June 22, 2011
“Against envy, refresh your eye at the source of the gift. Against avidity, cultivate a grateful heart. Against the desire for fame, the quest for an obscure life.” Faouzi Skali 20th-21st century
Do green hailstones of envy pummel our psyches? Must we seek solitude in a monastery to be impervious to the green-eyed monster? My 3 and 1/2 year old granddaughter, whose hair is rather straight, has a best friend whose hair is extremely curly. At the tender age of 3, she’s already expressed the desire to have curly hair like her friend’s. Is she envious or admiring? Is it natural for us to desire that which we don’t have or is admiration sometimes confused with envy? Given the availability of technology, media saturation, and consumerism, it’s incredibly easy to fall into a pattern of want, lessening our satisfaction with that which we already have. The possibility of being tempted by what we don’t have at every turn is blatantly present. If we express admiration and consider the wonders of the coveted, we must also consider the source of that which is desired, and the genealogical lifeline for that must always lead back to The Creator.
Greed or avarice may be the ugliest shades of green. I’m thinking green, with some bloody red or dark as death black pigments. Greed leaves one continually dissatisfied. The Roman poet Horace, (65BC-8BC) said that , ” He who is greedy is always in want.” The argument of whether or not money can buy happiness is as old as time, but if you were able to survey all of those who are considered wealthy, I’d bet my last dollar they would tell you that although money buys a lot of nice “things” that add to the enjoyment, ease, and comfort of their lives, happiness isn’t one of them.
The German inventor Frederick Keonig (1774-1833) stated that, “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” That brings us to gratitude. The heart that is happy with what it has and what it receives, is fully open and never fearful of what others might take from it. Grateful people make others want to give more. Grateful hearts are open to receiving more.
While studying the country of Kenya, I remember showing my students pictures of Kenyan schoolchildren seated on the ground and smiling as they received their lessons or looking ecstatic while playing with simple handmade toys. “How can they be happy like that?”, they asked. My answer was that the Kenyan children know no other kind of life, therefore they consider the ground they sit upon, just as wonderful as the comfortable desks and chairs that we take for granted. Their handmade toys are just as desirable to them as the high-priced tech gadgets are to most American students. Their Kenyan hearts are filled with gratitude. Gratitude changes everything, with the optimistic focus on what one has. Gratitude is prolific, coloring everything it touches with a lovely shade of green, a timeless symbol of life and growth.
Fame is often accompanied by money, but fame almost always comes with strings attached. It fascinates us when a famous person avoids the spotlight, and chooses to live an inconspicuous life. We the unknown, are mystified by such behavior, thinking that we would revel in the attention paid, be thrilled with our every move being a concern to others, and applaud our photographs gracing every magazine cover at the newstand. We forget that the famous can never be unknown. They can never be just a regular person, like us. It shouldn’t shock us then, when the famous want to disappear from view, or travel incognito, seeking an obscure life. American newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811-1872) said, “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.” How many flash in the pan, one hit wonders, don’t even appear in our history books? Might we all be better off and better serve humanity by taking our notable achievements and living a quiet and rather ordinary existence like Harper Lee, using our money anonymously and philanthropically? I believe that would be character! If you think about it, character is the only thing that cannot be taken from us or degraded in any manner, without our participation and consent. Our fame and popularity will fade as quickly as that perfect moment to photograph a sunset, when the next best thing knocks us down a notch. Our worldly goods can lose value, deteriorate, or even be stolen. We can fade into obscurity without desiring to, but no one can appropriate our character. Elie Wiesel (1928-) and Nelson Mandela (1918-) are both testimonies to that.
I believe that even though Mr. Skali is a Sufi, similar admonitions can just as easily be found in the tomes of a variety of philosophies and the holy books of many religions.
My interpretation of the advice is simple:
- consider everything good and positive a miracle
- have a grateful heart
- don’t seek fame and riches for their own sake, but be humble, open, creative and willing to work hard and your fortune will find you
Peace, Love, and Gratitude