“Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” —Gore Vidal
The next time you’re watching television (I know, I know—you don’t ever watch TV—neither do I.), keep an eye out for the car commercials. No, I’m not going to ask you to count how many spots you see with shiny new status cars with giant red gift bows on top…but rather keep an eye out for another common character that shows up in automobile advertising: the jealous neighbor.
While I don’t base my opinion on any scientific study, I would say that no other consumer marketing plays more into our own envy of others than the auto industry. So I thought this might be a good opening example as I share some perspectives on envy, the second-to-the-last of the timeless seven deadly sins.
I know envy very, very well. When I was a kid, I had a friend in grade school who seemed to ALWAYS succeed in ways that I could not:
- I was never a very good student; he got straight As with seemingly little effort.
- I always wanted a brother, but was stuck with three annoying sisters; he had three brothers, and NO sisters!
- I had a hard time making other friends, and got bullied some times; he seemed to be very popular, and the bullies never bothered him.
There were times, as a kid, when this completely tore me up…I became truly angry some times! Further, I couldn’t understand why I became so resentful of him. After all, if I was really a good friend, shouldn’t I feel happy for him and all his success? What does that say about me as a friend? What does that say about me as a person?
It’s fascinating to me that jealousy of others is the strongest when it’s of people closer to us. Note Gore Vidal’s well known quote above…and the honesty found in it! And it’s not about a stranger’s success, but one’s friend. How often have you experienced this feeling?
I think I can safely say that it’s something most of us have experienced—some of us more than others. I will admit—I still do! But today, I am older, a little smarter and aware of it—and as it does with my other human weaknesses, that helps me to keep it in check.
But lets go back to the jealous neighbor in the car commercials for a moment. What are these marketers attempting to do here? Are they tapping into the best of people, or the worst? And if you are crafting a marketing message that specifically feeds upon this human weakness, how ethical is that? Are we truly helping people become the best that they can be? I think not.
The human weakness of envy can lead to unchecked anger (note the link reference above and how they are related) and a complete destruction of the person on all levels—the psychological, the physical and the spiritual. Our envy of others also dictates that for us to succeed…someone else must fail. This leads us to the last rung of the ladder—and we will address that next week.