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Gerardo Castrillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Is there an unhealthy and a healthy envy?

Fri, 03 May 2019 09:57:00 +0000 Published in The Confidential

Envy is a very common feeling, which has existed and exists in all subject countries and cultures. For Jorge L. Borges, "it is a very Spanish topic . Spaniards are always thinking about envy. To say that something is good they say: it is enviable. The RAE has defined it as sadness or regret for the good of others, or as a desire for something that is not possessed.

The envious person does not aspire to emerge from his inferiority; he is only interested in seeing the other person do worse. He does not consider himself capable of achieving by himself, with effort, what he envies; he only longs for the other not to achieve it. "Envy goes so thin and yellow because it bites and does not eat." (Francisco de Quevedo).

Dante Alighieri defines envy as "love for one's own goods perverted to the desire to deprive others of theirs". In Dante's purgatory, the punishment for the envious was to close their eyes and sew them shut, because they had taken pleasure in seeing others fall.

Envy is a feeling of frustration because of some lack of one's own that the envied does not suffer. As a consequence, the envious person suffers resentment and resentment. Instead of accepting his shortcomings and struggling to eliminate them, the envious person simply hates the person who reminds him of his deprivation. This makes envy, as Bertrand Russell states, one of the strongest causes of unhappiness, both in the envier and in the envied.

If we allow bad thoughts and feelings towards another person to grow, they will cause much harm, especially in dividing people and causing discord. This explains why envy is one of the seven deadly sins. The term "capital" (from the Latin caput, capitis, head), does not refer to the magnitude of the sin, but to the fact that it gives rise to many other sins.

One of the situations in which the weed of envy tends to sprout is in the relationship between colleagues of the same official document, but of very different professional level. This is the case of the musical composers Wolfgang Mozart and Antonio Salieri. The two were initially friends, but fell into enmity because of Salieri's envy towards Mozart.

 The envious person does not usually express his discomfort openly, because that would be showing a defect that is socially frowned upon. As it is an unconfessable defect, they resort to underhanded ways, such as disdain, backbiting, insult or mockery. For example, in the following dialogue between two ladies:

-My husband is wonderful. Every day he brings me breakfast in bed.

-He doesn't take it to me because I'm not a quadriplegic....

Another status conducive to envy is often the relationship between siblings. In addition to the envier's frustration at lacking the qualities of the envied, there is the rivalry for the love and attention of their parents and for the limited resources of the family, which they must share. Cain could not stand Abel's moral superiority.

Lately it has become fashionable to speak, colloquially, of "healthy envy". In principle, this expression is shocking, because it contains two antagonistic and contradictory terms. This euphemism expresses the desire to acquire some good quality or merit that we admire in another person, but without being saddened by the fact that he or she possesses it. It does not give rise to negative thoughts or feelings toward the other person; it is acted with a constructive motive: to try to get something valuable that one lacks without hindering the relationship between the two. An example: "My friend has got such a good employment that I feel healthy envy. I am very happy for him and I hope that I will also achieve it with effort after some time". Therefore, healthy envy moves us to learn and improve.

Healthy envy" is admiration for some other person's quality to which we react assertively and proactively. The admired is a model and a stimulus for self-improvement staff. On the other hand, unhealthy or malign envy induces us to react destructively. For Dr. Alberto Cano "it is a distorted feeling of admiration that is associated with the desire to possess something that belongs to the other, and also with the desire that the other should stop having or enjoying that something".

There are not two types of envy. There is envy and admiration. Or, if you prefer, there is positive admiration and negative or distorted admiration.

In the preventive work of envy, it is very important for parents to avoid comparisons between siblings. The less capable and praised one is often envious of the more brilliant and celebrated for life.