Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Love and Envy and Gratitude

I should start with a definition of envy: that rage and resentment the dependent person feels at the power someone else has to make him happy or sad, to give life or take it away.

All of us are dependent, and in fact are enmeshed in an immense, indeed infinite, web of dependencies and relationships. “Independence” does not exist, starting not when we are born, but before we are born.

In a sense, our “self” does not exist, because it is created by the relationships with something or someone else. There can be no fathers or mothers without children, no lovers without each other, no wife without a husband or a husband without a wife, no friends without another friend.

In other words, there cannot be any envy or love or gratitude without other people.

Having written the above, I’ll now write about the first time I fell in love. I was 18 years old, and the girl involved, I had only gone out with her one time. I hadn’t been impressed by her.

A month or so after I had dated her that one time, I was at work one night, and when I thought of her, I was suddenly consumed with jealousy, which I had never felt before, but somehow knew exactly what it was. It was an awful feeling, in fact the worst I had ever felt.

She also worked nights, at a place about three blocks from me. That night, I did not know if she was at work or not. If she was not at work, I thought she might be out with a guy she occasionally dated.

I had a nearly overwhelming compulsion to leave work, go those three blocks, and find out if she was there or not. Or if she was out with that particular guy.

Just like that, I realized I was in love with this girl. Even though I had never felt love before, I knew what it was, just the way I knew was jealousy was as soon as I felt it.

Some years later, when I thought about it, I realized jealously always involved three people and so is always a triangle. I was jealous of this guy whom I thought she might be with. These days, I don’t even remember his name. In those days, I barely knew him.

I ended up having feelings for this girl for two years. Overall, it was not a bad thing, although I was puzzled for years why there was jealousy in love. Finding the answer never obsessed me; I knew that, sooner or later, I’d figure it out.

The next time I fell in love I had just turned 27. That time it was a different story. There was no jealousy. There was envy.

Envy is far, far worse than jealousy. The feeling is not just awful; it is horrendous. It is truly a base feeling and I see no good in it at all.

That feeling of envy was generated because the relationship with her did not work out. Unfortunately, my feelings for her were far more intense that hers were for me. In fact, she wasn’t serious at all. She had power over me, and I had none over her.

That relationship with her is when I realized that in love there is always envy. Love in fact is in large part based on the envy of the loved one.

People fall in love because they have certain things in common. Certain interests, certain similar traits. People who are intelligent, witty and knowledgeable tend to be attracted to others with the same traits.

At the same time, no one is completely ‘whole.’ Everyone has deficiencies, or holes, they need filled in them. These people tend to fall in love because the one person has something the other doesn’t. There is a hole one fills in the other. That’s what causes the envy.

I am not normally a jealous or envious person. It’s only activated in a relationship with a woman. I find that curious as to why this is so, not only for me but for many other people.

Since no one is perfect and everyone has holes in their characters, in any love relationship there will always be envy on both sides. And envy, unfortunately, is a species of hate. That’s why love and hate are so closely related. In fact, in another time, I could have killed the second girl, or beaten her. If I couldn’t have her, I wanted to destroy her.

It’s not so much love and hate; it’s love and envy. And while jealousy involves three people, envy always involves two. Add that third one and what you’ve got is jealousy. So I conclude that envy is the basis of jealousy, even if you don’t feel the envy.

I’ve always been intrigued by that original dysfunctional family: Adam and Eve and their two children Cain and Abel.

Adam blames his problems on Eve and Eve blames her problems on the serpent, which is a symbol of envy. They are two people. Worse, murder enters the world when Cain kills his brother out of his envy of him. Again, there are two people involved.

There is not a word in the story of the Garden of Eden about guilt, just shame for Adam and Even, and humiliation – which is a species of shame – for Cain. There is no hate involving Adam and Eve. Hate enters the picture with Cain. All the problems involved are caused by envy.

Blaming your problems on other people, envy, shame, humiliation, hate…all are related to each other. In fact, envy appears to be the basis of hate, shame, humiliation, rage, murder and revenge. If this was not so, the story of the Garden of Eden would not insist on envy being the cause of all four people’s problems.

There are those who claim our envious feelings ran back to when we are infants. That wouldn’t surprise me. I have for years thought for years Adam and Eve were about four years old, since they had no self-consciousness until they ate the fruit. And before that, they also had no shame, just the way babies and very young children have no self-consciousness and shame.

The second woman I was involved with, I hated her because I envied her. Even though intellectually I knew it was ridiculous because it was not true, emotionally I felt she was the cause of my problems. While we can control our behavior, and to some degree our thoughts, controlling our feelings is nearly impossible.

Now I will go back many years before I met the first girl.

A few months before I turned 12 years old I was friends with a girl I had met in the sixth grade. I used to go over to her house. She was, for want of a better description, my best friend.

One time when we were in her back yard she took my hand, simply because she wanted to hold it, and I remember looking at her with something I had never felt before. I couldn’t describe it at the time, being only 11, but I realize now it was gratitude – thankfulness -- that I knew this girl. I also remember the feeling of amazement at how wonderful that feeling was.

There was no envy towards her. None. And even thought I was not in love with her, I realized decades later envy and gratitude cannot exist at the same time. While envy is not the basis of gratitude, gratitude is what overcomes envy.

In any relationship, each person has power over the other. There is no way around that. That power, it goes without saying, should never be abused, although very often it is.

The first defense all of us engage in is to blame our problems on other people -- what psychologists call ‘projection.’ It’s generally known as ‘scapegoating.’ Scapegoating, based on envy, is the lesson of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel: “It’s your fault…you made me do it.” How often have all people heard that, especially from very young children?

So, of course, in any love relationship, because there is always envy involved, we are going to see the other person as holding our happiness in his or her hands. Our emotions are going to tell us they are the cause of our problems.

In times past nearly every child would have been taught the Seven Deadly Sins, with envy probably the worst, since it’s the basis of all the rest. It’s the sin of Satan, his envy of God. These days, on the other hand, envy is almost never mentioned, not in school, not by parents, and certainly no longer in church.

Neither are children taught about gratitude. Love, hate, envy, jealousy…these days you’re supposed to figure it out on your own. So people end up seeing semi-clueless therapists and swallowing anti-depressants, which are band-aids and not cures.

We are bound to hate the ones we love. I once had a woman I was involved with beat on me with the bottom of her fists – the way women hit – because she thought I was seeing another woman – which I wasn’t. I remember her screaming, “I hate you!” And at that particular time, she did.

I see no way out of this mess inherent in us except through gratitude. And that involves humility and forgiveness and appreciation on both sides.

The benign form of envy is admiration, which means if you envy someone, you find something admirable in them. That means you want to emulate them, and that emulation is based on the ‘holes’ in our characters we want filled.

The one important thing that does not exist in the original story of the Garden of Eden is guilt, although Christianity later added guilt. Accepting the envy and the guilt, and the admiration and emulation, on both sides can allow the reestablishment of appreciation and gratitude.

Only when we own up to our own destructiveness and envy, and stop blaming them on the other person, can we accept the good in another, and learn to appreciate them and be grateful.

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