Life isn’t fair. My kids remind me of this frequently, especially when it relates to how much dessert they did or didn’t get. I can relate. I’m a twin, and as a child I often felt that it wasn’t fair that my twin didn’t have psoriasis (something I’ve struggled with since I was four years old), or that she has never had to wear glasses (I got glasses in high school). She is also two inches taller than me, and those two inches make a big difference when you’re barely five feet tall (1.5 m). As parents we try to explain to our children that it is fair for the oldest child to stay up later than the youngest child, but still, life isn’t fair.
I don’t think that all lives are equally as difficult. I know that I won the lottery when I was born in Canada to my educated, loving, healthy, middle-class parents. My family always had the means to provide for me, whereas many Malawians are born into a family that is unable to provide three meals a day or other necessities. And I can understand why a Malawian would be envious of others. In recent years the gap between the rich and the poor has risen rapidly in Malawi. (In Blantyre we see luxury vehicles such as the McLaren pictured above that Blair spotted downtown.) While many sink deeper and deeper into poverty, the wealthiest Malawians travel the world and take luxurious vacations that even Canadians would envy.
Envy receives a lot of attention in Malawi. In fact, it makes it into the national anthem. The Malawian national anthem begins with these lines:
O God bless our land of Malawi,
Keep it a land of peace.
Put down each and every enemy,
Hunger, disease, envy.
Initially this seemed like a strange list to me. I don’t normally group hunger, disease and envy together. I wouldn’t think of it as one of the top enemies of a struggling nation, but perhaps it is. Malawi is known for its envy. Especially between Malawians. I had first assumed the anthem was referring to envy between Malawians and foreigners—those lucky to be born in a wealthier nation—but I have learned that the national anthem is most likely about envy between Malawians.
Envy separates us and makes us less likely to reach out and help others. When we are envious we feel unhappy when others succeed. In Malawi there is a push to increase the number of women in politics. We are heading into an election year with elections in May 2019. Malawi is struggling to increase the number of women in politics, partly because of jealousy between women. Numerous publications I have read point out that female candidates would be more successful if women supported them rather than being jealous of them. Instead, women often put down female candidates. Malawians even have a name for it: the “pull-down-syndrome.” It refers specifically to women putting down women they envy.
How absurd is it that women in Malawi are jealous of their potential leaders? Their fellow women. How much stronger would this nation be if women were more supportive of each other? And yet, I’ve never been jealous of men. When I have felt envy (and it has been often), it has always been of other women—those more beautiful or more successful than I am. What does that mean for my life? Have I missed opportunities to support other women? Probably.
How are we to deal with envy? Sometimes we might tell ourselves that no life is perfect: “She may be beautiful, but maybe I have something she doesn’t or maybe she has struggles that I don’t have.” I don’t think this is the way to deal with envy. Besides, as I already pointed out, I think some people’s lives are easier than others. Life isn’t fair. I think we start with being grateful to God, but not just grateful for who we are or what we have but for God’s character and good gifts. Rather than beauty, body-shape, wealth, or success, these are the gifts that matter the most, and since God’s gifts of love and forgiveness are universal, no one person has more of these or a monopoly on these. Second, I think we need to love those we envy. It could be a new women’s commandment. Instead of “Love thine enemy” we need to remember to “Love those we envy.” During this coming election season, I will be praying that the women of Malawi will love their sisters and support them rather than pulling them down out of envy.