Monday, October 13, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Covet

Let me preface this by admitting that I’m not particularly a fan of Louis CK. I don’t deny that he’s very funny at times, but his style of humor does not generally appeal to me. But the quote that inspired me to write this blog was not meant to be humorous. A friend recently posted a bit of dialogue from his show that hit it so perfectly on the head that I was moved to share it. This is the photo that I saw:
If you’re having trouble seeing the graphic, here’s the exchange (emphasis mine):
Daughter: Why does she get one, and not me? It’s not fair.
Louis CK: You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever in your life, so you must learn that now, okay? Listen. The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have…as much as them.
Let’s read that again: “The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.”

Wow.

I would not describe myself as a particularly materialistic person, but even I am very aware of what I have relative to others. When I go on a “nice” vacation, I am painfully aware of discussing it with friends and acquaintances who cannot afford such a vacation. And when I pick up a Brand X dress on final clearance, I am painfully aware of discussing it with friends and acquaintances whose closets are bursting with designer labels. Having grown up in a family where going out for a “fancy” dinner involved The Olive Garden, and now being in a family where a “casual" dinner costs more per person than the entire party of four at The Olive Garden, I am acutely aware of the differences between my own financial status and that of the others around me. Whether or not it bothers me, I am aware of it.

But what I love about the sentence above is that it reminds me not just to not let the disparity bother me or even to completely disregard the disparity, but it reminds me to not even allow myself to be aware of it. Don’t even look in that bowl, unless your only intention is to fill it.

That’s not an easy charge. Human beings are naturally competitive, and naturally envious. There’s a reason that the last of the Ten Commandments – following such biggies as honoring and worshipping God alone, murder, adultery, stealing, and lying – is a prohibition against coveting. Don’t covet your neighbor’s house. Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife. Don’t covet your neighbor’s servants, or animals, or anything else belonging to your neighbor. The prohibition against coveting is not unique to Judeo-Christian tradition, however. An even older Babylonian code of law, Hammurabi’s Code, states, “If a fire breaks out in a man’s house, and a man who came to help put it out covets the household furnishings belonging to the householder, that man shall be cast into that very fire.” Coveting – merely wanting what someone else has, even with no intention of taking it – is a very serious offense.

So if humans are, by our very nature, covetous, how do we avoid committing that offense? By not looking in anyone else’s bowl. Mind your own business. Don’t worry about whether your neighbor has more or less than you. Because chances are, they have more of some things and less of others. Life is never perfectly equal. And there’s nothing we can do to make it equal. So instead of comparing and coveting, let’s just not think about it. Don’t try to find out where you are relative to them. Unless their bowl is empty and you can pour some of what’s in your bowl into it, what’s in their bowl is none of your business.

Just enjoy what’s in your bowl, whether it’s from The Olive Garden or The Ritz. But if it is from The Ritz, be sure you look around for someone who might appreciate your doggie bag. And then fill their bowl.

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