August 20, 2012

Envy and ambition

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh,
but envy makes the bones rot. 

~ Proverbs 14:30

Wanting to be someone else
is a waste of the person you are.

~ Kurt Cobain

I have lived my life almost entirely free of envy. Now, I am guilty of plenty of other sins, pride in the lack of envy being one of them. Comparing myself to others, it just has never held much meaning to me. There is plenty to worry and work on when it comes to my own life. Whether or not I am doing better or worse than another is pretty much irrelevant.

If one of my friends or a complete stranger is doing particularly well, I begin with the assumption that they have worked hard and made certain sacrifices to get there. This is not always the case, but if it is just dumb luck that got them there, it doesn't really change how it relates to me. Being envious of others only serves to make you miserable and unappreciative of what you already have.

And I have a lot. The reason envy has not been a part of my life is because I already have so much. Just by the fortune of birth, I live in a place where life is easier than most of the rest of the world. But beyond the fact that I don't have to worry about clean water, police states and holy wars on a daily basis, I grew up in a family that seemed exceptional as I grew and learned what others had.

From the outside, we didn't look unique. We weren't rich and we weren't poor. Voices weren't raised and punishments were few. The lessons weren't overt, but somehow we learned how to do the right thing. But in the spaces in between, something seemed different, special. I felt respected, as well as loved by my parents. Our extended family including aunts, uncles and cousins not only loved each other, but actually liked each other enough to gather nearly every month. Though the monthly gatherings don't happen any more, we still like each other enough to spend an entire week together, just like we have every summer for more than 30 years.

Now, of course it wasn't all Brady Bunch perfection. My brother and I fought constantly. It never rose to the level of hate, but there were certainly times when we just couldn't stand each other. Looking back on it as an adult, I think it was that we did not understand each other. I had lots of acquaintances in high school, but few close friends. It wasn't terrible, but it was lonely, and I do not pine to relive those days like so many seem to. My parents divorced when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. It was an incredibly difficult time for them, but they never put us in the middle, or made us feel at fault. Even so, it rocked my center of gravity, and probably changed me in ways I am still not aware of. But with a little tv story magic, my parents remarried after a decade apart, and have been together again for the last twenty years.

All in all, it felt like I had it pretty damn good, and to dismiss my good fortune with jealousy and envy would be offensive somehow. What more could I ask for when I had so much already? Living without envy not only made me appreciate what I had, it kept those poisonous thoughts out of my head. Tearing someone else down does nothing to lift you up. a life without envy and feeling fortunate for all that I had, probably let too much complacency into my life. Whether or not we have it good already, we should still be striving toward bettering ourselves and our situation. Of course, "better" means something different to everyone, and some people take this to an extreme and can never be satisfied. I think I have the opposite problem.

I have a great life in so many ways. I am blessed by my wonderful family. I have somehow managed to develop a core set of friends in two different places. I have my health, and though my body is starting to show its age, I do my best to keep this vessel I so appreciate in good shape. But in other ways, I feel like a terrific failure, and I know I can do better. I can be greatly unsatisfied with part of my life, without losing sight of how lucky I am. Some changes have already happened, not all of them good, but more are on the way. Time to stop floating, and be more like the river than the driftwood.

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