*When people have positive feelings towards one another then they are able to sit down and talk about what really matters, that is, the true purpose and meaning of life. When envy and jealousy flee, truth has a fertile ground in which to grow and ripen.
In order to really talk, people have to be willing to be vulnerable and open up. But if there is anger, envy, jealousy or feelings of superiority, truth cannot exist because everyone is measuring what they are saying, trying to avoid making themselves vulnerable in any way.
Perhaps the biggest truth-killers of all are envy and jealousy. Envy is desiring what someone else has, while jealousy is fear that something you have will be taken away by someone else.
The objects of envy and jealousy can be material possessions (jewelry, houses, etc.), relationships (spouse, children, etc.), educational, social or career status (Ivy League degree, prestigious job, an award, etc.), talents (intelligence/knowledge, musical ability, leadership, etc.), and other intangibles (popularity, respect, etc.)
Most of us flinch when we think about being envious (or jealous). But do we really understand how these feelings express themselves? It’s not always so obvious–unless we slow down and examine ourselves we may miss the signs.
We think to ourselves or out-loud: That person who just won that award/contract/position doesn’t deserve it. She thinks her husband’s so great but he’s really a mediocre kind of guy. Who does he think he is–he doesn’t know anything about that subject.
We may not in truth want what the other person has, but we don’t want them to have it either. This is what we call “Dead-end Envy”. It’s the feeling of discontent that occurs when someone else owns/achieves something and you aren’t happy about it.
If you turn envy or dead-end envy inside out you get schadenfreude, taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. In an earlier study, “neural correlates of envy and schadenfreude were tied together, with the magnitude of one predicting the strength of the other,” says Matthew D. Lieberman of the psychology department at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is a researcher specializing in respect and how people get along.
In other words, if you’re very envious of someone, you’re more likely to experience stronger feelings of schadnfreude if the person stumbles and falls. Less envy–less schadenfreude.
Can envy ever be positive? In terms of motivating people to push themselves to succeed–yes. But in terms of personal relationships? That’s harder to prove a positive. Once you come to terms that someone is your superior in one aspect or another, or has been blessed with a unique talent or quality, and they become a role model, envy may morph into something else: respect.
And if you’re on the receiving end? That’s for another post.
*This is one foundational concept from a beautifully-interwoven and complex discourse by R. Nachman, the 18th century scholar and mystic.