jealousy

“I wish I were jealous- of myself,” remarked a poet, apparently aghast at his felt incompetence. He may have been depressed at the time, feeling that his vocabulary bank was drying up or he may have been simply suffering from an inferiority complex comparing and thereafter feeling incompetent to rub shoulders with Homer or Goethe. He could just have begun his trip on jealousy.

Jealousy is not the exclusive domain of poets and artists. All of us have experienced jealousy. Though it is not principally categorized as an emotion, jealousy is a feeling that evokes strong emotions. Every human being has been jealous. Winged birds and their flights beyond visual boundaries evoked jealousy, and the zealous human invented the air-plane. The jealous do sometimes channelize their energy into creativity; but, more often than not, the jealous get crushed under the weight of their own desires.

Jealousy snarls at the mind only when there is a comparison; a comparison that is clouded by a wish; a wish that reminds one of one’s own inadequacy or another’s supremacy. There have been innumerable words written on the difference between jealousy and envy. Though being envious is considered a destructive mind set, jealousy has its word origin in a positive feeling – zeal and the desire to emulate. In the Shakespearean tragedy was Othello jealous and was Iago envious? Who was destructive? Is destruction only external? If envy is the fire that is lit to burn down another’s palace, jealousy is a flame that can gut down one’s own hut.

Though, from time immemorial, moralistic ethical teachings have advised humans to avoid jealousy, it has survived and even thrived. In modern times, jealousy is actually promoted. Every advertisement sells an idea that makes you zealous to ‘earn’ that commodity. Earnings- whether economical, social or emotional, always stir feelings of jealousy. You generally want something because you `know’ that someone else can afford that. The zealous are just the masked jealous. To emulate is a yearning, not for self-fulfillment, but for a social sanction. Jealousy is usually not about having, but about not having. To have or not to have is, not a need based decision. It is the product of desire. To kill desires and live in peace is the simplistic teaching of every messiah known and unknown  in this world. If happiness is the basic pursuit of humanity, then the peaceful smile and the graceful simplicity of the portrayed Buddha and Jesus should have evoked tremendous jealousy. Jealousy always spurs one to imitate the object of jealousy and achieve whatever is considered as the other’s achievement. Yet no one has jealously or zealously tried to emulate  Buddha or Jesus, except perhaps for some self-proclaimed God-men or Godly-men who of course have a different agenda to follow.

It is obvious that we all are jealous only of those whom we can easily emulate. A CEO of a MNC can only become jealous of the CEO of another MNC. He normally would not be jealous of the President of India or the USA. Jealousy is therefore based on assessment of opportunities. A columnist would become jealous of a Nobel laureate in literature only if he believes that he has the same potential to create similar works. An author generally is never jealous about an artist. A dancer does not feel jealous about a musician.  There are however, some people who just cannot take it when others win – deservingly or otherwise. These people cannot bear when some one else is in the centre of the spotlight. This is a different game altogether. This is envy- most frequently misused as a synonym for jealousy. Envy is actually an irrelevant, inappropriate and non-productive feeling. In envy I would even hate the plume of a peacock.

Just as how envy is about hatred, jealousy is actually about love! It is love of and for oneself. In a psychosocial perspective, our self is a broad enough term to include our primary family. It is in this societal context that this form of jealousy makes a loving parent become jealous of another’s child and other parents who have won more. When the coveted object is not a social applause but a personal psychosexual gratification, one feels jealousy when the object of love is actually in love with someone else. The primary concept of the mind in these cases is that one deserves much more than one gets, and one deserves so much because of the intense and immaculate self-love. This self-love is not narcissism which by its self consummated nature creates a monument of pride in one’s own mindscape. Narcissism and pride are inseparable while jealousy is essentially about one’s inability to achieve. Narcissism is about having in abundance while jealousy is always about insufficiency. Narcissistic self-love would look down on others while the jealous self-love would keep looking up at others.

Yearning and itching to reach the pedestal that another has reached creates various forms of unrest in the mind. There is sadness that one has not reached the line, and then comes a paranoia that there is a cosmic conspiracy preventing one’s deserved success. The blame game begins. Gods and stars are blamed for not formulating the right design called luck, society and family are blamed for not giving the right breaks. The whole world is blamed for not being capable of understanding and accepting true greatness. The mind sulks. The sulking mind falters. Everything is perceived with disbelief. There is lack of faith in others leading to doubts about self-worth. There is anger. There is bitterness. Simpler things become harder to do. Failures begin. Infinite circles of pain, paranoia, anger and sadness begin. Then and thus, jealousy becomes envy.

Emotions are the mind’s reactions to external events. Emotions though intense are not permanent. We all become angry or sad at times, but the same intensity of the feeling does not last for days and months. In the case of envy and jealousy it is different. Though envy and jealousy are also emotive responses to external events, they cast a deeper impression in the mind. They cloud the mind and colour the perspectives. Everything is viewed through the green-eyed glass of jealousy. Nothing is the same anymore. The affectionate competitor becomes the nasty winner and relationships become superficial societal obligatory chores. Once jealousy sets in, the mind begins to doubt. Even the sneer hides a fear. Contempt becomes a camouflage for failure’s self-inflicted wound. This state of mind can alter the route of life and lead to a downhill blind alley. It is in the best interest of oneself that one needs to encounter and handle feelings of jealousy and envy.

A  psycho-philosophical understanding of emotions declares that there are just three types of feelings – the pleasant, the unpleasant and the neutral ones. Jealousy of course is unpleasant- not only during its acute experience but also in its tragic aftermath. There is only one way to deal with these unpleasant emotions. One has to identify, understand and accept the pangs, causes and confusions of jealousy. The technique is simple. Just start watching the advertisements on the media. It is actually the moral right of every advertiser to entice more than educate, therefore just watch non-judgementally. Products are offered. Advantages are described. Even social reputations are challenged. But just watch. A product is offered for sale. To buy or not should be based on whether one needs it or not. Now examine the need to buy or have. Is it to enhance one’s own pleasurable moments of life or just to display in a corner without even noticing the dust gathered on it? But there are times when we can fall in love with an artifact and empty our purse to possess it. Even this will not create future unpleasantness, except perhaps when the credit card statement does not tally with your bank balance. Uneasiness and unpleasantness begin only when you want to buy or have something simply (and only) because someone else has it. It becomes more unpleasant when you realize that you cannot afford it. So the best way to overcome jealousy would be to become capable enough to afford whatever you want. Capability enhancement is the key. When you are immersed in a full-time activity like enhancing your skills, economy or relationships, there will be not be any time to be jealous.

Just learn to begin to be jealous of yourself.

written 2006

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