Shakespeare wrote “O beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
Maybe a new calendar year presents a good opportunity to think about what you do, and don’t, want in your life. Envy is in the latter category in mine. As one of the Seven Deadly Sins from the Bible, envy is defined as the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation. It is closely linked with jealousy. The Baha’i teachings cover this character failing, too:
O Son of Earth! Know, verily, the heart wherein the least remnant of envy yet lingers, shall never attain My everlasting dominion, nor inhale the sweet savors of holiness breathing from My kingdom of sanctity. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 24.
O My Servant! Purge thy heart from malice and, innocent of envy, enter the divine court of holiness. – Ibid., p. 36.
We all know that envy is not a good trait, but I imagine we all feel envious or jealous occasionally, such as when someone gets or has something that we would like, whether deserved or not. What, or who, do you envy?
Just coming out of another holiday period when I felt more lonely than usual, I am envious of those people who have big, close, supportive families. Also, I am sometimes envious of those who have accomplished so much more in their lives then I have. You know who I am talking about—those people who have a law degree, have written a bestselling novel, and founded a successful nonprofit organization by the time they have reached the ripe old age of 25. Needless to say, hard work helps, and we don’t always see the struggles others face. Still, it’s difficult to understand why some people are given seemingly “over the top” abilities and opportunities while others aren’t.
This passage from the Baha’i writings, however, helps to put things into perspective:
The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man’s hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8.
So, perhaps my portion is a thimble and I have nearly topped it up. Alternatively, perhaps my receptacle is a gallon and I have only filled up a cup’s worth. Maybe I’ve used my talents in the best way that circumstances allowed. Or, maybe I was given capacity that I haven’t fulfilled due, perhaps, to apathy or making the wrong choices. I imagine a lot of people struggle with these same questions, but, in reality, we don’t really know what God has “poured forth” for each of us.
Perhaps one important takeaway is that, if we are paying too much attention to the receptacles of others, then maybe we aren’t paying enough attention to our own. We may figure out our own purpose here on this Earth early or late, fulfill it or fall short, but, in any case, focusing on other’s paths probably wastes our precious time and resources
I guess envy is also an affront to God in a way. One Christian pastor’s work I came across online noted that envy “questions God’s plans, choices, and goodness.”
It may also be worth reflecting on what we envy and why. Outward accomplishments, for example, aren’t always equivalent to beneficial service or inner happiness, as Abdu’l-Baha pointed out:
It is not an ordinary distinction I desire [for you]; not scientific, commercial, industrial distinction. For you, I desire spiritual distinction—that is, you must become eminent and distinguished in morals. In the love of God you must become distinguished from all else. You must become distinguished for loving humanity, for unity and accord, for love and justice. In brief, you must become distinguished in all the virtues of the human world—for faithfulness and sincerity, for justice and fidelity, for firmness and steadfastness, for philanthropic deeds and service to the human world, for love toward every human being, for unity and accord with all people, for removing prejudices and promoting international peace. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 190.
Meeting these noble spiritual standards seems just about as hard as trying not to be envious of others, but they are goals to reach for. On a more practical level, one interesting piece of advice I have seen is to pray for the success of someone you envy. Or, you could focus on the goodness in your own life. Detaching from the material world and/or service to others probably helps to keep envy at bay too. Maybe next time any of us are visited by the green-eyed monster, we simply just need to reflect on why he is there and then invite him to leave.