Envy: A Very Deadly Sin

As I write this blog and witness the whirl of the holiday frenzy, I am reminded of an ever so slight issue with envy Louie had not so long ago. That was when his buddy Mac first moved into the neighborhood. While Lou loves when a new gal pal moves in, he was not very fond of the little pup, Big Mac.

Life was going along just fine for Louie. Everybody loved on him when they saw him; they’d stop and turn when they heard him whine for their attention as we walked. He gladly accepted invitations to other people’s homes and thoroughly enjoyed his run around the yard with his buddy, Mick. And then came Mac. Mac was seven pounds of fluffy white and brown hair and superpower energy. And everyone thought he was adorable…except Lou.

At first, Louie was okay with the idea of a new dog in town. We checked him out via the smells Mac left in his owner’s front yard when he first moved in. Louie was intrigued. Then we saw him from afar, and he seemed fine. But when we met him face to face, Lou ran the other way within seconds. It was too much energy and in your face action. We gave them time to warm up to each other one afternoon when I noticed something. Louie was particularly clingy to Mac’s mom, as though he needed reassurance that she still loved him. Then Lou gave Mac a quick warning and went off to play with the other dog he had known for some time.

Oh, the dreadful feeling of envy that slithers almost unnoticeable into our hearts. We’ve all experienced it. It usually creeps in with its pal, comparison. It causes painful and resentful knowledge of someone else’s advantage—in this case, serious cuteness of another pup, resulting in lots of attention from everyone.

We’ve all heard the saying in leadership: surround yourself with those more intelligent than you.

What is not part of that quote is to be sure and check your confidence level. Many leaders say they are looking for others who can be great additions to their teams and then squelch any opportunity for the new person to use their skill set for fear it may outshine them. Those particular leaders will find acceptable ways of expressing their resentment by using the big “but” approach—“He may be a good salesperson, BUT he doesn’t have a clue how to write a decent proposal.” Or we have the audacity to question someone’s motive purely because envy has crept in.

I once read a story of two men*, both seriously ill, who occupied the same small hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours about everything. Each afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up; he would pass the time by describing all the things he could see outside the window to his roommate. The man in the other bed would live for those one-hour periods where his world would come alive simply because his roommate described a park with a lake, ducks and swans playing on the water, children playing, etc. Although the other man could not hear any of the sounds, he could see them in his mind as the gentleman by the window beautifully described all the activity.

That is until envy slithered in: Why should he have all the pleasure of seeing everything while I never get to see anything? It didn’t seem fair. At first, the man felt ashamed because he enjoyed the man’s friendship and hour-long beautifully described scenery. But as the days passed, his envy eroded into resentment. He began to brood, and he found himself unable to sleep. He should be the one by that window—that thought controlled his life.

Late one night, as he lay staring at the ceiling, the man by the window began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs. The other man watched in the dimly lit room as the struggling man by the window groped for the button to call for help. Listening from across the room, he never moved, never pushed his own button, which would have brought the nurse running. In less than five minutes, the coughing and choking stopped, along with the sound of breathing.

Now, there was only silence—deadly silence. The following morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths. When she found the lifeless body of the man by the window, she was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take it away–no words, no fuss. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after she was sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

He slowly, painfully propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it all himself. He strained to look out the window beside the bed and found it faced a blank wall.

Envy is indeed a deadly sin and more pervasive in leadership than we think. If we as leaders are not careful, we could be guilty of killing other’s spirits and damaging our team’s morale.

As for Louie and Big Mac, they’re buddies now, that is, until Mac has a chew toy Louie wants.

*The Tale Of The Tardy Oxcart – November 20, 1998 by Charles R. Swindoll

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