Monday, December 25, 2006

Jealousy and Disappointment

Is there such a thing as holy jealousy, or even any good form of jealousy? I know we've all felt jealous or envious of someone in the past. Normally, this feeling is frowned upon. In fact, it's almost always frowned upon. "Don't be greedy," we're scolded. "All in due time," the sages tell us. We want something, and someone else has it. I know this is something four-year-olds experience all the time, but adults definitely experience jealousy, but over completely different things. A four-year-old will want his playmate's toy truck, and will usually either steal it outright or beg his parents until they give in. Adults, on the other hand, experience jealousy in a much more raw, dark way. This jealousy can take the form of lusting for another person's significant other, or coveting a friend's excessive wealth.
The feeling of jealousy/envy usually means that one sees someone else and their possessions or lifestyle, and want that for themself. In the above examples, it is fairly clearly wrong. We as Christians, and society in general view the consequences of jealousy (i.e. adultery and theft) as wrong. But let me pose a scenario for you to think about:
*Note: this scenario is entirely fictional and is being made up right now.*
Alan is a middle-aged man who works a blue-collar job in a factory, trying to make ends meet to support his wife and three kids. Alan runs into his high school friend Barry, and learns that Barry is working as a manager at a moderately successful local company. Barry tells Alan about how he is taking time off of work to take his kids jet-skiing at his cabin, and how he was able to buy his son a car for his sixteenth birthday. As Alan and Barry part, Alan realizes that he is very jealous of Barry - but not in the form of wanting to take the things that Barry has. Alan realizes that he is jealous of Barry's financial independence and ability to have free time, as well as afford nicer things for his family. Alan wants to be able to have all these things, but he does not want to take them from Barry - he wants to achieve them for himself.
Is this type of jealousy bad? I don't think so.
I think that one thing that may mix in here is disappointment. Alan's jealousy stems from his disappointment over not being able to do these things for his family, for not being able to rise out of debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Alan may not have been able to overcome his obstacles for various reasons - perhaps he is working on kicking an addiction to gambling and is paying off old gambling debts. But for the sake of the example, let's say that Alan is a model citizen, that he saves his money and doesn't spend it on exceedingly frivolous things. Instead, he has hit a series of misfortunes - for example, he was fired from his job by mistake, and was injured in an accident not too long after - exactly what happened doesn't matter, but the point is that he is doing everything in his power to get ahead, and circumstances are not cooperating. He truly feels like everything in the universe is arrayed against him, and even though he is doing all the right things, his life is not coming together as he wanted. He worked hard, only to see his opportunities slip out of his grasp.
The disappointment that comes from working hard to achieve something and then failing to achieve is almost insurmountable. This can cause extreme bitterness and jealousy, and can lead to anger or depression.
So why does this happen to people? We all know someone who worked very hard to achieve something. Usually they succeed, and that's how we expect the world to work, right? If you put a genuine effort into something and it fails, how do you take that? That's not "how it's supposed to be."
Any thoughts, experiences, ideas? Have you seen this in your or someone else's life?

1 Comments:

Anonymous sarah said...

I think you raise a good point about disappointment. I think that a person's sense of justice and what is fair also plays into this quite a lot. Pretty much everyone has their own innate sense of justice and how things are supposed to be. When things don't pan out in this way, there's usually some sort of anger or hurt involved, especially if you believe in a deity who is supposed to a) be in control of things and b) be perfectly just. There is pretty much ALWAYS a way, in these situations, to rationalise, to tweak things or shift a paradigm so that God can escape guilt-free, but usually these explanations are woefully inadequate when it comes to pacifying the inner Scales of Justice.

I've found that not believing in such divine justice is very freeing in situations like these. I find it a lot easier to deal with meaninglessness than some 'everything happens for a reason' bullshit. It may seem odd, but to me, it feels like when there's nowhere to direct the anger, it dissipates faster. Especially when one is convinced that there's no real reason to be angry; there IS no higher being measuring out happiness and suffering to us down below. Life just happens... it's a complex web of events and circumstances and sometimes things just turn to shit. It's not necessarily anybody's fault, and chances are things will improve. In that case, all you can do is just work hard and do your best, and try to make do (and maybe even be happy) with what you have, and rest in knowing that there's no supernatural being (either God or the Devil) who's chasing you and trying to make your life hard. Life is just hard. That's how it is.

8:17 PM  

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