The Sin of ENVY

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.

14 thoughts on “The Sin of ENVY”

  1. Hi Danny,
    I am really enjoying this series.
    I studied Dante at Uni and love its universal, timeless lessons…
    At the same historical moment Giotto was painting the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padova. There you will find Giotto’s black and white paintings of the allegories of the seven deadly sins, including Envy. It’s an amazing little Chappel!
    Thank you for your inspiring words!



  2. Don;t forget Danny it takes a lot of work to be envious……err critic. You are on a roll Danny, I am happy for you and all of us who get to see you do what you do. Thank you.


  3. Having been on the receiving end of someone’s envy, this post pretty much is spot on with explaining why these people act as they did toward me. Fortunately I had already done that chapter in “The Artist’s Way” so I had the tools to deal with being a target. You find out who your real friends are when you start to become successful.


  4. Envy can be motivating if followed-up on. I am super envious of the great Korean master draftsman Kim Jung Gi. It almost physically hurts to watch him draw, it’s that good. Pain gives way to curiosity- what journey got him there? I see some of his influences in the golden age of comics…How many trees gave their lives to develop that vision? Let’s keep recycling, because I just might catch up…


  5. Your definition of critic in the first paragraph made me laugh so hard. Funny. But not, I guess. The visual made me think of behavior from the kids I work with. You have a way with words. That’s for sure. Thank you!


  6. Great points made, Danny! We can all be susceptible to envy, and it’s good to be aware that envy isn’t a good thing – it destroys both the envier and the envied. I really appreciated the funny, incisive, and convincing way you wrote about this. I so ENVY — oops — ADMIRE your talent for thinking and then writing such wisdom.

    I’m enjoying the 7 Deadly Sins series – along with bowing my head in “shame” a few times too.


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