Jealousy 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.
Differing 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 relationship.
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 corporate trash.
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.