Whereas envy says: “I want what is yours” (with malice), jealousy says: “Don’t mess with what is mine.” Originally linked among Europeans (but quite separate with Ancient Africans), the words “jealousy,” “envy,” and “hatred” separated in meaning from each other in the Middle Ages. Envy became more thoughtful than emotional, while jealousy became more personally emotional than thoughtful.
Jealousy was concerned with “looking on with suspicion” in a relationship of two or more people. “Suspicion” denotes an apprehension of injury and has more of distrust in it than envy. The suspicious person is altogether fearful of the intentions of another. Envy has four major categories—mild, slight, moderate, and extreme (see Part I). MILD ENVY is dominated by desire -- a longing to have a thing, an advantage, a quality, or quantity belonging to someone else—but no action is taken. In fact, the envior may desire to draw the rival into his/her territory so as to compete and prove to oneself that one is equal to the other person. It is common for mild enviors to say: “You think you are better than me” and then act ugly towards you. Sometimes, envy may build up over a period of time. For example, if someone has perfected his efficiency (doing a job quickly and without wasted time or energy) and effectiveness (able to cause the desired results), then one may feel this is a good person to be around so as to learn some pointers. However, one gradually starts getting envious because one does not like another being more efficient and effective.
SLIGHT ENVY, present as early as pre-school children, is the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing about the advantages or prosperity of others. One hopes and prays that some event will come along and cast down one’s rival—perhaps by wiping out the rival’s fortunes. But one would never take such a bold action oneself. This is where civility shows—strongly disliking the rival while politely smiling in the rival’s face. They pretend to love while trying to stab you in the back—e.g. making the rival the butt of jokes, the object of ridicule. Yet, the envior refuses to admit he/she harbors envy because it is such a belittling emotion. This makes these jerks and frauds difficult to spot. If the rival attempts to help them, enviers interpret those attempts as trying to oppress them or to infiltrate their territory. But if the rival decides not to help them, they interpret that as a selfish act and that the rival is only seeking his/her own comfort. If the rival presents both options, then enviors see this as playing games with them. “This is a no-win situation.” Also, no matter how much help you do, it is never enough. Furthemore, they will wind up hating the helper because the helper has enough to give of what they want—and they feel bad about wanting.
MODERATE ENVY has been reached with the occurrence of a typical self-centered thought process like: “I begrudge you what I see you have, for you possess it merely to torment me”. When these envious well-known concepts of ancient time continued into the European Dark Ages, even further distinctions were made. One, “Malice”, was applied as an epithet to particular parts of a person’s character or conduct and often associated with a “sick” pleasure in seeing the distresses of another. Another, COVETEOUSNESS, was the combination of a greedy desire to possess some animate or inanimate thing belonging to another, followed by attempts to take possession of it. An example in the Tenth Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” (Exod.20:17, Deut. 5:21). By contrast, envy came to be about desiring something corresponding to what another has without implying the other should no longer have it. Socrates counseled that the only way out is to not take delight in misfortune. Take pity instead.
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.
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