There are a few dominant themes to today’s cultural environment.
There is a strong emphasis on being overwhelmingly visible. The media disproportionately focusses on matters that may be of little importance in the grand scheme of things, but that have the potential to go “viral”, because of the potential to trigger feelings of envy, bitterness, or anger. Many times, the context is misrepresented, seemingly with the intention to more effectively rouse up emotions. Polarized articles get more engagement on social media than balanced, objective news (as discussed here). As a result, reporters may actually be incentivized to produce polarizing articles to increase engagement. Actual, practical and workable solutions are cast aside or given little attention, in favour of bold motherhood statements, virtue-signaling, or just soundbites from celebrities.
We may not be able to change the world. There are too many things that are beyond our reasonable control. But some things are within our control. For example, we can control how we choose to spend our time, energy and focus. We can direct our own actions to guard ourselves against going down this vicious cycle of envy, bitterness and anger.
1. Guard against Envy.
Envy is a strong emotion. It is present even amongst the best of us. When we see someone else get a promotion, we may sometimes think to ourselves, “He doesn’t deserve that!” When we see someone’s business venture gaining traction and having some success, we may mumble to others, “That business is basically like a scam!” And then we may go on to do a Powerpoint or 5-minute video presentation about why that other person does not deserve success. (Just kidding, lol.)
As Darius Foroux writes in his weekly Stoic Letter, “Every time you feel envious, check your priorities. Take the envy as a sign to adjust your perspective.”
If you’re envious about someone’s entrepreneurial pursuit, make more time to focus on your own. If you’re bitter about someone’s rise in his career, shift your focus to the relevant skills that helped that person rise.
And finally, don’t forget the most important step: Learn to cultivate a posture of thanksgiving. Look around yourself and acknowledge what you have that you’re really, really grateful for. It could be good health, the presence of loved ones, your faith and community, or even just free time to do the things you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be big things. Sometimes, the small things offer plenty to be thankful about.
2. Be Wary of Those Who Thrive on Envy
Envy is a strong emotion. And unfortunately, there are many out there who know how to manipulate you through the trigger of envy. The best way to deal with these is to develop a sense of discernment. Learn to identify when someone or something is attempting to trigger your envy.
Is the article deliberately misrepresenting the context? Is the angle of the article trying to cause divisions and bitterness between various identities and groups? Is it blowing something out of proportion? Is it creating and playing up a false villain when none exist?
There are also those who may try to trigger your envy on a more personal and inter-personal level. Perhaps someone may feel envious about the success of another person. In order to cope with this negative feeling, he or she may try to influence a group of people to feel the same way. It may be due to a pack mentality: safety in numbers. Perhaps this person might gossip about his or her target. Or maybe even do a Powerpoint or 5-minute video presentation criticizing the target.
In a business setting, the main purpose of criticism should be to help someone else improve. If it is clear that that is not the intent, then it may be worthwhile examining what the true intent is.
For such cases, we find the best solution is to simply disengage. Don’t spend time and energy partaking in this business of generating envy. Turn your attention to much more productive endeavours. Or just rest. Even doing nothing at all is better than spending time and energy getting roused up, bitter, angry, and envious.
3. Run Your Own Race
Envy is a strong emotion. (In case we haven’t mentioned.) We face a strong temptation to indulge in, and get consumed by, feelings of envy, bitterness and anger. We have to make an active, deliberate choice to turn away from such temptation.
The best way to turn away from such temptation is to channel your focus and energy into running your own race. Cultivate your own creative pursuits. Work on your own health, relationships, finances and hobbies. When you get down to it, you will soon realise that there is truly a lot to work on. Who has time to get engulfed in being envious of others?
And perhaps, one day, others may become envious of the success that you have built, in your health, faith, relationships, finances and personal victories. They may even do a Powerpoint or a 5-minute video presentation about why you do not deserve the success you have achieved. But that is their business. You know better than to spend time and energy on that.