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ICYMI: S1E14 – Thou Shalt Not Covet

You know you want it. Fear of missing out. The ‘Me’ Generation. The messaging from the world around us is that we should want what others have and, in our modern capitalist thinking, it’s a driver for some to succeed and exceed. However, the Old Testament has a lot to say about wanting what someone else has. In this episode, Leon and Josh explore what is wrong with “covetousness” and how it might be possible to harness that powerful emotion. Listen to it or read the transcript below.

Leon:                                     00:00                     Hey everyone, it’s Leon. Before we start this episode, I wanted to let you know about a book I wrote. It’s called “The Four Questions Every Monitoring Engineer is Asked”, and if you like this podcast, you’re going to love this book. It combines 30 years of insight into the world of it with wisdom gleaned from Torah, Talmud, and Passover. You can read more about it including where you can get a digital or print copy over on https://adatosystems.com. Thanks!

Roddie:                                00:25                     Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We’re not here to preach or teach you our religion. We’re here to explore ways we make our careers IT professionals mesh – or at least not conflict – with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Josh:                                      00:44                     You know, you want it. Fear of missing out. The ‘ME’ generation. The messaging from the world around us is that we should want what others have, and in our modern capitalist thinking, it’s a driver for some to succeed and exceed. However, the Old Testament has a lot to say about wanting what someone else has. And today we’re going to explore how to harvest that powerful emotion. Joining in the discussion today are Leon Adato.

Leon:                                     01:08                     Hello again.

Josh:                                      01:10                     And I’m Josh. Biggley.

Leon:                                     01:12                     So I think where I’d like to start here is actually hit the religious side of this first because this is a really challenging commandment, made no less challenging by the fact that it’s the last one you know, “you shall not covet” is commanding an emotion, which is already sort of a fraught concept. But on top of it, its commanding an emotion that you can’t stop until you start having it. So you’re really sort of commanding someone to “stand in a corner and not think about polar bears in the snow.”

Josh:                                      01:42                     I mean, now I’m thinking about polar bears in the snow. Thanks Leon.

Leon:                                     01:44                     You can’t stop it. You know, you want

Josh:                                      01:47                     Well, I am Canadian. So I mean, I feel like I’m predisposed for that.

Leon:                                     01:51                     Right, exactly. You, you, it’s, it’s practically part of the curriculum. So the, I think that’s the first thing. And I think one of the points I want to make is whether this commandment is talking about the prohibition of a desire or the prohibition of an action, an actual action that arises out of that desire.

Josh:                                      02:11                     So I like to go back a little bit first. I feel like there are some of our listeners who maybe didn’t pay attention in Sunday school

Leon:                                     02:21                     Guilty, guilty as charged.

Josh:                                      02:22                     Guilty as charged? All right. Yeah, I thought I was the only one who was going to be confessing here.

Leon:                                     02:26                     Nope.

Josh:                                      02:27                     So this, this commandment, there’s 10, right?

Leon:                                     02:31                     Yeah. There is still 10.

Josh:                                      02:34                     It hasn’t changed? Good. These 10 commandments, where did they come from and why are they so important to – not just Judaism, but Christianity? If Rodey was here, I’m sure he could give us the context within Islam…

