by by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Key Stage 3/4
To look at this emotion and see how we can try to combat it.
Preparation and materials
- None required.
- ‘O, beware jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster’, says Iago to Othello in Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name (Act III, Scene III). It reminds me of something very similar that my father used to say to me whenever I displayed any type of jealousy towards my brothers or anyone else. ‘Who’s a green-eyed monster, then?’, he’d say. I have also, in more recent times, heard him say it to my son.
- Othello is the most famous literary work that focuses on the dangers of jealousy and envy and the damage they can cause. The play is a study of how jealousy can be fuelled by mere circumstantial evidence and destroy lives.
Just to give you a quick overview, in Othello, the hero succumbs to jealousy when Iago convinces him that Desdemona, his wife, has been unfaithful. In the end, Othello murders his wife and then kills himself. It is interesting that Iago uses jealousy against Othello, yet jealousy is likely the source of Iago's hatred in the first place.
- So, why is jealousy so damaging, to not only the person who is jealous but also the person who is at the ‘root’ of that jealousy?
Small children are quite open in the way that they express jealousy. If they want something another child has, they simply take ownership of a toy by guarding it and not letting anyone else use it or taking it away from everyone else. These emotions are obvious; they are easily seen on their faces and by their actions. It is later on in our lives that we turn these emotions and feelings inwards on ourselves.
- So, where does jealousy come from?
Just for a moment, I want you to think of a time when you were jealous of someone or something. Put your hand on your body where you feel that emotion comes from. Now think about how being jealous has made you feel.
You might feel sad, angry or even a little bit bitter. See how powerful a feeling it is to be jealous and how negatively it affects you, even now, after what could have been a very long time.
- In Buddhism, one of the Four Noble Truths is ‘the truth of the origin of suffering’, which is desire, or, tanha in Pali (the language in which the Buddhist scriptures are written), which specifically means ‘craving’. The Buddha taught that we follow our own selfish desires and crave what we know we cannot have or something more when we get what we want but it falls short of our expectations. This can be compared to what we were thinking about just now and how that made us jealous. We wanted X and didn’t get it and in some way we feel cheated and wronged. It is this craving, the Buddha said, that causes suffering. So we suffer because we store up all the negative emotions surrounding us and by wanting what everyone else has.
- In the Buddhist Wheel of Life there are different realms within which one can exist from moment to moment. One realm is the realm of hungry ghosts. ‘Hungry ghosts’ are wretched creatures with vast, empty stomachs. They have pinhole mouths and their necks are so thin they cannot gulp down food, which they want to do to satisfy their appetites, so they remain hungry. Beings are reborn as hungry ghosts because of their greed, envy and jealousy. Not a very nice thought, but it sums up the idea that being jealous hurts us, not the person or situation we are jealous of.
- In the Ten Commandments, we are told that we are not to covet our neighbours’ belongings. To ‘covet’ is to desire or want something that belongs to someone else.
The Ten Commandments cover the basic tenets of how to behave, how to be a good human being – that is, do not steal, do not lie, do not murder. So, this idea of coveting or wanting what someone else has is seen to be as damaging as some of the other commandments. In fact, in medieval Christianity, envy was seen as one of the seven deadly sins. Envy is similar to jealousy in that they both make us feel discontented in relation to someone's qualities, position, abilities or belongings. Aquinas, a medieval Christian scholar, described envy as ‘sorrow for another's good’.
Time for reflection
Cast our minds back now to the event you thought about earlier, a time when you were jealous of somebody or something.
What you felt is natural and happens to all human beings. The religions down the years have viewed jealousy as something that needed to be explained, as it is such a key part of human nature, and help us to find ways in which we can maybe feel a little less jealous, a little less envious.
Remind yourself of what you do have, what you can do, what makes you special. After all, jealousy makes us want something someone else has got, so let us first look at ourselves and appreciate our good points before wanting something else.
Do not hold on to jealousy because it will do nothing but harm you.