You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.Exodus 20:17
We like to compare ourselves to others. It begins with sibling rivalry and as we get older, the umbrella of what we feel envious about begins to expand. It is a feeling we are typically conscious of. When we deal with envy, we need to ask ourselves why and when we began to envy a particular person. Envy and jealousy are complex emotions.
The commandment asks us not to covet. There is a good reason for this. What the commandment does not do, is tell us how to identify this emotion in ourselves or others; and what we should do in order to resolve it.
We have all felt envious at some point in our lives. Sometimes, we don’t even know why we feel envious. But we know that we shouldn’t feel envious.
Aristotle defined envy as pain we feel at the sight of another’s good fortune. It is stirred by “those who have what we ought to have”. It is one of the greatest causes of unhappiness. Believe it or not, philanthropists–and the people who seek out their help–are more guilty of this than anyone else. Envy has historically led to increased support for economic redistribution.
Envy is a driving force behind the economy. It is what keeps us in a system where we strive to “keep up with the Joneses”. Comparing oneself to others is a universal aspect of human nature. No matter the age or culture, comparison happens all over the globe. Comparison can range from physical beauty, our material possessions and even our intelligence.
People usually find themselves experiencing the overwhelming emotion of envy due to someone else possessing a desirable trait or object that they do not. This leads to emotional pain, a lack of self-worth and a lowered sense of self-esteem and well-being.
The ‘instigator’ that triggers people mad with envy changes throughout their lifetime. The younger the person, the more likely they are to be envious of others. Young adults are more likely to experience envy compared to those above 30 years of age. What people become envious about differs across based on the age group. It is not an individual experience, but a collective human folly.
Young adults tend to envy others’ social status, relationships and attractiveness. This begins to fade when a person hits their 30s. At this point, we begin to accept who we are as an individual. We cease to compare ourselves to others in this regard. The emotion of envy, however, has not disappeared. It has refashioned itself to manifest over a different–more relevant–aspect of life such as: career and salary.
Feelings of envy, for the most part, decline as a person ages. Nonetheless, envious feelings will be present throughout a person’s life. It shows us what is important to us at that particular point in time. It is up to the individual whether they will let these envious feelings fester within themselves to the point of self-destruction; or whether these feelings will be used to destroy another person.
The 10th commandment is directed against the temptation of envy. The word ‘covet’ has its roots in Latin. The vice it draws our attention to is greed. We should not yearn to possess something that belongs to someone else. Envying it will not make it ours.
But if we are envying the good fortune of others, we should ask ourselves if destroying the very thing we covet will truly ever make it our own.
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