Note 79: A reflection on envy
…and considering a different way to respond when things get sensitive
First things first, though: Ted Lasso is back, everyone!
Yep, one of the best written and beautifully acted and most hope-filled shows you’ve ever seen is back.
If you haven’t seen Ted Lasso, you really have no idea what you’re missing. It’s a show that starts off with seemingly cliché characters and over the course of each season deepens them in the most unexpected, yet completely believable ways. And it holds up on multiple rewatches too because the writers are really clever, and you get to see how early a lot of stuff is foreshadowed. (One theme to look out for is how the show explores the fatherhood.)
The early reviews are great, too, and as of this writing, the show is 94% on Rotten Tomatoes! As one reviewer put it, it’s a great “return to form.” As usual for most shows on Apple TV+, episodes drop weekly, which I like because then I get to process each new episode separately, and chats about it with friends. The last episode lands May 31, which makes 2½ months of delight to look forward to!
You know what else drops weekly and is better with friends? Yep, this newsletter.👇🏾
Envy and being human
I’ve been thinking a lot about envy (essay coming up, of course!). There’s a Bible verse that has this to say about it:
“Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbour. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 ESV)
I first read that twenty years ago, and it continues to resonate deeply. Envy is a funny thing though: it’s an emotion we all experience, right from our childhood, but one almost no one will ever admit to. Anger, sure. Fear, sometimes. Even shame we can bring ourselves to admit to in the right scenarios. But envy? Oh, no.
But there’s more. Note, too, that envy, as described in that verse, isn’t directed at just anyone, but specifically at our “neighbour”. We are most envious of those we feel most similar to. Which of us, if we’re being honest, hasn’t felt a little twinge when our best friends or family or former classmates have achieved some success we had deeply longed for but found elusive?
Few things hurt so much as people you see as “not better than” you getting what you can’t seem to grasp.
And it’s that closeness—the fact that it’s our “neighbour” we’re most envious of—that perhaps makes it so hard to even admit to.
One person who deeply understood the power of envy was recently late French historian and philosopher Rene Girard. He described humans as not just fundamentally driven by desire, but specifically by desire for things that others desire. It’s what advertisements play on: by showing us how desired by others an object it, they stoke that desire in us. Even in romance, we desire people more when others also do. And of course, it’s at the root of FOMO: the fear of missing out that makes us want to know things “everyone” seems to be talking about.
Girard called this tendency of ours “mimetic desire” to capture the imitative nature of it and described this as something fundamentally unique to humans: we copy not just behaviours, but desires.
Perhaps a first step to not being consumed by it is at least admitting that to ourselves.
“You’re right” (and 139 other bits of advice)
I read a popular article this week (although it was published early Feb) which I found because one blogger was complaining about it. Some criticism was broad (“How dare they think to tell everyone what to do?”), while some was focused more specifically on particular bits of advice.
I found that interesting because I had the impression, on reading it, that it was intended as tongue in cheek. An early line about the rules being “rigid, but not entirely inflexible” is followed by an admission that some rules didn’t really work in their initial form when they tried to live them! And an early rule says this:
6. Never wake up your significant other on purpose, ever. And don’t turn on the lights when they’re asleep. Jet-lagged and want to talk? Don’t do it. Think someone is coming in to kill you? Work it out yourself.
That was funny. But there’s also genuinely useful stuff, like my favourite one:
27. The proper response to being told something you already know isn’t “I know.” It’s “You’re right.”
That’s something I intend to remember going forward. I’ve noticed that “I know” can sometimes come off as dismissive, especially in sensitive situations. I’ve sometimes said “You’re right”, but also “I see that” (not always helpful), or just “Yeah,” but never thought too deeply about it. But seeing it framed in the article, I was immediately struck by the difference in framing. “I know” focuses on me and my knowledge, but “You’re right” focuses on the other person, affirming and validating them before saying whatever else I’m thinking.
In a sensitive situation, I know I’d rather affirm the other person than sound dismissive.
A few others I liked (with my comments in parentheses):
13. It’s never too late to send a condolence note. (A good reminder.)
38. Always wink. (Need I say more?)
78. Don’t talk about a movie when leaving the theatre. (Not something I’ve really thought about before, but it makes sense.)
121. Sit down and respond to an email, even if it’s a year late. (I actually have a particular email I need to overcome my shame and send.)
140. Don’t post RIPs for celebrities. (I disagreed with this one and the given reason.)
Okay, that’s enough from me, you go read the whole thing yourself—it’s great. And let me know which you found most useful.
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