February 17th, 2021


Envy vs. charity

I have had this idea bubbling through my brain for a long time, when listening to some lectures on Dante's Commedia, in which the lecturer pointed out that while Dante orders the deadly sins in Purgatory in "reverse" order of seriousness (in general, Pride is considered the worst -- because this is about -my- will, not God's will, being done), Dante considered envy the worst of the sins, because it was the most destructive to human society.

When we think of envy, the English term, we generally think of people jealous/coveting things other people have -- their stuff, their status, their relationships. But if we go to the original Latin term, invidia, we see it shows up in the English term "invidious"....some of the deadly sins do not translate well (such as acedia as sloth), and the problem with "envy" is not merely that you see someone you dislike having good things and you want those good things. It's that you have ill-will against a person: wishing bad things against someone you dislike, not merely wanting to grab their good things away for yourself.

Schadenfreude is the small-bore version of envy... feeling that little frisson of pleasure when you hear somebody you dislike has had some misfortune, especially if it's a misfortune that springs directly out of why you don't like them.

In opposition to envy is charity, and not merely the small-bore version of that, which is giving money for some cause. Charity, or caritas, is wishing well for others, the "love your neighbor as yourself" and "love your enemies" aspect of Christianity (obviously, you don't need to be Christian to see the need to have a charitable view towards others.)

Charity builds up human bonds, and envy breaks or poisons them.

Caritas is one of those things I really need to work at. To an extent, it's not difficult for me to let go of bad feelings towards others... but it is difficult to cultivate that caritas towards others. I am not instinctually kind, and have to work at being kind to others.

Anyway, that's my thought for Ash Wednesday. Be kind.