Is envy a positive or negative force on people lives? 

Expert Answers
James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The word "envy," to me, carries very negative connotations. (I'm not even Catholic, but my first thought when I read your question was that envy couldn't possibly be a good thing; after all, it's one of the seven deadly sins!) Envy sometimes might be used to mean something similar to "ambition" (as in "I want to work hard, so that I can live like those people...") but more often it has the meaning of "covet" (as in the Commandment that "Thou shalt not...") and conveys a strong sense of dissatisfaction with one's life and a strong sense of possessiveness and materialism. Ambition may be a positive force on a person's life, but I don't see how envy is.

Maybe it's a question of semantics. I don't agree at all with the phrase "greed is good," for example, but I suppose that some people may see "greed" as more or less a synonym for "ambition," too.

Histories of words don't have the final say in what words mean today, but they're often very telling. The Online Etymology Dictionary (see the link below) gives as the origin for the word "envy" a Latin word, invidere, meaning "look at (with malice), cast an evil eye upon."

jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't see how envy is ever good.

Ever read any music forums? Forums on flute playing, or saxophone playing, or violin playing, or...? Well, in these forums there is always the inevitable thread that seems to crop up every few months. The thread usually starts like this: I really love the way ______ plays. I do so wish I could play like him/her. I know I have to practice a lot to be able to play like that, but is there any equipment I could buy or anything else I should do that could help me in my quest?

What follows are the predictable responses about using the right rosin for your bow, or trying out a different mouthpiece or reed or ligature, or... Finally, someone will restate the obvious:

There will never be another you. You are a one and only original. Try as you might to imitate someone else's way of playing or sound or being, in the end you will wind up sounding just like you.

Be the best you that you can be and don't worry about the other guy. You never know... he may well envy someone else.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that envy has its place.  On one level, it is a shade of envy that helps individuals envision dreams and conceptions of self.  In analyzing others' and seeking to develop the same for ourselves is where envy might play a powerful role for good.  At the same time, I think that envy can bring terrible elements to individuals if it is not checked in a proper manner.  The idea of coveting what other individuals have or possess can lead to disastrous implications to one's sense of self.  Individuals can lose sight of their own understanding as well as their own identity if envy runs unchecked within an individual. If someone is so very envious of another that they fail to understand their own concept of self, this could not be seen as good in any possible way.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the first answer.

I do not think we need to worry about the derivation of the word because where it comes from is not important now.  What is important is how we use they word in modern times.  To me, the word has lost its really negative connotation.

Envy can be a major driving force that causes us to make something of ourselves.  When we see that other people have things we want, we envy them and want to have those things ourselves.  This makes us work harder.

On the other hand, if it goes too far (like most things) it can hurt us.  That's because we might go overboard -- we might steal, or we might work too hard and neglect our families.

So it's a bit of each, depending on whether you do it moderately or excessively.

besure77 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that envy can be both depending on the particular circumstance. For example, a person could see another person behaving in a very compassionate way by helping others. This makes them envious and they try to do the same.

I do that envy has more negativity to it. I agree the previous responder in regards to negative feelings. Envy often makes people want more and it is usually materialistic things.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is generally negative.  While envy can be a motivator for some people I suppose, overall it merely involves negative feelings towards someone else because of what they have or what they can do.  It shows a discontent on the part of the person feeling it, a discontent with their life or the way in which they live.  So in almost every situation, envy is a negative thing.

jess1999 | Student

For me , I believe that envy has a negative force on people . To me , I believe that people should always be content with what they have . If they are not happy with it , instead of wasting time being jealous over someone , they can work to achieve what they want . So to me envy is a feeling that I bet everyone would feel at least once in their life , but instead of it being a good emotion , I believe that it leaves a huge negative force on people's lives . 

markbenson123 | Student

Envy is always gives a negative force in peoples life.If you are doing Envy in wrong way than it is definately gives negative result and negative force is bad for peoples life.

chocolate975 | Student

Envy can be both. It depends on which way to take it in or interpret it. I think envy is a negative force because it brings jealousy, hatred, and depression. Fights usually are sparked from envy and ruin many happy and fun filled aspects in life.

I really hope this helps.