Whether symbolized by a dark yellow, or a deep green, a rat, snake, or an over-looked and highly ambitious lieutenant, ((think Iago) in Shakespeare’s Othello,
jealousy is a paradoxical “real abstraction,” an attribute that has no known scent, colour, texture or audible sound. Nevertheless, like others of its peers, it lingers hidden, like the family canine wandering in the yard, until, suddenly, and without warning, it spots a magnetic ‘thing’ (robin, squirrel, chipmunk, snake, hawk) to and for which it erupts into the white heat that needs no match, no friction between two rocks, and requires no explanation.
There is no authentic justification of or for jealousy except we all know that it lurks within each of us, like a fabled, starving, emaciated and sylph-like energy, true to its root etymology: an imaginary elemental being that inhabits the air and is mortal but soulless.
It is that ‘soulless’ nature that is so bewitching and beguiling, seductive and untameable. And, in a culture that has reduced the vernacular to good or bad, right or wrong, left or right, sacred or evil, as if the binary gods have inflicted a successful scorched earth campaign against nuance, poetry, and the more ethereal, abstract and commanding forces in our collective unconscious, we rarely if even hear comments in public about the ferocity or ubiquity of this power.
Many of the advertising and propaganda messages we are served come from the rather trite and yet toxic notion that many people harbour jealousy and are thereby motivated to “beat” someone of whom they are jealous, without every declaring their combative intent. Acquiring and achieving whatever brass ring has been held out as “laudable” and worthy of emulation, like BMW, Mercedes, Lincoln, Cadillac, CEO, president, principal, bishop, is a fundamental of sociological and even ideological underpinning of capitalism. Doubtless, that competitive spirit has flooded the fields of academia, religion, politics and the military. For every four-star whatever (in whatever field) there are literally thousands if not millions outside the inner circle panting to climb into their ‘upper echelon’ of near perfection.
To be sure, there are also others who, simply in order to serve their own innate talents, without even a hint of jealousy, are ambitiously working their way to whatever pinnacle they envision for themselves.
From emerald.com, we read:
(S)ociological analysis shows that jealousy and other emotions are shaped by social situations, social processes, and social forces. Micro-sociology reveals that jealousy is learned. Jealousy reflects the life experience of the individual. Meso-sociology reveals that jealousy is socially useful, indeed, indispensable to social order. Jealousy reflects the institution of marriage and the prohibition of adultery, Macro-sociology reveals that jealousy is shaped by society and culture…reflect(ing) the history and the values of a people—and the relevant values vary from time to time and place to place.
In owlcation.com we find these insights:
It is speculated that it was evolutionarily favorable for females to become jealous of potential sexual rivals, for if the male were to choose another mate, he would take the resources he provided with him. This would leave her with no means to take care of herself and any offspring she may have had. (For males) jealousy was a response to prospective threats to the continuance of their own genetic lineage….Cinderella is made to slave away for a jealous stepmother and stepsisters in the famous fairy tale…Protagonist Othello reacts to his jealousy with rage, which results in the death of the woman he loves (Desdemona) (and) later finds that she was not unfaithful, as he had long suspected…..In various studies, this strong emotion was found to have been one of the top three motives for non-accidental homicides where the motive is known.
(E)volutionary psychologists regard it (jealousy) not as an emotion to be suppressed but as one to heed—as a signal or wake-up call that a valued relationship is in danger and that’s steps need to be taken to regain the affection of a mate or friend. As a result, it is seen as a necessary emotion, because it preserves social bonds and motivates people to engage in behaviors that maintain important relationships.
And while these insights are helpful, the emotion/force/demon of jealousy is not restricted to intimate, personal, private relationships.
Iago’s famous line (Act 3, Scene 2, Shakespeare’s Othello),
“O beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” …..is especially ironic, given that it is Iago himself who has devised and injected the poison of Desdemona’s infidelity into Othello’s mind without Othello being aware of his chicanery.
Thwarted at not being appointed as Othello’s lieutenant, Iago seeks and wreaks his malignancy. And, too, in public life, those who have been thwarted and who feel the deep and consumptive anger and resentment at their having been passed over, for whatever reason, want ‘justice’.
