Greed is unquestionably the most harmful of humanity’s cardinal sins, particularly in the portion of the world that runs on the capitalist economic system. Two of the other “seven deadly sins,” gluttony and lust, are merely alternative forms of it. But if avarice is the most malignant of humanity’s seven most destructive failings, envy is by far the most foolish. I ought to know. I harbored it regularly for years.

Being envious is pointless on a variety of levels. First off, staying jealous and resentful requires a great deal of time and energy, both of which can and should be used more productively on issues of far greater significance.

But it’s not just the exertion wasted on envy that’s idiotic; it’s the silly things people covet. In my youth, I was jealous of those who ran faster than I did (a handful), boys who were better at basketball than I was (a few more), and guys who were more successful with girls than I was (every male with a pulse). Interestingly, I cared not a whit about kids with more toys, bigger houses or higher grades; what I wasted my jealousy on was shallow, even by typical juvenile male standards.

Maturity is accepting the fact you may never be the absolute best at anything. Years ago, when a guy blew by me for a game-winning lay-up in a pick-up basketball game, I instantly detested him ”“ and bear in mind this was before “trash talk” was around to intensify one’s irrational hatreds.

I played competitive sports fervently throughout my lengthy adolescence, but today my primary pastimes are reading and writing. That’s attributable partly to evolution and maturation, but mostly to aging hip joints, a wife who prefers a wage-earning spouse to a weekend warrior, and children who could care less how far their dad can hit a softball.

Over the long haul, cerebral pursuits are indisputably healthier than physical ones, and not just because few people sustain concussions while perusing literature.

What a difference my change in outlook has made! Four decades ago, some 15-year-old left-handed batter I’d never seen before hit my best pitch over the trees in distant right field during a Babe Ruth League baseball game. I resented him for days afterward despite not knowing a darn thing about him, other than that he was obviously a much better hitter than I was a pitcher. But today when someone produces excellent writing I’m not the slightest bit envious; in fact, I’m as impressed with the prose’s creator as I am delighted with having read his or her work.

That relatively late epiphany was brought to mind recently when I finished reading “Talk Show,” a book of essays by Dick Cavett, a gifted writer who made his name interviewing people on television shows for the better part of the same quarter-century or so that I spent being a gym rat.

One of the collection’s many delicious anecdotes tells the tale of a notoriously self-absorbed singer with a tendency toward bellicosity getting punched in the face outside a nightclub by an admirer who had taken offense to something the crooner had done or said. Observed one witty person at the time, “That’s the first time the fan ever hit the s—!”

Another of his essays, one that originally ran in the New York Times 10 or so years ago, decried the decline and fall of proper usage of the English language. Cavett excoriated one particularly inarticulate world leader of the time, pointing out numerous instances of the man’s public mangling of his supposed native tongue. The politician in question, an outwardly genial sort who couldn’t or wouldn’t correctly pronounce the word “nuclear,” had allegedly observed, “The French have no word for entrepreneur.” It was a great line, but several of the column’s alert readers subsequently wrote in, pointing out that the intellectually challenged individual in question had never actually uttered those words; that specific bit of oral butchery was nothing more than urban legend. Cavett graciously owned up to his error in print, thanking those who had pointed it out. “And I owe Mr. Bush an apology, too,” he wrote, adding, “Although hardly the size of the one he owes us.”

Pointing out the malignancy of greed and envy should in no way be interpreted as an endorsement of the other five deadly sins. There’s nothing admirable about wrath, lust, gluttony or pride, either. And I’m guessing the seventh deadly sin is one to be avoided as well. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what it is, and I’m presently feeling too indolent to look it up.

— Andy Young teaches English at a York County high school. These days he envies no one, unless he meets someone with a Pulitzer Prize, an NBA Championship or a Teacher of the Year award to his or her credit.



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