Warding off green-eyed monster

Thankfully, ones field of envy is limited to people within the same circle.

One failing common to all of us, barring the saint, is that of comparing ourselves to others whom we really consider unworthy of their good fortune or advantages. It is an unpleasant feeling we would like to bypass, disavow or conquer.  We know being jealous of others is reprehensible, but being honest with ourselves we inwardly argue that those others are undeserving louts or cheats whose main success is in deceiving the world.  From infancy this failing assails us.  Sibling rivalry is natural, especially if parents show a preference for one child at the expense of another. Elders know the ache of a child who must have that very doll or red car which the sibling has been given, the poor consolation of a dress in pale blue when the sister flaunts her new one in deep purple. We see how vehemently kids protest if they find someone occupying the canvas armchair which is the exclusive haven of the father at home.

“Envy has no holidays,” said Francis Bacon.  His more famous contemporary, William Shakespeare, described it as “the green-eyed monster” which mocks the flesh it feeds on.  His ‘Othello’ is a tragedy of the heroic Moorish soldier of Venice falling prey to jealousy.

In my own contentions against envy, I took heart when I found that even Shakespeare confessed to being jealous, judging by his Sonnet 29, wherein he “beweeps his outcast state” and curses his fate in lines of lyrical candour.  Why so?  Because he wishes he were like someone else in his circle of actors and playwrights, “featured like him, like him with friends possessed,/ Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope”.  If this happens to a genius who was a leading dramatist and poet in Elizabethan England, lesser mortals can be forgiven for the same weakness.  

 Thankfully one’s field of envy is generally limited to people within the same circle, not to all and sundry. A clerk in a branch office may be agitated when another clerk is promoted while he is the one that slogs; he is placated by the conviction that the undeserving success was due to “crow-catching” the boss or even to bribery or ethnic prejudice.

Taking direct action against the cause of one’s envy is an option which some youngsters are tempted into.  In my college years, we were spectators to a mean-minded practical joke against the prize-winning brilliant student by his close rival, who hated being type-cast as Number Two.  Both were keen to get into print as would-be journalists. The rival sent a typed letter to his target, purporting to come from the editor of a weekly, proposing a meeting at a classy restaurant in town.  That afternoon I witnessed the humiliation of our Number One and the jubilation of the rival.  That cured me of revenge-seeking option in combating envy.

Can jealousy become a collective vice?  History shows that countries and regions become embroiled in conflict over disputed advantages, territorial or economic or because of coveted resources like gold, minerals, oil, even water flowing down a river.   Was the Soviet Union jealous of the US?  Is India jealous of China for its rapid advance as a world power?  Are the Chinese somewhat jealous of Indians because of our obviously libertarian polity?  Let us keep the green-eyed monster far hence, for we have problems enough warding off that purblind beast.

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