Jealous, Who Me?


Yes, you and me! Jealousy is an energy that is no respecter of persons. Most people who are willing to tell the truth can bear witness to this notion. While the major dictionary definition of jealousy is rather simple, its impact is deadly. The essential meaning as stated in Merriam-Webster is “ a feeling or showing an unhappy or angry desire to have what someone else has.” Many of us have had the experience of fleeting feelings of wishing to have something that someone else has which comes and goes and we continue on our journey.

But, when that feeling or desire lingers and is reinforced by ideas of scarcity, fear and projection, it turns into a major issue that impacts the individual as well as the community. Some of the best examples of this dynamic can be seen in our religious communities where the development of deep and meaningful relationship is impeded by this energy which causes the person holding such feelings to become unavailable for any connecting beyond the level of transaction. There are times when the energy of jealousy becomes so pervasive until simple transactions become impossible.

One of the challenges in interrogating jealousy is that it can be called by many names which help the individual to feel justified in holding that space. Many times the critique that we make of another's behavior is based mostly in our jealousy, but can remain unnamed because it is rooted in a sense of self righteousness. Years ago, I recall hearing myself being overly critical of Oprah Winfrey about some part of her work. After a few times of making my loud and self assured assertions about what she was not doing right, I heard what I was saying and realized that it was jealousy speaking. I wanted to have more power to do all of the good things that I was dreaming about and could not do because I did not have the resources. Needless to say, I was shocked about this realization, but thankful for the message of awakening.

After a few days of journaling and honest reflection, I came to the conclusion that my desire to be better resourced so I could do greater work did not need to be allowed to keep me from doing the work that I had the power to do with the resources available to me. I made a major shift in the ways that I expressed my desire to be generous and eventually stopped being interested in what Oprah was doing. As I began to live into what I needed to do, the need to project onto her was removed.

At the core of the jealousy energy is an invitation to interrogate our way of being in the world. The object of the jealous feelings has nothing to do with any of it. This energy generally arises in the midst of feelings of scarcity and the fear that there is simply not enough good in the world to include our getting what we need or want. Thus, the one who is the object of the jealous feelings becomes the person that attracts the projections often without knowing that such a process is happening.

Lillian Smith's Killers of The Dream argues that there was jealousy between the North and the South regarding their standing in the world before the Civil War which helped to fuel the embers that erupted into the flames of war. While this might be difficult to determine in an absolute fashion, our collective history bears witness to the truth of jealousy undergirding the outbreak of many varieties of conflicts, the demise of personal relationships and deaths. When the fear of scarcity takes over it creates a sense of inadequacy, but this can create a valuable vulnerability if it is acknowledged and treated as helpful to the overall journey of life. But it is destructive when projected onto others. It becomes even more destructive when the object of the projection is assigned responsibility in some way for whatever state the projector is experiencing. This leads to racial stereotyping, scapegoating and race hatred. Whether jealousy is being expressed by an individual or a group it harms the chances for authentic encounters that can lead to the formation of community. All of us need to look carefully at the nature of the energy that is propelling us forward and make sure that we put forth our best effort to allow ourselves to hear the truth. Healing in general and racial healing in particular call us to name jealousy and to allow healing energy to lead us beyond it. Let's be half a shade braver everyday as we go forward!