Teamwork over envy

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Brian Tomasik
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Teamwork over envy

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu Jan 10, 2013 5:49 am

I had a recent conversation with a friend who was feeling inadequate compared with other people. He felt bad about himself because he thought others were smarter, more attractive, more popular, etc. The following is adapted from my reply. These thoughts help me a lot as well when I feel envy.
We're all in this together. Isn't it marvelous that there are so many wonderful, talented people in the world? You're one of them, and they are others. When people around us are joyful, healthy, productive, and doing good work, this is a beautiful thing. We can be proud of one another, happy for each other's successes, and inspired to realize that we're each doing our best to reduce suffering in the world. What more could we ask for? At the end of the day, doesn't it feel better to be partners and friends than to feel superior to other people?
Philosophical views dissolving personal identity help here as well.

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Teamwork over envy

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu Jan 10, 2013 9:04 pm

As I've gotten older, I've begun to do a lot more "manager" work and a lot less "independent contributor" work in the utilitarian sphere. Partly this is because there seem to be higher returns from inspiring and coordinating other people to work on something than from doing it myself. I find that keeping projects on track can have high value relative to doing the detailed work behind those projects, because the management work is "boring" and tends to be neglected, and yet small reminders or suggestions on the direction of a project can matter a lot.

In any event, now that I spend more of my time helping others do good work rather than doing it myself, I've become less possessive of work that is "mine." I still agree with my own opinions more than those of most other people, but when someone else writes an excellent new article or starts a successful new project, I'm proud to see that being done with some fraction of the fervor as if I had done it myself. I'm doing what I can to contribute, but I don't feel inferior when I see other people going beyond where I've gone -- e.g., taking research on wild-animal suffering or veg-outreach calculations to the next level of sophistication. It's a beautiful sight to watch, and I'm glad to be part of it.

When I apply a similar attitude toward the amazing things that people in general accomplish all over the world, it does much to allay irrational feelings of envy. Life is not a competition, because our value doesn't come from being better than others. It comes from working together to contribute to a cause larger than ourselves.

This doesn't mean we don't care about our productivity or effectiveness, but we care about those things because they matter to the animals we're trying to help, not because we need to "win" the game. We're each at different places, with different strengths and talents, so what matters is how well we're doing relative to what our own endowments allow us to accomplish, without burning out or feeling bad about ourselves.

I suppose there might be people who are really motivated by competition and not by altruism. In this case, maybe it's okay to let them stay in their competitive world if it does more for animals. But if, like me, you find the world of competition vicious and degrading, the alternate mindset I'm proposing is available. In any event, since competition isn't always focused on reducing suffering, it can push in orthogonal directions. Sometimes it's just by accident that people compete to be more altruistic than each other.

LJM1979
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Re: Teamwork over envy

Post by LJM1979 » Fri Jan 11, 2013 7:28 pm

It sounds like you have an admirable, healthy outlook!

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