What is Jealousy?


from The Finishing School
Muriel Spark

What is jealousy? Jealousy is to say, what you have got is mine, it is mine, it is mine? Not quite. It is to say, I hate you because you have got what I have not got and desire. I want to be me, myself, but in your position, with your opportunities, your fascination, your looks, your abilities, your spiritual good.

Chris, like any of us, would have been astonished if he had known that Rowland, through jealousy, had thought with some tormented satisfaction of Chris dying in his sleep.

Now, to start with, one hopes that Spark is using jealousy here loosely to mean envy. Because what she describes is the great sin of envy. To desire what another has, to long for that trip to Hawai'i is not in itself sinful, though not perhaps an optimal state of mind. To be moved to the point of murder (even if only in thought) to get that trip is envy.

Many of us experience small twangs of desire when we hear about people doing things we would very much like to do. Most of us are able to push these aside for the moment and wish the person doing them the best of luck or a pleasant time, or whatever congratulations are in order. And we don't revisit it time and again. After Natalie tells you that she's going to the Cote d'Azur, your initial response might be, "Oh, how I wish I could go there." And it would probably be followed by a very generous and genuine, "Natalie, I hope you have a wonderful time, and bring back lots of pictures so you can share it with us."

But in this passage Ms. Spark gets at the deadly core of envy, something most of us have experienced very rarely, but probably all have experienced at least once. "So and so got the promotion that I deserved and I should be sitting in that office right now." "So and so got the girl (or guy) I had my eye on and he doesn't deserve her like I do." And so on. When harbored, cherished, and nurtured, envy turns into a life-consuming monster. It consumes both the life of the envious, and in extremes, the life of the one envied. It can cascade rapidly from a thought crime into a real crime against a person. It can take advantage of any opportunity to lay the opponent low and assume what is, by all rights, mine.

Never experienced envy? Rejoice. I think there are some souls who really have not, and I can say for myself that it is not the highest on my list of temptations to sin--however, I do find myself from time to time turning over that stone about one thing or another. To wish ill on another is to have already done it--when we go about turning over rocks in the parched aridity of our envious souls, we shouldn't be too surprised if we find more than a few scorpions.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 27, 2006 4:15 PM.

Good Lord, Forgive me was the previous entry in this blog.

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