Leon:                                     02:49                     Yeah. Yeah. So, okay. So the, in the old testament, or Torah, or five books of Moses, you would, uh,see the 10 commandments appearing twice. First in the book called exodus or Shemot in Hebrew. And then also in the book of Deuteronomy, the last book of Torah, or Devarim, if you’re going to go with the Hebrew. And there’s slight variations. They’re not relevant for our conversation today. And what’s interesting to me about that, that people have commented about, is that with with 10 commandments, they actually match up five and five. That the first five speak about the relationship between people and God. You know, the first commandment. And I will say the numbering varies from different religious traditions. That Catholicism versus Judaism versus, uh, I think, the Protestant branches number of things slightly differently. So if you have a copy of your Bible out, these numbers may not match up with the first commandment. In, in Jewish counting is I am God, which doesn’t really sound like a commandment, but in Judaism we count it. And then the second commandment is, you shall have no other gods before me. But what’s interesting is the first five have to do with the relationship between humanity and God and the second five have to do with the relationship between humanity and other humans. So on, you know, the first five, like I said, “I am God.” “You should have no other gods before me.” “Don’t take God’s name in vain.” “Remember the sabbath” and then the bridge commandment, number five, “honor your father and mother.” Then when you look at the other side, there’s actually a parallel, with the first commandment being “I am God.” The sixth commandment is “do not murder.” Hmm, because you don’t have a right to do that. You don’t give life or take life. That is God’s job. “You shall have no other gods except me.” On the other side of it, that seventh commandment is “no adultery.” You shall have fidelity in your relationships, both with God and also with… and so on and so forth, which means that if you’re matching them up the way that I’m going through it, that “do not covet”, the 10th commandment, matches up with “honor your father and mother,” which gives you a little bit of a sense of maybe what was going on here, that there’s something connected between covetousness, this jealous feeling, this jealous behavior; and honoring. And it doesn’t match up by the way with stealing, which I think is the first thing that we might think if I told you, “Oh, they match up” and you were going to play connect the dots. You might connect covetousness with stealing because you’d say one directly leads to another, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but I believe that coveting has more to do with respecting and honoring and recognizing someone else’s autonomy and the earned status they have achieved. Again, honoring your father and mother. Why? Because they’re your father and mother. Because they, by pride of place, because of who they are, you respect them. And the same thing is you shall not covet that somebody has earned that thing, that position that’s in society, that job, that role, that accolade. Whatever it is that they’ve earned that and you shouldn’t diminish or covet it – want it simply because they have it and you don’t.

Josh:                                      06:08                     You know, so you’ve brought up something that I had hadn’t really considered. You raised this interesting idea of how this connection with a father and mother and coveting and I hadn’t ever realized how many things in the world have gone wrong because sons and daughters have coveted the role that fathers and mothers have. In our house we love to watch documentaries about ancient history, and Egyptian arguments between parents and children led to some wild outcomes, usually death. Usually very violent, horrible deaths. And that, you know, happened in the Roman Empire… it happens in every empire, you know, the British was no exception, but it’s just, ah, coveting! So is coveting always a bad thing though? Is there a way for us to channel this emotion, this coveting to something good?

Leon:                                     07:10                     All right. So, in Jewish thinking, there is one situation where you are allowed to covet. Where you are, not necessarily encouraged to covet, but it’s considered perfectly fine. And that’s when you think about somebody else’s knowledge. They’re Torah knowledge. You know, their facility with the text, with the law, with the logical processes of thought that when they, when they analyze a text and they just bring some amazing insights and you say, “Wow, that I wish I could do that. I wish I could read with that kind of fluency.” You’re allowed to do that. Now we’ll talk about why in a little bit, but I just want to put it out there that not all coveting is necessarily bad. And actually it’s what you do with it.

Josh:                                      07:55                     OK, so I think I’ve got the it equivalent of coveting people’s Torah knowledge.

Leon:                                     08:01                     Okay. What is it?

Josh:                                      08:02                     Stack Exchange

Leon:                                     08:06                     I actually saw the other day, somebody, you know, it’s graduation time now, as we’re making this recording, and a lot of people have on their little mortar board, “I’d like to thank Stack Exchange for this degree in computer science.”

Josh:                                      08:16                     So I think that is very accurate. As someone who doesn’t code and who is rapidly trying to develop my Linux acumen. I rely on the generosity of others in providing their knowledge. And I’m always amazed at the things that people are able to do. And I think, and I remember distinctly… So for those who have not been following along, I’ve been in the IT industry for 20 years, or 20-ish years years. I’ve been a lot of places. I’ve done a lot of things. And the more things I do, the more I realize I have no sweet clue what I’m doing. Most of the time.

