Tuesday, July 7, 2009
ENVY (A Book Review, but with Pictures)
Somewhere below this post – I’d link to it, but I’m lazy – is the Mistress’s post about the Kansas State “Seven Deadly Sins” maps. Finding the smaller sides of our personalities an infinitely fascinating topic, I just finished the book “Envy” by Joseph Epstein.
Developed as part of a joint project between The New York Public Library and the Oxford University Press, “Envy” is just one-seventh of the deadly sins collection, touted as “meditations on temptation”.
(I don’t know about you, but I’m meditating already.)
In all seriousness, the book is a pocket-sized guide to the historic roots of envy; the differences between envy and jealousy; resentment and schadenfreude. It’s 100 pages, generally simple sentences, and makes you look smart on the Amtrak at 30th Street Station on a Sunday night. (Hello, Craigslist Missed Connections!)
Chapters include “Is Beauty Friendless?” and “The Young, God Damn Them”, and Epstein (while seemingly a little biased toward his own professional snobbery and envy – he’s a college professor and writer) raises a number of great jumping-off points for full-fledged navel-gazing. For example, “Is envy necessary for ambition?” (He’d argue yes, as he also would with the idea that envy might be even worse under socialism/communism than capitalism.)
Of course, this got us thinking. The Mistress, for those of you who may not know her personally, is one of the LEAST envious people we’ve ever met. In fact, in more than 8 years of knowing/dating/shacking up…I digress…I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say “I wish I had…” or “I want what she has…”
Oh, wait. Scratch that. Once.
Epstein notes that the purest (and most evil/sinful) form of envy doesn’t just want what others have – it wants to make sure NO ONE has it. One joke details an Englishwoman who wants a nicer cottage than her neighbor; a Frenchman who wants a hotter mistress than his boss; and a Russian farmer whose neighbor has a great cow. “I don’t vant a nice cow,” he says. “I vant that cow dead.”
Yours truly has always felt a great sense of envy – it’s not an endearing quality. But remembering how lucky and fortunate you are to have whatever it is that you possess heart-wise – and being thankful for it – is a big help. Talking about it with a slightly older friend, he admitted to being envious of the young…a concept that struck me as silly, because of its unreasonableness. (After all, in many cases, if you want money, there are legal and illegal ways to obtain it. If you want to improve your health, there are some ways – albeit some are painful – to do it.) But being envious of others for something you can’t do anything about struck me as interesting. And kind of a time-waster.
Like ogling this isn’t. But you know what? Let’s just take a break.
(Mentally superimposing my head on his body. That neck angle looks like it’d bother my chiropractor.)
So, end of spiel. Do you envy? And if so, what?