For anyone who knows me they know that my favourite place away from home is Turkey. One of the most iconic sights in Turkey is the nazar, the ward against the evil eye. These are put throughout the houses, worn as jewelry, cemented into the streets and even pinned to baby’s diapers. There is a whole set of cultural rules around compliments and warding against the evil eye. When I was first there I was puzzled by the mothers’ reactions when I would admire their babies or tell them that their child was lovely. They would look at me with horror and their eyes made it clear that I was completely out of line. Here in Canada saying nice things to a woman about her children is often the way to open conversation and to show your friendliness and good intent. In Turkey it slammed doors shut. What I learned is that people learned to try and guard against envy and it was said that if someone complimented something you have that they possibly coveted it and wished harm on the owner. Giving a compliment has to quickly be followed with “Mashallah” meaning “God protect”. Even then the fear is that you might be dishonest in your declaration. The idea is to keep from inspiring envy so that people would not wish to take your possessions or wish harm on you. The eye is to bounce back any evil intent. Supposely if the eye shatters it has done its job.
You might wonder what this has to do with a frugal lifestyle but I think it outlines a flaw in our culture’s thinking. We are taught to admire and flaunt our cars, clothes, houses, careers and children. Provoking envy is seen as a way of establishing where you are on the societal ladder. How many of us cringe at the Christmas letter that is really a list of why there family is better and more successful than yours. It creates a divide between friends, family, and neighbours. It creates an artificial urgency to acquire “stuff” of greater and greater expense in order to establish personal worth. There are whole television networks dedicated to ridiculing outmoded decor and wardrobes. Functional and servicable are not good enough. We create neuroses, dispair, insecurities, chronic debt, alienation, anger, and covetousness because we glory in the envy of others.
In terms of seeking to live a humble and manageable life you are not only bringing peace to your own life but you take the pressure off of others. In celebrating simplicity a handspun and handknit scarf takes on a place of honour in our wardrobe. The designer? Someone who loves you. Is it in the latest colour palette of the season? It perfectly sets off your smile. Guarding against envy may be seen as a way of avoiding evil intent that may be created in the hearts of others, but it is also a gift to those around us to take off the pressure of the demands of society.
Instead of a fancy dinner in a swanky new restaurant have a simple potluck that allows everyone to shine for the important things. It is a switch from being ashamed of having a boxy out of date car to knowing that you are safe from poisoning your relationship with your neighbours due to envy. I now carry a nazar on my purse. I don’t think it will ward off curses but it will remind me to avoid provoking envy by the choices I make and the way I live my life. My champagne coloured Dodge caravan will never be an item of admiration and for that I am truly thankful.
Living a simple and contented life that acknowledges that it has enough can be life changing beyond your own home. Enjoy.