Yet envy and greed are different species. Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas character in the film Wall Street, famously retorted: Greed is good! Greed works! He wouldnt have said the same of envy, since we tend to think of the envious as people who lack something. Envy has two distinct faces, however. Coveting what you cant possibly attain -- another persons charming personality or good looks -- sets you on a direct path to the shrinks sofa. But if necessity is the mother of invention, envy is the mother of inspiration.
Take music. Theres nothing more likely to get you practicing your arpeggios than watching Bay Area guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, or maybe the Fucking Champs, shred on some semiclassical metal riffs. Or witnessing a set by local jazz drummers Weasel Walter or Josh Jones and exclaiming, in the immortally insecure words of the Cures Robert Smith, Why cant I be you?
Who hasnt harbored similar thoughts? Recall all the things you envied in older kids growing up. Sometimes it was just stuff -- Sams mom let him have a BB gun, why cant I have one? -- but often it concerned someones abilities. You envied Tammys drawing skills, the fact Marcie could score a goal off a corner kick, or that Jacob was able to sink ten straight free throws. Julie, she had the coolest signature. And DeShawn could make the neatest little origami shrimp.
As an adult, you might envy the baking abilities of La Farine owner Jeff Dodge, the speaking skills of Acts Full Gospel Pastor Bob Jackson, or the storytelling prowess of Berkeleys Michael Chabon enough to sign yourself up for a baking class, toastmasters group, or National Novel Writing Month. In athletics, artistry, academics, business, cooking, writing -- anything, really -- its hard to name a more potent driver of human learning and achievement. Green with envy? Get real. For youngsters trying to figure out what to do with their lives, envy inspires. For adults who dont have time to accomplish all theyd like, it spawns admiration. Only when it devolves into greed and jealousy does a destructive side emerge. So then, perhaps, its best to apply to envy a credo more traditionally aimed at recreational substances: Use it, dont abuse it. -- Michael Mechanic