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Why Can't Jealousy Bring Out the Best in us, Instead of the Beast in Us?


When you buy a new car, supporting Mercedes, for example, and your local friend who has a chip on their shoulder about their BMW suddenly goes out and gets a similar, probably better, version of your car. That’s jealousy. It stems from their insecurity and their idea that it’s important to keep up with the Joneses.

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When you decide to move into a rather lush new residential estate, where the property is over-priced and the bond will nearly kill you, all for the sake of the address… it was a green-eyed monster spurring you on, encouraging you to do so, and also allowing you to make a potentially stupid financial mistake for the sake of ego. And a nice address.

When your daughter seems to be floundering in her swimming lessons at her current teacher, while a classmate seems to be swimming like a shark after only three lessons, so you choose to move her across, it may be, in part, for the good of your child, but it is often for the sake of your ego. Your competitive streak causing you to lose faith in the fact that the teacher you chose may have a method at play or even, dare I say it, that your child may not be a natural swimmer.

The truth is similar for clothes, for restaurants, for where you buy your organic veggies and hormone free meat. It’s all a game of keeping up and trying to be as-good-as or even better-than the people who, under normal circumstances, you consider friends. People who, under normal circumstances, you would consider yourself admiring. 

This manifests itself into friendship cliques. This manifests itself into residential areas. This manifests itself into business purchases and property sales and clothing accounts. When it comes to ‘stuff,’ you actually can usually smell the vinegar permeating off the chip on some of your friend’s shoulders. It’s a sad reality of the day of immediate gratification in which we live.

Why then, when you do something magnanimous and really decent, doesn't the green-eyed monster rear up its ugly head? Why, for example, when you start donating food to a soup kitchen, don’t the same jealous insecurities arise and allow more food to be donated, better food, some of that organic, free-range food, for example? How come the spurring on to be as good as the Joneses and even better than the Walkers, doesn’t extend to charitable acts?

I have a theory, of course, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.
It’s severe.

But when you can buy something to make yourself look as good as someone, that’s easy. That doesn’t mean a state of change in your heart or soul. But trying to keep up with Mother Theresa or Ghandi or your friend the philanthropist, that takes looking inward (deeper than your wallet,) and deciding what you can actually afford to give and also what you need to do in order to care enough. That means feeling a little disquieted by what you have in favour of the have-nots. 

The part I find ironic is that when it comes to buying the latest shoes or upgrading a cell phone to have the “portrait” picture setting on your iPhone, there is always cash to be spent. Admittedly, a car or a home is slightly trickier.  But still involves accessing cash that might not actually be available but can be madeavailable.

Having to change your heart or soul condition so that things move you to look beyond what you have and what you do, well that cost is difficult to calculate. It sometimes can’t be found in your wallet. And that makes you uncomfortable.

So instead of looking at a friend who is bettering the world around us and allowing our natural jealousy to pivot us in such a way that we’re driven to join their mission or better it, we usually end up looking at them with resentment and feeling crap about ourselves. So we avoid the friend and kill any conversation that could lead to “charity talk.” We find all that could possibly be wrong with it. We make excuses for all the reasons that they are right to do it, but we are not. 

I had a family member who told me once that giving to the guys who live on the street is fine but please not to do it with her in the car because they may expect the same from her. I thought, well, what’s so bad about that?It was a difficult thing to understand but I am starting to get it now. The fact is, charity or good works are often anonymous and for no praise at all. In fact, the reward is often completely invisible.

The reward is often not coming to us in this lifetime, ever.

And people who want to keep up with the Joneses need to be SEEN keeping up. They don’t want to do something that’s invisible.  

Basically, this beast that drives you to copy, steal an idea, flatter your friend through mimicry, will never drive you to start a soup kitchen or a knitting circle in the old age home. This beast is self-serving. This beast is looking for constant affirmation. And this beast is far too self-important to do something that can’t be seen.  It will argue that it doesn’t have time to do what others seem to do. It will argue that it doesn’t have the resources. It will argue that it's not ‘called’ to that area.

I would argue that we should all thank our lucky stars that the people who do these secretive good deeds exist. I think that they probably have issues of their own to deal with when it comes to finding the time, finding the resources, finding the balance. In fact, those I know personally, do these things on top of running homes, maintaining jobs and balancing a social life and a tight budget. But more than anything, their little contribution is making the world a better place, even if it is invisible to us and thankless for them.

But, the world is still a mess! I hear you say.

Ah, it is. But imagine if you and I and all of our jealous, competitive, mimicking friends, could silence that damned beast of insecurity and look deeper than our wallets and allow someone who’s doing something great in our neighbourhood, or our town, or our country, or our planet, and decide that they're the Joneses we'd like to keep up with. Imagine that. 

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