We don’t ever live entirely alone, but always in some relationship with others. Some of our relationships are close, some more distant, and in some cases we might only know about someone, rather than knowing them ourselves. Our relationships can be harmonious. We might dearly love someone and always want the best for them rather than for ourselves. Or relationships, even within close family life, can be tense, and even hostile.
There is a huge emphasis on competition in relationships, whether in sport, in educational achievement, or in the workplace. Someone wins ; someone loses out. Someone passes an exam ; someone fails. Someone gets a promotion ; someone else is overlooked. Someone has a happy family life ; someone else is left alone. It is a great moral challenge for the loser, the lower achiever, the less advantaged person to always feel total congratulation and pure joy for the winner, the achiever. Perhaps it’s a moral challenge too far, which is why jealousy is so pervasive. Competition necessarily invokes comparison, and once we begin to compare ourselves with others, ego can soon feel slighted. No-one who feels jealousy likes the feeling. It’s corrosive, not only in our attitude towards the other person, but also inwardly to our own self. Classically, jealousy can easily lead to hate, to character assassination, and in its worse cases, to physical attack.
There are two possible remedies. At the social level, we can moderate the highly cutting edge of competition and achievement in the way we view social life, and therefore in the way we view each other. We need a new strong emphasis on collaboration rather than competition, on mutual appreciation rather than the ‘winner takes all’ view which has become so dominant, and which excludes wider participation, forever narrowing the social contribution, ignoring and wasting talent in oblivion. Reality TV shows bear some blame here. They shower the winner with fame and reward, but brutally trash and humiliate the loser. Whether they reflect or lead the public social psyche, they are a powerful force. They are not just a game or harmless fun. They have significant impact on people’s attitudes. It was not always so, and indeed part of the continuing social philosophy still thankfully remains more inclusive and respectful. Collaborative inclusive respect diminishes the scope for crushed self worth and therefore for jealousy.
Learning to regard people for more inner qualities will raise our general evaluation and appreciation of spiritual virtue. At the personal level, a calm inner conviction of self worth restrains the need for invidious and jealous inter-personal comparisons. Such self worth can be affirmed by others, and where such affirmation is genuine, it is also a virtue. In some societies, people are so unsure of their own self worth that they are unable to praise others at all. Love and encouragement support affirmation. But ultimately it is a question for each person to determine in their own inner life, in their self psychology, in their thinking. It’s noticeable that gifted people rarely seem jealous. They are too busy being creative. Creativity, at whatever level we are capable, and in whatever we enjoy, is the key.