Book Summaries Psychology

Law 10: Beware the Fragile Ego (The Laws of Human Nature)

The Law of Envy

In some parts of the world, the idea of the “evil eye” still exists. These people believe that a look of envy can have physical repercussions, such as illnesses or bad luck. Envy is an old emotion, it is tempting to think that we have outgrown it, that only children feel envy, but in truth, we all do. 

Some forms of envy are more pernicious, however – especially when they are disguised as love or affinity. 

The Types of Envy

Greene identifies several types of envy. One is the leveler. This type has a way of playing down the accomplishments of successful people. He thinks that he too is hard-working and has big dreams, so why should this other person enjoy a good life? Why not them? 

The leveler does not want to work too hard because they are insecure about themselves, they are afraid they might be average at best, or that none of their efforts will amount to anything, so instead, they abhor those who do. To them, these people are merely lucky or are evil in some way. No person can become successful because they truly deserve it. In this way, they make themselves feel better about their own situation. 

The attacher is another type that Greene writes about. This person may pose as your closest friend, showing you unusual amounts of attention. The attacher will usually look for people who are doing well in life, who have a vocation and are hard-working, and they will try to spend as much time as they can with them. They have two hopes. The first is the desire to be infected with a greater sense of purpose and resolve by their successful friend, and the second is the secret wish to sabotage their friend’s success in some way. 

Gore Vidal said that he died a little inside every time he saw a friend of his become successful. What you must understand is that envy is natural, it is not restricted to evil people. In fact, it is often mixed with love. Coco Chanel remarked that her husband envied her and loved her at the same time. 

Envy is the acknowledgement of superiority, and some people, who are good looking, talented, and hardworking, will encounter envy by anyone they meet. These types also tend to be naive because the feeling of envy is completely alien to them – making them ideal targets for exploitation. 

Beware the Chronic Types

Other people are born with bad luck, or they are extremely lazy, or highly insecure. These people will harbor resentment for a very long time, perhaps for their entire lives. 

Learn how to spot who these people are. When a friend of yours talks disparagingly about other people who appear to be doing better in life, be careful. They will have the same attitude towards you and are often fishing for delicious rumors they can spread about you. 

If, after telling your friend good news, such as getting a promotion or achieving something that was important to you, pay careful attention to how they react to this. Often, the highly envious types will feel obliged to compliment you but not without some poison for good taste. They will offer you a contradictory congratulatory remark – they will mix criticism with praise, and this will have you feeling a little funny afterwards, unsure whether they were happy for you or not. 

The Miscalculation

Remember that the theme of envy is ancient. The story of Cain and Abel is the archetypal example. The emotion is a very real, and it must also exist within you, to some degree at least. 

Keep in mind that people who seem to have great lives often are suffering in ways you can’t conceive of. Envy is often a result of a miscalculation. Your friend may envy you for many legitimate reasons, but they are unaware of the myriad ways in which their lives are superior to yours.

Do not think in this distorted way yourself, but this is not to say that you should be tolerant of people who consistently do. It is too effortful and risky to try to rewire the brains of people who are dangerously envious, identify these types and keep them at a distance from you. Allow them to bathe in their own cold poison. 

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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