According to Dante’s Purgatorio, if you get sent to hell for the sin of envy, demons will sew your eyelids shut with wire. Ouchy. You get this iron mascara treatment because you spent your days on Earth getting a kick out of seeing others in pain. Now, you just get to see total blackness and writhe around on a spit.
Envy isn’t just garden-variety, green with jealousy. It’s meaner. Envy means you don’t just resent someone else’s good fortune — you want to take it away from them. It’s not enough to wish you’d made that great painting. You have to rip it out of the frame and jump up and down on it. In other words, you need to become a critic.
Envy is another sin born of fear. It begins when you see someone else making something great. Instead of just enjoying it, you feel threatened by it. The monkey whispers in your ear: ‘You could never do that. Ever.’ So you get out your knives.
One response to this fear is to dismiss the accomplishment. The artist was obviously just lucky. Or some sort of con man. She was born into a talented family. He sucked up to the top gallery owners. She has a famous boy friend. He will be forgotten in a year.
When you are envious, you set yourself back. Instead of learning from greatness, you run from it. You swaddle yourself in hostility. You withhold any kind of generosity or support. Your refuse to collaborate. You refuse to learn.
You don’t see how much work it takes to be successful. You don’t see how to acquire skills, connections, vision, happiness, all the things you really want. You are so afraid of losing, of failing, of falling behind, of being called out, that you lash out and destroy.
You sew your own eyes shut with wire.
And while the biggest victims of envy are the envious themselves, they can also cause loads of collateral damage along the way. Maybe you’ve been a victim of someone else’s envy. See the critic for the scared, myopic monster he is and you’ll be able to understand what his critique really means and defuse its impact.
Fourth in a series on seven deadly creative sins.