I was watching a TED talk by Parul Sehgal titled “An ode to envy” which analyses jealousy in the context of literature. Although I do not agree with entirely everything that she says, I agree that there are many faces to this emotion that people and animals feel from a young age. It is a basic emotion that stems from our survival instincts to be loved by our mothers and to be the center of attention so that we have better chances of surviving. But of course, jealousy can be destructive – a cause for those horrifying stories on the news, and it can destroy relationships. Many religious teachings discourage this emotion because it can be a sign of a materialistic approach to life. But jealousy itself? It is a complicated thing.
It inspired me to write this poem that explores some of the qualities of jealousy;
A strange emotion, jealousy is.
An intense outburst of emotion, sometimes a twinge,
Sometimes a developing tumour within your body
That grows and grows, feeding on itself, exacerbating its own growth
To the point you become restless with its suffocating embrace and
You long to do something – anything, to suppress its force.
A sinful emotion, jealousy is.
The fearfully violent acts jealousy commits,
The way it overcomes people, even the moral.
Destructive. Disturbing. Blind.
It assumes, judges, distorts the surface of reality
And creates a world which you never owned.
A creative emotion, jealousy is.
Steering imagination beyond its natural limits,
Stretching it further to mock you more.
It tells you tales and presents you with false images.
It invents new ways to get revenge
For the harm they never did to you.
A revealing emotion, jealousy is.
Those unremarked yearnings submerged in your subconscious
Rises and exposes itself to your very own heart.
A realisation of your latent needs,
An understanding of what you want from life;
Perhaps too true for us to bear.
A profitable emotion, jealousy is,
Allowing you to gain self-knowledge and motivation,
Directed inwards, it seeks and finds ways of satisfying your wants
By extending your capacity beyond its limits.
But only if you’re strong enough to see the veracity;
– But perhaps then jealousy won’t be quite the right term.
Would I encourage jealousy? I’m not sure. But there may be benefits to this emotion as long as it is not directed outwards in a violent way. I guess “nothing in excess”, as the temple of Apollo at Delphi says.