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Envy: I Wish I had More of That!

In our continuing quest to re-brand the Seven Deadly Sins as ‘The Super 7’, we’re ready to tackle Envy. Once you’ve seen how good it can be, you’ll want a bit of it!

Envy – the bringer of imagination?

We tend to focus on Envy as a destructive thing, but psychologists are increasingly realising that Envy also has a benign quality. Even Bertrand Russell (who didn’t have much good to say about it) conceded that Envy could be a positive driving force resulting in beneficial ends.

It is the benign enviousness that I want to explore, because I believe that envy, far from requiring us to hate those who have what we do not have, can urge us to acquire it for ourselves in a way that does good, not harm.

Envy is a recognition that something exists out there that is useful and desirable. The fact that we don’t currently have it may well induce feelings of resentment, but it can also induce positive action to get it. If the thing in question is ‘freedom’ or ‘justice’ or ‘fulfilment’, why wouldn’t we want these things? Envy can be a powerful spur.

When a poor performing team looks at a high performing team in the same organisation, it’s only right and natural that they should feel aggrieved by what they don’t have. This initial state can then go in a number of directions:

Option A: Ignore the High Performing Team entirely. Option B: Do whatever is possible to trash the High Performing Team. Option C: Learn from what the High Performing Team does in order to also become a HPT.

It is the resulting action that determines whether the envious state was positive or negative. The envious state had no inherent value.

Envy implies that the thing you are envious of has a value. The value may be unique to you, or there may be a broader consensus about its value. Being envious of someone who can drink 10 pints of beer without falling over, isn’t something that I attach great value to. However, I do value the conversational skills of people and their ability to develop instant rapport. I value it, I’m envious of it, I want it, and I work on developing it.

I also envy companies who offer fantastic customer service, produce great quality products, treat their employees with respect, have a social conscience and responsibility, invest in learning and development, have a collaborative working culture, and are agile enough to weather economic storms. For me, the very fact that there are companies out there who do all these things, means that I can use their template, draw on their vision and absorb it into the way I run my business. I’m going for Option C: learn and adopt.

Not being envious can mean that we close our eyes to what is around us. We can become parochial, small-minded, fixed on what we already have even though that may not be fit-for-purpose anymore.

That’s why I’d like to welcome Envy to join Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust & Gluttony as one of the Super 7.

Envy breeds imagination: it shows us what is possible; and it reminds us that there’s plenty out there to go for.

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