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George Michael: The impact of envy

July 12, 2013|By GEORGE MICHAEL

There is a Jewish proverb attributed to Solomon that says, “A sound heart is the life of the flesh, but envy the rottenness of the bones.” Envy and greed, words often used interchangeably, are not synonymous. Envy is a serious problem. Greed, not so much.

Greed, when kept in appropriate bounds, can serve a useful purpose. Greed can motivate people to better themselves, work harder and take risks, and often results in serving the needs of others. Does the owner of a restaurant who makes a profit gain something only for himself or does he provide a service for others? Isn’t greed to earn money part or all of his motivation?

Greed can be connected to ambition. Why is suggesting to someone that they need to be more ambitious considered good advice while few would suggest to a friend that they need to be greedy? Greed suggests selfishness, giving it a bad connotation.

There is a TV series on CNBC called “American Greed.” The show focuses on the dark side of tycoons and super rich and features some of the knaves who have used deceit or fraud to prey on others. Unfortunately, this becomes the template through which the public understands the word greed. But for each of these frauds who have used slippery methods to achieve selfish ends, there are hundreds of entrepreneurs who work hard every day to be successful at what they do, motivated perhaps by this same or similar type of “greed” and yet do so nobly with integrity.

Envy on the other hand is deadly. It is destructive to a correct outlook on life. Envy is the resentment of the success of others. It is more than just trying to emulate someone else, wanting to be equal with them. Rather, it is the feeling that what others have is immoral and wishing they would lose it or have someone take it from them.

This type of resentment leads to public policy that rewards the indolent and punishes the successful. People operating from the mindset of such envy think the rich don’t deserve what they have and that government needs to confiscate it — regardless of the amount of taxes the rich are already paying — so that it can be redistributed to the poor.

Cynical politicians know how to manipulate the emotions of the public to shape this kind of policy. Saying things like “everyone needs to pay their fair share” sounds noble to some, especially the naïve, but at heart, it reflects and plays on the attitude of those who operate from this framework of envy. These people end up supporting politicians who are actually harming their chances of success.

Envy is a synonym for jealousy. It poisons the mind and gives those who could otherwise be productive an outlook that life is unfair, that someone else is to blame, and that it is no use trying because everything is stacked against you because the rich take advantage of you. We live in a society inundated with citizens who are filled with resentment, excuses and blame.

As this proverb suggests, a sound heart, meaning right thinking, will lead to a balanced, healthy view of life. Envy, however, goes deep into the body, resulting in destructive thinking that harms the soul and spirit. Avoid it at all costs.

George Michael’s email address is gfmichael46@gmail.com.





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