Leon:                                     08:53                     You are that dog in the meme. “I have no idea what I’m doing!”

Josh:                                      08:57                     That is me. That is, that is true. That’s why I’m super grateful for stack exchange. I’ll call out one of our mutual friends Zach Mutchler. Zach is really great for when he builds a script or does some sort of coding, that he will take and reference, “hey, I got this part of this code from stack exchange” or “this blog post”. And not that the person who wrote that blog post or who posted that code to stack exchange is ever going to see our script internally. But it’s just to let everyone know that, “hey, I didn’t come up with this on my own.” Right. I built… to use a quote that I love, “I stood on the shoulders of giants.” So I think – I think – we can covet stack exchange like, like we covet Torah.

Leon:                                     09:51                     So coveting someone’s knowledge, whether it’s secular or religious, I think is, you know, because again, no one is diminished because of that covetousness. It doesn’t lead to those negative behaviors. In society you’re worried about somebody stealing somebody’s, uh, you know, and the other thing that that comes out of this is diminishing the other person, right? Putting them down to minimize their accomplishments. When you find a really awesome piece of code and you say, “wow, I can use this”, give credit where credit is due, but as long as it isn’t outright theft. And I think that’s where things get a little bit squirrely. But as long as it’s not, you’re allowed to covet. However, you don’t want to plagiarize, right? You don’t want to retweet something as your own when it’s not. You don’t want to steal someone else’s documentation and present it as your own. You don’t want to present an idea that you heard at the water cooler as you know, “Hey boss, I just came up with this great idea!” Which, by the way, I’ll say differs from brainstorming. Because in brainstorming, good brainstorming, there’s a wonderful technique called “adding on”, where person A says, “what if we built this out of hamsters?” And someone says, “okay, maybe not hamsters, maybe mechanical hamsters,” and someone else says, “why don’t we get rid of the hamsters and just use engines like we normally do?” And you know, you build off of ideas or whatever it is. That building on is not theft because you’re specifically doing it for a purpose, whether you’re doing it live and in person or you’re doing it as part of a slack conversation or an ongoing email thread or what have you.

Josh:                                      11:43                     Interesting that this past week I actually had two examples and both of them actually deal with the aforementioned Zach Mutchler. So the first one was Monday, – so we’re recording this in the beginning of June. So last Monday was Memorial Day in the United States. Being in Canada, I worked while all of my American teammates were barbecuing and remembering the service men and women who had lost their lives. So I was working on this particular problem and I was trying to answer an email for somebody and it involved doing some testing and I did it and I documented everything I did and I sent it to this team. And Zack walks in on Tuesday morning and he’s like, “Oh, you know, I documented that, right?” So then I had to turn around and tell this team that I had just sent this email to and written out all this stuff that, “oh, by the way, don’t use what I just gave you because Zach did it so much better.”

Leon:                                     12:39                     Right. “Oops, sorry guys.”

Josh:                                      12:42                     Yeah, I mean, it was okay. And then, the other, the flip side was Zack is working on this new technology that we’ve gotten our hands on and he’s been playing with it and he comes up with this crazy idea. He’s like, “you know, we could totally get rid of this thing by using this technology.” And I think that he said it flippantly. I don’t think that he intended it to actually be a thing. And suddenly the light bulbs start going off in my head. And next thing we know, we’ve got this harebrained idea that we’re pitching to some of our coworkers over in Lebanon about how we’re going to solve this problem. And it’s great. So I love this idea that, yes, I covet those crazy ideas that Zach has, but I totally give my team credit where credit’s due. Yeah. I can’t do this by myself. I need them. They need me. I’m crazy and loud and they’re smart and methodical. It’s good. Yeah.

