Tao Te Ching 3
Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling. Not collecting treasures prevents stealing. Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart.
The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies, by weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.
If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not try to interfere.
If nothing is done, then all will be well.
There are any number of completely useless and worthless emotions, and among the worst of them is jealousy. It is perhaps only human nature or common conditioning for people to admire what others have and want the same or better. Most people struggle with envy at one time or another (or, in some cases, constantly), and this can sometimes lead to harsh feelings or unethical acts. While I can’t argue that this is an all-too-frequent problem for mankind, I have something of an advantage in this lesson of Tao: I’m not really the “jealous type.”
The lesson here suggests that to prevent greed and resentment, it is the rulers of mankind that should completely devalue everything. It is the wisdom of this verse that people should not accumulate wealth and precious items, that exceptional effort should never be lauded or rewarded, and that the values of things should never be appraised or compared. An idealistic view of the world, to be certain, but we can safely assume that it just isn’t going to happen. Avarice and materialism are too deeply ingrained in the minds of modern people for even a respectable portion of the world populace to agree to global equalization. So what is a follower of Tao to do?
Simply-stated, you can’t change the ten-thousand things, but you can change the value that you, the individual, place upon them. While some things are considered valuable and will continue to hold such worth, while trends will come and go and people will pour ridiculous amounts of money into maintaining a presence in the herds, and while there will always be those that would rather have what they don’t have then what they do, it is the follower of Tao that can temper his or her own desires. For one that knows Tao, concepts such as fashion, privilege, equality, and social acceptance are a complete waste of time.
It is perhaps the most fruitless and frustrating of endeavors to crave what another has. Life is too chaotic and people are too selfish for there to ever be any true sense of absolute equality in the world. To believe yourself deserving of what another possesses is unrealistic: we can’t all have everything. Of course, it can also be safely mentioned that with each ‘advantage’ also comes relative disadvantages, drawbacks that a jealous person is usually blind to. In jealousy, most people only see the positive side of something they don’t have, ignoring or unaware of the problems that usually accompany the thing they don’t have. Rather than appreciating the situation they’re in and the things that they do have, jealous people are generally very focused on watching others and measuring them against themselves.
The world, life, the universe, mankind, society as a whole, nobody and nothing owes anyone anything other than what life hands you. To say that it’s “unfair” that someone else has more than you or “has it better” than you is doing nothing but handing your own happiness to forces that are out of your control. Let’s face it: you can’t make the rest of the world be what you want it to be. Ultimately, the only thing you can change and control is yourself.
The third verse of the Tao Te Ching asserts a very valid point: if you give something value, then someone else is going to want it. It’s ludicrous to ever think that the world is ever going to stop appraising every little thing, so the follower of Tao is left with no alternative but to refuse to recognize or appreciate the values that society places on the ten thousand things. To the follower of Tao, a gold brick is as much a shiny paperweight as it is a block of instant wealth. Cutting-edge fashions are a complete waste of money if the fabric is of poor quality and doesn’t last. Someone with a better-paying job just has more money, and while money is very useful in the modern world, it would become absolutely useless altogether if we all had the same amount. Aside from that, it would take less than a minute before someone figured out how to get some money away from someone else, and the whole cycle would start over again.
There is nothing wrong with wanting things and wanting to advance or ease your place in the world, but it is completely pointless to be jealous of another for having something you want. It’s better to be patient, bide your time, work toward your goals without comparing them to others, and ignoring what others have.