is a complex emotion that encompasses feelings ranging from fear of abandonment
to rage and humiliation. Some consider it a wake-up call that a valued
relationship is in danger and remedial steps are needed.
from envy, in that a third party is always involved, (envy exists between
two people only), jealousy is, while
necessary, nevertheless, a dangerous and toxic emotion. It often derails not
only relationships but even careers, business deals, political accomplishments
and the over-arching trend to co-operation, collaboration and sharing of goals
among and between social agencies, political enemies and different nations.
The Shakespearean tragedy that depicts jealousy in its
most venal forms, Othello, is so memorable because it focuses on a human
dynamic that impacts each and every family. Other tragedies, like Macbeth and
Julius Caesar, for example, deal with elevated personages, a kind of historic
royalty, whereas Othello, a black moor, whose appointment of Casio as his
lieutenant leaving a “wannabe” (Iago) out of power, illustrates the
nitty-gritty of how easy and deceptive is the demise of human relationships.
The literary embodiment of evil, Iago, deliberately,
deceptively and angrily plots the rumour of an illicit relationship between
Casio and Desdemona (Othello’s wife) and goes about planting the seeds of his
destructive, quasi-military ‘invasion’ before Othello’s eyes and ears, and
especially injecting it into his imagination. Rage, in the form of Iago’s
jealousy, invokes and evokes rage, in the form of Othello’s fear/pride of being
a duped spouse.
People spurred by jealousy, almost invariably, are plagued
in their minds and hearts with insecurities, anxieties, inadequacies, fears
often unreached and possibly unreachable even to their possessor, that demand
their own price. It is as if jealousy has taken up residence in his/her shoes,
a reminder with each and every step, of the danger of being beaten, deceived,
one-upped, out-done. Often, too, these men and women put on such a positive,
authoritative, invincible and credible “face” in all dealings with the public,
and even in their private relationships, that it provides deep and often impenetrable cover for
the latent worm whose existence and voice eventually will out.
That grain of
sand in the shoe will eventually and inevitably stimulate the worm of
conspiracy that crawls around in the recesses of the mind. Discomfort, after
all, is relentless. And too often discomfort refuses to disclose fully its
worm. Something just does not “feel” right as the stimulus of the grain of sand
awakens the interior “worm” of jealousy.
It is often, if not always, in a moment of intense
anxiety and fear that the worm can no longer stay hidden, silent and
imperceptible. Just when we need our most confident, most creative and most
authentic and generous “self”, out burps this measly worm of our most
mean-spirited and most unexpected and most hurtful (both to the host and to the
victim) Shadow feature. Not only do we discover a part of ourselves we find
reprehensible, the rest of the world is also “treated” to another example of
the dark side of human relations. And if we think we are immune to the
attitude, the insecurity, the pain of its re-discovery (most of us have
encountered this “worm” previously) and the implications in this new situation,
we have to face ourselves anew.
Like Iago, sometimes it is our closest confidante
(Emilia, his wife) who takes the cover off the plot and its perpetrator.
Sometimes, it is a colleague or even a supervisor who sees and possibly brings
the ‘diagnosis’ to our attention. Often, however, it is in our own private,
secret and most penetrating self-aware moments, long after the specific
situation has morphed into the dust of history, that the full truth of what was
really going on back then becomes clear.
Jealousy, for example, of a matron who deeply desired,
and considered it her “entitlement” to have been the recipient of, a preferred
appointment, in an organization her family had worked diligently to preserve
and support, shows its ugly face and voice, unexpectedly, in a meeting whose
agenda and list of attendees included the actual recipient of that preferred
appointment. Flowing out from the eruption of jealousy is the seemingly
requisite and inevitable “pay-back” of vindictive revenge, often directed at
the author of the decision to ignore the ‘insider’ and offer an outsider the
privilege and the honour of the appointment.
This two-headed monster, jealousy-and-revenge, seems
unwilling to undergo separation. Like the proverbial Siamese twins, “JR”
(evoking that old television iteration of Iago, J.R. Ewing from Dallas) sleep,
eat, read, think, and even pray with a binary yet unified voice. Insult,
abandonment, and outright character, political, career assassination are only a
few of the weapons and goals of persons so jealous, and “offended.”
Such a dynamic is endemic among the pre-pubescent set,
the adolescent demographic, the college fraternity and sorority corps, and on
into adult and professional life.
With pre-teens, the prototype known to most is the
jealous co-ed whose favourite “male” has abandoned her for her best friend, her
sister, or worse, her deepest enemy. Among professional adults, a rejected
personal relationship, in favour of another, is too often one of the primary
motivations in the revenge of the jealous wannabe, who can and often does seek
and find co-conspirators to bring about the demise of the one who rejected the
Those with a “high” yet brittle concept of right and
wrong give us examples of jealousy when a colleague reaches some lofty perch of
success, without having to own or acknowledge a deeply flawed attitude, act, or
belief that counters the “right way” as perceived by the jealous observer.
