5 Things You Should Know About Jealousy
A University of Calgary professor’s new book looks for the truth about the green-eyed monster.
In Act 3, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago utters the famous line:
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock;
The meat it feeds
In his new book, Jealousy, Peter Toohey, a professor of classics at the University of Calgary, argues that the green-eyed monster can actually be an essential, and sometimes beneficial, part of what makes us human. Surprised? Here are five things you may not have known about jealousy.
Not all cultures experience jealousy the same way.
“Jealousy can be more muted in some societies, as it is in [ancient] Greece and Rome. It’s usually the result of a predominance of arranged marriages in these societies and also, in Rome, the frequency of divorce. People get less worked up about [sexual jealousy] because I don’t think you would in the initial phases of an arranged marriage. It’s not a utopia in Rome, however, you’ll find that political jealousy is common enough there, but the sexual jealousies are less pronounced. It doesn’t seem to me too likely that anyone gets off the hook with this emotion.”
Animals get jealous too.
“In one experiment with two groups of capuchin monkeys, a lab attendant normally fed them cucumbers, but on one occasion, without any reason, one group of monkeys got grapes while the other group of monkeys still got cucumbers. The cucumber monkeys rose up in anger; they rattled the cage, they threw their food away even though they need it. What primatologist Frans De Waal argued from this is that even amongst these animals there’s an innate sense of justice, as he called it. I would say it fits the bill for jealousy, and in this instance you’ve got jealousy being used to try and insist on equity in the lab.”
There are three factors that go into jealousy.
“The first thing to know is that jealousy is triangular. It involves three people or two people and a thing. The second is that feelings are going to be running pretty high, because often in jealousy, loss is going to be involved. If it’s amongst friends or lovers, someone’s going to lose a partner. In the work place it can be the loss of power, money or possession. It’s the three things, emotions running high, loss and a triangular nature, that make up jealousy.”
It’s not envy, but it’s close.
“People distinguish them probably more carefully than they ought to. Envy is triangular: two people and a thing or three people and feelings usually run high. But, instead of loss, it’s often over gain. So when somebody owns something you’d like to have, like a car as good as the person next door or a house as big, that’s envy. Jealousy is loss and envy is gain, but the two can run together.“
It can be a good thing.
“We tend to react and say ‘anger is bad’ in a blanket sense. No, it’s not. But, you tend to feel that way because you’re generalizing from the worst elements or manifestations of it. And so it is with jealousy. It’s a competitive emotion and there’s nothing wrong with competition. Look at 1917 and the [Russian] revolution, there’s a lot to be said for equality for all people, wasn’t there? But mostly, societies run off competition, allowing and celebrating it, with jealousy being built on competition in the workplace and so on. That’s a good thing in a country like Canada, so why should it be denied? We expect it and encourage it.“