Leon:                                     13:39                     I had experienced with that a couple of years ago. Patrick and I were sitting there. So I live in Cleveland and I’ll travel down to the SolarWinds main office in Austin, Texas about once a month. And we do a goofy videos and record episodes of SolarWinds Lab. And Patrick and I were talking about the episode we thought we were going to do and it dovetailed into this idea about how SolarWinds alerting could tie into slack. And we had, I think it was maybe an hour and a half conversation where we got sillier and sillier about it. But it was functionally silly, if that makes any sense. I went back to the hotel room and stayed up way too late and got the beginnings of an ebook and I came back in the next day and showed it to Patrick and he said, “oh my gosh, I can’t believe you did this!” And he took it. We basically didn’t do anything that we expected to do that week because on Tuesday he was writing the code that sat behind all these crazy ideas that I had written about, but I didn’t know how to execute cause I’m not a good programmer. But Patrick is an amazing programmer and he wrote the code. And then we’re bouncing back and forth, you know. “But what if we do this?” “What if we did this.” By the time we got to recording the lab episode on Wednesday, it was a completely different beast. And by Thursday we had most of an ebook finished and ready to be published because we kept on building off of that stuff. And I think the mutual jealousy of, “I can’t believe you did that. That’s amazing.” “How did you even know to do that?” And we weren’t trying to one up each other necessarily, but like one person’s thing and that drive got us to do the piece we could do. Like “I could never have written like that.” “I could never have coded like that!” So it was that positive feedback loop of, you know, and I think maybe that’s the flip side of coveting, the flip side of jealousy, is respect. I’m not sure if that’s 100% true, but it just came out of my mouth and I like it. So I’m going to stand by it.

Josh:                                      15:47                     When you’re dead, someone in college is going to quote you and it’s going to be, you know, “this really intelligent and philosophical mind, Leon Adato once said…”

Leon:                                     16:00                     And there’s going to be few people who are like, “No. No, no, no, no. I knew him really. He was fun. He was funny to watch. But you have to know the real…” Yeah. Um, so as a strong ally for women, for persons of color, I want to point out that coveting comes out in IT in a horrible and a horribly consistent way, which is summarized as, “she literally just said that.” That when I have been in meetings or my coworkers have been in meetings and a woman around the table will say something, and it’s like crickets. Nobody says a thing. And five minutes later a dude says it, and everyone responds to it. That is, I think, one of the worst examples of modern regular workplace, often in IT, covetousness, that we covet someone’s else’s idea so much. And at the same time are threatened by the person who presented the idea that it has to be restated by someone who is more acceptable to us in some way. And it’s awful. It’s just awful. And when you’re present for that, calling it out. And also as a middle aged white dude, being the one to call that out can be really helpful becauseit is relieving the effected person of doing that emotional labor of having to defend themselves and wonder if it’s worth it and wonder if anyone else even noticed it or is everyone accepting it? So, back to the negative like that is flat out covetousness and it should not be tolerated. And if you see it and you’re wondering, “well, it’s not my place to say.” Yeah, yeah, it’s your place to say it’s your place to call it out and help out and, and just stamp it out.

Josh:                                      17:50                     Yeah, I agree. And I like to say to my team – and we actually have both racial and gender diversity on our team, which is great – Yeah, I like to say I’m willing to spend my social capital to help you achieve the things that you want to. And I don’t always say it in exactly those words, but look, if you are a middle aged white dude in IT, first you’re part of the majority and you are also in a position of privilege and use that privilege to help establish a parity that has never existed within our industry. It’s just never been there.

Leon:                                     18:26                     So I’m just going to evoke the quintessential geek example of that, which is a Star Trek. The original series, when all the other cast members took a pay cut to that Nichelle Nichols could achieve pay parity with everyone else. They found out that she wasn’t being paid the same and they just wouldn’t stand for it. And so you’re doing effectively the same thing in a social, IT, credibility kind of way. The other thing about IT, and I think this, we can close this section with this, is that covetousness and it comes out in all of those behaviors that I think make the workplace less fun and more toxic. Putting down others simply because they have an idea that we wish we had. The whisper campaigns that serve no purpose except character assassination because you perceive them as a threat. These are all, they’re just not pretty, I will say from a Jewish standpoint that gossip is treated, is considered from a Jewish legal standpoint as triple murder.