Exposure of the fatal flaw, then, often becomes the goal of the righteous
warrior, in the name of the public good, as well as the private satisfaction of
a personal jealousy. Tabloid newspapers feed on such jealous revenge. Movies,
and television dramas, too, mine this character and plot gemstone for its
predictable audience-generation, as well as the advertising dollars and
audience ratings that accompany such productions.
Parents, too, sadly, can become jealous of their
opposite number, especially if that other parent appears to have a more
reciprocal, mutual and deeper relationship with the children.This emerging
dynamic is especially noticeable in the event of an unwanted separation and
divorce. This “face” of jealousy is, unfortunately, discovered too late, long
after the children have grown and left the nest. And yet, it had to have played
a significant role in the family dynamic, without the “other” parent even being
suspicious of its existence. The children, too, are often innocent of such a
dynamic again until long after they have left home. Yet the subtlety,
persistence and ethereal dimension of this jealousy can erode much of the
implicit trust of any healthy domestic relationship.
From a grain of sand in the shoe, as an irritant, to
the interiority of a “worm” infecting the unconscious, both of these images
inside the individual, there is also a cultural dimension to this
personal/psychological phenomenon of jealousy. Like an invisible, odorless,
permeating gas, jealousy also attends, infects and drowns the attitudes of
groups, political parties, churches, and even towns and cities who perceive
that their “opposites” are being showered with “success” (however that may be
measured) at their expense. At the root of that demon is the zero-sum game,
whereby the only way “I” win is if “you” lose. In such a cultural dynamic,
however, it is highly improbable that either “participant” in the “game” comes
out a winner. Scarcity, that imperceptible and inescapable core of fear, is so
sophisticated, so imperceptible, and so pervasive, like carbon monoxide, or carbon dioxide that it
can and does kill, by eroding what might appear to be an otherwise health,
strong, and durable familial/organizational picture.
Too often dismissed as mere “office politics,” this
personal jealousy leaps out when professional individuals in a large
organization, foiled in their attempt to achieve a top position in that
organization, subtly express their vindictive jealousy by an off-hand slight of
tongue against the occupant of the rung on the corporate ladder they so
desperately sought. “S/He communicates only on as “as needed” basis, as if none
of us have either a need or a desire to know what is really going on!” Translated:
‘S/He should never have been given that post, and I would certainly communicate
more openly and more effectively that s/he can or does.’ Depending on when and
where such a judgement is uttered, its spirit carries a large cloud of jealousy
and serves to undermine the successful occupant of the top office, with or
without his/her awareness, unless or until a colleague exposes the disloyalty,
or an agenda item authored by the “winner” is trashed and left for dead in the
In fact, it is reasonable to posit that loyalty, that
treasured grease facilitating many relationships in the public arena, cannot co-exist
in a culture of jealousy. And to take on the project of “training” or educating
any organization about the dangers of/and options to counter jealousy/revenge
is a fool’s errand, a tilting at windmills for the most idealistic of “fools”.
This is one of those human qualities whose life, it seems, cannot be
extinguished. Attempting to counter its seductive power and influence, however,
is one of the more demanding of disciplines.
Squaring the circle of “large ambition” with the
square of “humility,” as the world has attempted to do in eulogizing George
H.W. Bush this week, so stretches the rational mind as to render one the
servant of the other, likely in his case, humility he as a mask for deep,
unrelenting and nuclear ambition. Literal identification, without acknowledging
the complexity, interior competition, and the public and private confusion,
ambiguity and humanity of the incompatibility of the two, is a reductionism “up
with which we can not put”….to borrow from Churchill. Bush’s commitment to the
pain and success of ‘the other,’ evidenced in his life-long letter-writing
blizzard, does provide the link in the chain between the two: ambition and humility.
It has been reported that Bush did not really have a “political base” but
rather an “army” of letter recipients, in an otherwise alienated and alienating
culture of American politics.
One thing seems clear: those whose “healthy self” has
been nurtured and reared by effective, honest, authentic and loving parents, teachers,
coaches, and even supervisors are more likely to be strong enough to avoid many
of the lures of jealousy, and its nefarious worm, revenge that decimates both
the perpetrator and the target. Finding the “better angels” within, and in the
broader culture, in the classroom and in the boardroom, in the drill arena and on
the playground, and among the most indigent and the most favoured continues to
be a goal worthy of the commitment of each of us.
There is no culture, religion, ethnicity, geographic
region or linguistic entity whose life and health are not enhanced by the
pursuit of such a search for those better angels. And there is no single person
who does not hope for the success of his own private search to be reinforced by
the success of the larger culture in that search.