe, most purely in how we SPEAK of others). Many people would never dream of harming others and causing them to suffer in direct, tangible ways - but many of these same people do not hesitate to speak maliciously of others and wish evil upon them.
Thus, if I am to "be less envious" this month, I must decrease not only my actions that cause direct and obvious harm to others, but I also must decrease my words that wish harm on others - and decrease the "evil" thoughts that cause those words. "Being less envious" fundamentally is about changing the way I SEE and FEEL ABOUT people.

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