Josh:                                      19:32                     Wow.

Leon:                                     19:32                     Yeah. The punishment is considered that from triple murder because you’re killing the person you’re talking about. Character assassination. You are harming, you are deeply spiritually harming the person who is listening to you because now there’s no such thing as brain bleach. They can’t get that idea out of their head. And you’re also hurting harming yourself. You’re harming your own reputation and credibility in a way that may never recover. And so, again, if you want to take a look at it from the religious standpoint, gossip is triple murder every time you open your mouth. So don’t. And even if you’re not going to take it from that standpoint, it’s just not a good way to be.

Josh:                                      20:11                     Oh, that’s pretty powerful. You know, as we’ve talked here and again, I stand by my previous statement, I usually end up learning more from these exchanges that I think I offer, but…

Leon:                                     20:22                     That’s not true. It’s not true. I get so much out of these.

Josh:                                      20:25                     Okay. Well perfect though. You know, the symbiosis is good, right? Yeah. That makes nature happy. It makes you and I happy. This is a good thing. I had this conversation this week with an individual, and I don’t think he, he’s ever going to listen to those podcasts, but I’m not gonna use his last name. So at the company I work for, there’s this program called “Emerge”. And it takes either recent, well, I’d say recent in the past few years, college grads, and it brings them into this program. And this Emerge program takes these young men and women and puts them into a three year, basically an exchange program. So they’ll start off year one in one job, and then they have to move to another job. And then in the third year they can kind of pick the job that they want to be in with the intent that after that third year, they’ll likely end up in somewhere in that field of study. So this, this young man joined our team a little over three years ago. He was a music major – very, very talented musician, definitely a geek, right? Knew enough about IT, but we dropped them into learning Splunk. And if anyone out there knows Splunk, I’ve got a lot of respect for you because I’ve had to try to learn Splunk administration twice now. And this is relevant to the story. So this young man came in, we threw them at Splunk, we threw him at having to learn AWS. So having to learn Linux, having to learn scripting. And he really embraced it. And then after a year he rotated off and I thought, “wow, this is great.” So last these past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to reintegrate myself into Splunk administration because we’ve had some turnover on our team and I had to fill a gap. This past week I had a chance to sit down with this same young, his name’s Matt. And Matt, he said, “Hey Josh, can I give you a call?” So I said “sure, why you don’t give me a call.” And he said, “I want to show you some things. And he was sharing his screen and he was walking through some… he works on our sec ops team now, and they are our large Splunk consumers. And he was exploring some things with me and he’s like, “Hey, I just want to show you, there’s some things… I don’t want you to be offended.” I said, Matt, “No, this is so awesome. I love that you are teaching me. I am so excited that we have switched places, right?” This student has literally become the master. And he was a little flabbergasted by that. I don’t know that he’s necessarily had that experience before, but I really in that moment I coveted the knowledge he had, but I maybe like that Torah knowledge, I really covered it in a way that made, made him validated. And I think, I think that’s the key, right? If we can, if we can take our desire to covet and use it like, you know, my wise Jewish friends do and allow people to really feel – I like that word “validated” and I’ve been trying, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to not use it again – but to validate people like just to listen to his demeanor when I said, “no, please teach me.” This is great. I love that you are instructing me and made me feel good. And I got the benefit of like he brain dumped on me. It was great and I was like, “oh, now I get it. I understand now and I’m better for it and he’s better for it.” 

Doug:                                    23:39                     Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of Technically Religious, visit our website, https://technicallyreligious.com, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions, and connect to us on social media.

Leon:                                     23:53                     Yes, we just got biblical on your ass.

Josh:                                      23:56                     You know that thing you’re not supposed to covet?

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