Friday, April 30, 2010

Envy and Gratitude

Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, although “sins” is not the right word. “Sin” is correctly translated as “missing the mark,” as in missing the target in archery. Sometimes you’re close. Sometimes you’re way off.

Envy might be the worst “missing the mark” that exists; the serpent in the myth of the Garden of Eden is a symbol of envy, and it was that envy that bought evil into the world. That’s really missing the target.

What, then, is the opposite of envy? Perhaps gratitude. Or maybe if you feel envy it’s impossible for you to feel gratitude. It’s an opposite, although not necessarily “the” opposite.

"The test of all happiness is gratitude."-- G.K. Chesterton.

I have written many articles how hubris is the worst of sins. And perhaps it is. What the Greeks called “hubris” the Bible calls pride. Underneath that pride and hubris, there is a lot of shame. And a lot of envy, too.

Perhaps we envy and hate those who have shamed and humiliated us, because of the power they have over us. Sometimes we kill them. We almost always want revenge on them.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. –Cicero

I’m not sure to what extent you can separate one unpleasant feeling from another. Hubris, shame, envy, greed, hate, the desire for revenge; all of them are interrelated, interconnected. It’s possible to tell one of those feeling from the other, but can one exist in a person without any of the others? I doubt it.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. – Chesterton

The psychiatrist Melanie Klein condensed her life’s work into one book: “Envy and Gratitude.” With a life of envy, and greed, and the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins, there can be no gratitude, and no happiness.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. -- Melody Beattie

And yet where in the Four Cardinal Virtues and Three Theological Virtues is gratitude? How many times is it mentioned in the Bible, one of the foundations of Western culture?

Jesus did, however (depending on the translation) speak of “your joy being complete.” And in that joy, that happiness, gratitude would have to be an inherent component.

O Lord, who lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness. --William Shakespeare

The word “virtue” means “strengths” or “powers.” It also comes from the word “man.” It means the “strengths or powers of Mankind.” If “virtues” are a strength, then “sins” are a weakness. With the first you are on target; with the second you’ve missed it.

The greatest of virtues is supposed to be prudence, which is not prudence as generally defined. It means the opposite of a small, mean, calculating attitude to life – one that is instead clear-eyed and magnanimous in its appreciation of reality. And appreciation is another word for gratitude.

You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy. -- the Buddha

Jesus spoke of joy and the Buddha spoke of joy. Happiness. The Buddha did mention gratitude. It’s too bad the word never made it into any of Jesus’ sayings. But then, you never know about those translations. All translators are liars, as the old saying tells us.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. --Meister Eckhart

I can’t say I see much gratitude in people. I do see a lot of envy, though. There is an entire political philosophy based on it. Leftism. It’s killed a lot of human beings.

Gratitude and greed do not go together -- Aesop

Every one of the Seven Deadly Sins has in common self-centeredness, self-absorption, selfishness, inconsideration, a lack of empathy. Seeing others as not quite human, as existing only to serve you. That cannot be conducive to gratitude.

Every one of the Seven Cardinal Virtues has in common seeing others as humans and not as things.

"Gratitude is twin sister to humility; Pride is foe to both."
~ James E. Talmage

People who are truly grateful are humble -- in the real, not stereotyped sense of the word -- because of their appreciation of how much wonder there can be in life.

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