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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
11:11 PM Wed, Jan. 23rd

Column: Childish envy in the adult world

Ah, the wonderful world of children!

And how much we can learn from them.

Here’s an example: “It’s mine,” the youngster screamed.

“I had it first,” the older brother yelled.

At that point in the daily struggle between siblings, the younger one dissolved into angry tears and ran to persuade his mother how mean his brother was being to him. In an attempt to resolve the skirmish, the mother got them together and held out two suckers.

“Which one do you want?” she asked her younger son. “The red or the yellow one?”

He burst into tears again and wails, “How can I tell until he chooses?” The meaning is clear: He wants his!

What’s going on here? It can be summed up in one word—ENVY!

What the younger brother wants is not the sucker itself, but his older brother’s misery at losing what he wants.

“That’s the way kids are,” you say. Perhaps, but it’s not limited to children. All of us carry within us the seeds of envy.

Some adults are blessed with the kind of disposition that enables them to rejoice with another person’s good fortune or accomplishments. If someone else wins the lottery or achieves something extraordinary, they resolve to try again, or to do better with the resources available to them. These people are disciplined enough to let you enjoy the gains you have made. If they have negative or “ugly” feelings, they keep them under wraps, perhaps regretting their presence, but certainly not acting on them.

Others become incensed by the good fortune that occurs around them. They perceive their own lack as an evil, and feel that someone else’s possessing what they themselves want removes the possibility of their ever having it. Frequently they desire to turn a winner’s or achiever’s joy into sadness.

Folks are disinclined to acknowledge their envy. Consequently, it is routinely denied, although its existence within a person does not go away. It tends to rot and spread, shaping attitudes and habits. Those who act it out become complainers, “sour grape” practitioners or whiners, and sometimes engage in litigation against those who are the targets of their envy. They may set themselves up as victims, seeing themselves as the “have-nots” of the world.

Enviers dislike those who have more than they do, as well as those who are more competent and successful. They are hostile toward people in authority who possess what the envier lacks, as well as toward those who have a healthy dose of self-esteem. Interestingly, if they achieve any of the above, they expect people to dislike or hate them.

A common stance of those enmeshed in envy is to take on the mantle of self-righteousness. Since they cannot admit to being envious of those who have achieved success or are accomplishing much, they retreat to the seeming comfort of convincing themselves that their attitude and behavior is justified because their “cause”—whatever it may be—is right. As their attitudes harden, they find it easier to sanctify their action as they convince themselves and all who will listen, that what others have is not deserved. “If the world were just, I would have what those successful people have.”

An easy or convenient target of political enviers are leaders and politicians. They will constantly twist facts to the point where they likely believe the distortions

their envy has manufactured. In addition, their envy encourages them to attack opponents, especially those more successful, bright or competent than they are. Their feelings of inferiority propel them to rage at those who openly challenge their slanted views of reality. With a conditioned contempt for those who have what they long to possess, they have long passed the moment when their insistent envy can be controlled.

Perhaps at the root of an envier’s problem is the belief that all people should be treated equally, based on their mutual sharing of humanness. Individuals who regard their station in life as too low are likely to feel resentment at the injustice of their position. Envy cultivated may produce outrage, with the party using equality as a device for bringing down those above them.

Since envy is loathsome, we must learn to accept and control it. It can be reduced but rarely is it completely exorcized.

It is part of being human.