The Tree and the House

A parable about envy

A man planted a tree to shade his house from the desert sun. The tree, a palo verde, grew like a weed and was soon taller than the house. The house became envious, feeling diminished by the tree’s stature. The house said to the tree: "How dare you outstrip me, you who were once so puny! I towered above you, but you have made me small."

The tree replied to the house: "Why, do you begrudge me the natural unfolding of my potentiality, especially when I provide you with cooling shade? I have not made you small. It is not in my power to add or subtract one cubit from your stature. The change you have ‘undergone’ is what the philosopher’s call a mere Cambridge change. You have gone from being taller than me to being shorter; but this merely relational change implies no real change in you: all the real change is in me. What’s more, the real change in me accrues to your benefit. As I rise and spread my branches, you are sheltered and cooled. The real change in me causes a real change in you in respect of temperature."

Heed well this parable, my brothers and sisters. When your neighbor outstrips you in health and wealth, in virtue and vigor, in weblog entries or the length of his curriculum vitae — hate him not. For his successes, which are real changes in him, need induce no real changes in you. His advance diminishes you not one iota. Indeed, his advancement may work to your benefit. You will not have to tend him in sickness, nor loan him money; your tax dollars will not be used to subsidize his dissoluteness; the more hits his weblog receives, the more yours will receive; and the longer his curriculum vitae the better and more helpful a colleague he is likely to be.

Thus spoke the Sage of the Superstitions.