Greed: Getting Up Close and Personal with Wicked Step-Sister of Envy

As women working in the world, we try to do well in our work, perhaps even making the world a little better because of our work. But I expect many of us have noticed there are resistances, struggles, negative forces that work against us. Sometimes I call this the “molasses” we have to get through. Christians call it Sin. Many people truly dislike that word, but we might be able to get some insights if we think about this idea briefly.

One definition of sin is missing the mark. Sometimes I think of it as entanglements, getting embroiled. Some people might call it negativity or toxicity or that irritation that gets inside of us and others that spills over and affects our whole lives. One of my friends says, “Don’t get none of that on ya!”

In March, on the Plaid for Women radio show, I talked about the Deadly Sin of Envy. In this blog, I want to discuss another of the Seven Deadly Sins, Covetousness, sometimes called greed, sometimes avarice. It’s a close sister to envy. Whereas envy can look upon what it desires from afar, covetousness comes closer. It’s next door. In Exodus, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Ten Commandments say, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” This becomes very specific.

The covetousness that comes from wanting something from someone close to us – whether family or neighbor or friend or colleague – guarantees we cannot have an equal and supportive relationship with our neighbor. It leads to deceit and betrayal. On the one hand, we seek to establish good relationships with those closest to us. On the other hand, we are secretly desiring what they have, and wishing they didn’t have it and we had it instead. As one character says in the film When Harry Met Sally, “I want what she’s having.”

To get what we covet usually demands manipulation. Ego often comes to the forefront. Whereas envy often believes she’s not deserving of the desire and couldn’t possibly have it, covetousness believes if it can be next door, it can also be in our own backyard. If the neighbor has it, there’s no reason for us not to also have it. Whereas envy creates a pit in our stomach that desires to be filled, but doesn’t know how to fill it, covetousness feels it’s all within our grasp. It’s just a side yard away.

When we covet, we have to be two-faced. Our desire to have good relationships with those closest to us leads to words of support for others. Our desire to have what they’re having, leads to our words belying our actions.

Covetousness can be like a cancer of the eyes. Whereas envy resides in the gut, covetousness is in the eyes – noticing, watching, waiting, and peering. And it’s like a hole in the heart where the normal heart connections are no longer there. Our natural desires to connect with the neighbor are cut off. We forget what’s really important – working together in community is how we all get what we want. We forget our neighbor is often willing to help us – often by being willing to share their metaphoric oxen or servant. Instead we substitute competition for neighborliness.

There seem to be two emotions when we covet. On the one hand, we might feel hurt because someone who seems so like us has what we want and what we don’t seem to be able to get. On the other hand, we might feel almost sick about their success, even though we have to hide these feelings.

Whereas envy would like to grab, but usually can’t because it’s too far away, covetousness knows grabbing cannot be done directly. The action of covetousness is more like a weasel, analyzing the opportunities, looking for the way in, strategizing the moment when the desire can lead to action. When we covet, we never get any peace. When others covet what we have, we become overly-protective, not sharing anything.

Covetousness separates. When one covets another, it is impossible for those two people to relate as equals, or as supporters. It is impossible to have friendly relationships with someone who covets us, or who has the things we covet.

How can we break the cycle of coveting? Sometimes we can break the cycle by sharing with those who covet what we have. We can lend them our metaphoric oxen or help them out with the metaphoric tools of our trade (although hopefully we will not lend them our spouse!). We can let them know about the struggles we’ve gone through to achieve success. We can let them know their struggles are also struggles we’ve experienced and offer our support, insight, or compassion. We can help them on their journey to success, sharing the secrets we’ve learned to make the journey shorter. We can let them know about the hard work we’ve gone through, knowing many want everything now – and don’t understand the process.

True covetousness doesn’t want to go through the process leading to success. It simply wants to steal the results. The Greedy, Miserly, Gold-Holder or Gold-Digger needs to be defeated. Coveting does nothing to help us do good and do well, make a difference, and play well with others.

How We Find Our Calling

Many professional women don’t want to settle. We have ideas, dreams, and visions. Many of us realize, at some point, that we don’t fit neatly into the corporate world or the man’s world or the world that someone else defined for us. But, we couldn’t figure out how to build our own world.

Many of us felt pushed or pulled or nudged or shoved or sometimes even Called to do something that didn’t make a lot of sense, there weren’t a lot of trail blazers and path-finders ahead of us to show us the way, and sometimes there were no role models to show us how to do it well. And yet, many of us did it.

What do we make of this idea of Calling? It’s a spiritual term, often used for those Called to the ministry or missionary field. I think it’s a much bigger term than that. It recognizes that many of us feel guided into our careers. Whether we see that Guide as God or The Spirit or The Light or The Truth or the Sacred or The Inner Voice, it leads us, gets us over the humps, and makes it possible to do work, in our own individual way, and actually contribute to the world.

But what do we do if we’re not sure?

When I started my Script Consultant business (a business that didn’t exist, no one ever hired anyone to do what I do, and they never had paid money for it), I went to a career consultant (Judith Claire) who helped me see my way. I had a glimmer of what I wanted to do and felt I was prepared to do. She had me make a list of my preparation for this job – my college and graduate work, my experience working with scripts, my directing experience – and she kept nudging me to make the list longer. She then asked me to make a list of everything personal I brought to this job. She asked, “If someone else had exactly the same qualifications as you, why would someone prefer to come to you?” I started listing traits like nurturing, diplomacy, generosity – and she kept pushing me to add more to the list. Soon I realized I had something to offer – and took The Leap of Faith to start the business.

If you’re not sure, you might want to bring together or create a group email of other women you consider wise and insightful. I suggest 3-7 women – enough that you get different points of view. Ask them to help you discern what you are feeling moved to do. They can help you listen for that Little Voice that sometimes suggests a path. They can keep you from doing something stupid or walking into the minefields that are there with new territory. You aren’t asking them to tell you or agree or disagree, but to listen to you and ask questions and get you feeling your way into the work, not just thinking about it.

Take time to make the decision. Spiritual walks don’t start in a frenzy but start with a sense of peace and release and even subtle movement. For many, this might mean taking some Quiet Time every day to think things through, to contemplate and mediate and pray – or whatever else can calm you down so you don’t get frenetic and desperate. And these Quiet Times can keep you from being caught up in someone else’s ideas of what they think you should be doing.

As women, we have two beautiful centers. One is the heart – emotion, empathy, kindness and care. The other my horse-back riding teacher reminded me about – the place within where babies come from. The solar plexus – our strength, the source of our action as we move out into the world. I laughed about this, but then discovered I ride better when I remember that place that pushes me into the world with force and delight. –Dr. Linda Seger