Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Envy is Like Socialism

Recently, sitting in an orchestra rehearsal of Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony, I had a realization:  Envy comes from a similar place as socialism.  It's like socialism of the heart, you might say.

I don't often get super political on this blog, but I am not a person who thinks that the more the Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses of the world have, the less I have.  On the contrary, I think that people like that are creating jobs for others, creating economic growth, and allowing not only the potential for economic flourishing, but also for creativity to flourish, for advancements that foster all kinds of far-reaching growth.

I may be struggling to pay my mortgage some months, but I don't think a doctor driving a BMW is somehow causing my problems.  And I actually do pretty well with not envying those hypothetical people, the folks running big businesses, the men and women I glimpse from afar in their designer clothes and expensive vehicles.

Your friend that lost 30 pounds?  She's not making you heavier.  Her new clothes from Nordstrom aren't making your thrifted clothes any worse for the wear.  Someone else's nice car isn't the reason my husband drives a Honda that is falling to pieces, and another man's Armani suit isn't why Nathan's two suits he's been rotating for years are in sore need of replacement.  We're not eating home-cooked beans because someone else is dining out three meals a day.  And the gorgeous house across the street from ours isn't the reason ours came with such a long list of things needing repair or renovation.  I know all of that.

But I am totally, absolutely, definitely guilty of envying others their gifts and talents.

That guy is getting better gigs than I am!  Growl, fume, sigh, etc.

She has a better violin than I do!  Bristle, stew, seethe, etc.

I'm exaggerating, of course, but haven't we all felt the bitterness of jealousy creeping into our hearts at times?

His tone is better than mine!  She started younger than I did!  He went to a better school!  He won that audition I should have tried for!  She just knows the right people, that's why she's more successful!  He has more time to practice than I do!

The truth is - while there's an element of scarcity in the market of talent, and sure, there are only so many orchestra jobs to be filled - another violinist's beautiful tone, or superior sight-reading skills, or amazing bow technique don't make me a worse violinist.  His $60,000 violin isn't making mine cheaper.  Her wealth of talent or ability isn't making me poorer.

On the contrary, you might say that those abilities are bringing about a flourishing of the economy of ability.  One violinist's sensitive phrasing inspires me to play more beautifully, too.  A musician with a particularly beautiful subito pianissimo makes me want to practice mine.  Hearing a violinist behind me race through a particularly tricky passage cleanly motivates me to practice it so I won't keep messing up that one little spot. 

Another violinist may be, in a sense, the reason you or I are not in that symphony we wanted to be in.  At the end of the day, there are only a few seats open, and a hundred violinists vying for them.

Or maybe it's the guy at your work who got the promotion or the raise you wanted, or the woman who landed the job you had hoped for.  Sure, on the surface, maybe you didn't get it because he or she did.

But the skills or abilities they have that led them there... those gifts are not making you or me poorer, are they?

There's enough talent to go around.  Our differing gifts and abilities make the world a more beautiful place.  And there's enough beauty to go around.

So thanks, Mendelssohn, for the moments of beauty, and for the realization that socialism in the economy of talents is as silly as it is in the economy of finances, and that, after all, I'm pretty rich just the way things are.

Don't be jealous.  It's such a waste.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't have said it any better myself. I have been there many, many times. You are so right about this. I grew up in a Christian home, but it wasn't until very recently I re-dedicated my life to Christ and the moment I did, ALL those feelings--jealousy or envy among them-- went away and I truly felt peaceful about my purpose on this earth. I truly stopped worrying about comparing myself to others b/c I suddenly realized God has His will for MY life and as long as I waste time looking at/envying someone else's "purpose", I would never be able to see my own.

    Lovely and true thoughts, thank you!