I was one of the players in a micro-church drama, in which one individual who had been passed over for an appointment to a position she coveted and for which she felt entitled, that of priest’s warden, took somewhat eruptive umbrage at the first public opportunity to demonstrate her jealousy in the face of the woman who had been appointed. As I was the agent of the appointment, and I had serious and seriously considered reasons for my choice (borne out more explicitly and expressly in this little drama), I was very conscious of the vengeance that was being meted out to both the appointee and to me. Needless to say, the incident was never discussed public, as that would only have exacerbated the anger and the contempt from the ‘victim’ until, however, she was able to exact an even deeper act of vengeance through her manipulation of another somewhat innocent and vulnerable person under her spell.
David M. Buss, writing in the Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2007 writes this:
Jealousy is possibly the most destructive emotion housed int eh human brain. It’s the leading cause of spousal murder worldwide, according to analyses I did of data over the last century. And. statistics show, it’s the leading drive behind the killing of “mate poachers”—interlopers who attempt to lure away our partner….In one of my studies, 93% of American men and 82% of women said they had been the recipient of someone else’s attention while in a romantic relationship….Jealousy reminds us that we possess an ancient brain designed for a world long forgotten…Is jealousy an antiquated emotion no longer serving the functions for which it was designed? Or does it still alert us to dangers and keep love alive, despite the destruction it causes when it spins out of control?
The motive of “jealously guarding” something, looking after it very carefully because you do not want anyone else to have it proliferates the corporate world, in and through the keeping of ‘state secrets’ (intelligence, and formulae, and in diplomacy state secrets and methods) and is regarded as a matter of extreme significance, and thereby is considered moral and political dogma that must not be shared or exposed in any way. This jealousy guarding, however, renders the concept conventional and even highly ethical, depending on the situation and the circumstance. And the organization/institution that enforces it is doing so in order to “protect” the secrets of their organization. Fearing both competition and the negative blow-back from exposure of information that might and likely would not shed a positive light on the organization, such organizations expect their executive functions to shield them from the potential of such exposure and potential exploitation.
From fear of exposure, fear of being less valued and less significant, and perhaps even less worthy, organizational jealousy, however, necessarily fosters and nurtures an attitude of insecurity that pervades the culture. And this insecurity, not only of the personal/domestic/intimate kind, but also of the corporate/political kind, denotes another undernoted and under-acknowledged vulnerability in our culture. It is conventional and normal to experience jealousy, and many times it is sanctioned and embraced by the very organizations for which we toil. And the list of those organizations includes the academic, the corporate, the ecclesial and the non-profit.
This is not a piece endorsing “open relationships” between men and women, and the potential for compersion, the opposite of jealousy, empathetic joy when a partner is flirting (or ?) with someone who is not their partner. Buddhist teachings detail numerous exercises to help individuals learn how to master compersion; those exercises are beyond the par grade of this scribe.
When the alarm bell of jealousy goes off in our head, it offers an alert to something that is likely to be disorienting and discomforting. Very often misperceptions, inevitably linked to our own insecurities, prove that the signal was a false alarm. However, without any normalizing of conversations about jealousy, and without any cultural acknowledgement of its ubiquitous prevalence, and potential risk, especially in those scenarios where one might expect to have it openly discussed, the culture is at risk of denying and thereby avoiding this unique emotional and chemical poison.
We are fixated of conversations about the LGBTQ+ rights and community, and the emotion of jealousy is just as applicable and relevant to their community as to the straight folks. It is an emotion and a tendency that, like the soot that burped from the smoke-stacks of factories and then covered the freshly washed clothes and bedding that hung on neighbourhood clotheslines, without a word of the danger being acknowledged by those factory operators, (similar to the lung cancers resulting from both primary and secondary smoke), “it” essentially has it way with us.
Physical fatigue, accompanied by its twin, emotional
fatigue, and its sister, personal discontent, depression, without taking a
clinical approach) are inevitably linked to the experience and the expression
of jealousy, whether or not we are conscious of it in ourselves, or in our
Such epithets, from fellow pedagogues, as “You are far too close to the students!” is another subtle and cutting symptom of professional jealousy, although those who utter such phrases would be the last to acknowledge their jealousy. A similar, if not identical epithet from a bishop, “You are far too close to that congregation!” is an echo of the same administrative and professional judgement that is based at least partly, if not wholly on jealousy.
I actually believed then, and continue to believe all these decades later, that getting to know and to empathize and the commiserate with both students and parishioners was/is part of the unwritten job description, given that learning and spiritual growth are among if not the most ‘intimate’ of human experiences. And ‘being close’ while it requires a kind of boundary-consciousness, is one of the more relevant and appropriate of foundational relationships in both venues.
What I have yet to integrate is how to adjust to such professional judgements, given their source is a deep well of societal convention that is not about to go dry any time soon.