Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Ox, Nor His NQC Ticket

What does it mean to covet? I’ve always had a general idea of “coveting” as “wishing you could have or enjoy something someone else has or enjoys.” But I think that general notion can be separated into two very different things.

Let’s imagine your friend Joe gets a ticket to go to NQC for the first time, and you can’t go because you can’t afford it. When he joyfully informs you of his good fortune, let’s say your first reaction is, “Hey man congrats! Wish I could go too, but I can’t make it this year. :-(”

Now, are you coveting Joe’s ticket? You’re wishing you could have something he has, but I think true covetousness would manifest itself a little differently. This is best illustrated with the old story about a Russian peasant who rubs a bottle and encounters a genie. Said genie offers him a wish, and when he launches into a rant about how unfair it is that his friend Ivan has a goat and he doesn’t, the genie says, “Ah! Then is your wish that I should give you a goat?” “No!” replies the peasant. “I want Ivan’s goat to die!”

True covetousness means you want Ivan’s goat to die. It would be like “accidentally” tripping your friend so that he falls and breaks his leg on the week before NQC. “Whoops! So sorry about that Joe. Guess you’re not going to NQC this year after all.” Or even if you don’t break his leg directly, hoping he breaks his leg so that he can give away his ticket to someone who would really appreciate it (cough, cough). Or hoping that happens even if he gives it away to someone else, because then at least Joe wouldn’t get to go to NQC, which is the most important thing.

The point is, don’t feel guilty if you have a wistful twinge next time someone else gets to go to NQC and you don’t, or someone else gets a raise and you don’t, or… [fill-in-the-blank with your own scenario]. That’s natural and innocent. What’s not innocent is building up resentment towards that other person, or constantly obsessing over the fact that you’re not able to have what they have, to the point where you’d do anything just in order for him not to have it… even if nothing changed for you.

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