On jealousy

Jealousy is one of the ugliest of emotions. A quote, popularly attributed to Gore Vidal, reads thus: ‘It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.’ That sort of professional jealousy, common in the media, isn’t very nice. It raises its head at award ceremonies, and when one of your colleagues releases a new, positively acclaimed book, or when a friend gets a headline speaking gig you thought might have been yours. And how many writers, initially eager to nurture young talent, suddenly turn when they realise the talent they are nurturing has the possibility of eclipsing (or even simply coming close) to theirs?

When it comes to wine regions, there’s often a bit of jealousy around. There might be a producer who has been working hard for 20 years making good, solid wines in reasonable quantities. And then all the visiting journalists talk about is a young winemaker producing six barrels of funky natural wine who’s only in their second vintage. But it needn’t be that way. The most important thing when a journalist or influencer visits a wine region is that they come away enthused and excited. The wines don’t need to be commercially relevant and it’s not necessary for the winegrowers visited to have paid their dues. A rising tide floats all boats and if a region becomes sexy and gets some limelight, then that benefits everyone. There will always be trends and fads, and there’s always a fascination with the new, novel or esoteric on the part of journalists. Don’t waste negative energy on jealousy: if you do your thing conscientiously and well, your turn will come.

Jealousy also rears its ugly head in personal relationships. I’ve been in a couple of relationships over the last few years and, to be honest, I’ve never thought of myself as a jealous person. But in these new relationships, it’s been a surprise when suddenly jealous feelings pop up out of nowhere, with minimal provocation. And it’s a very uncomfortable emotion indeed. I’ve had to take a step to the side, and look in, and say ‘what’s happening here?’ My conclusion is that it’s an entirely negative emotion, and it’s usually unjustified. It’s a shadow of psychology that has deep evolutionary roots . In a small tribal society (of the sort in which our current psychology evolved), you need to be a little bit vigilant, because in evolutionary terms a successful female mating strategy is to choose a kind, solid partner and then have kids via a more alpha-male type without the solid partner finding out. The safe guy will then raise this alpha-male-sired kid with all those strong genes. So males need to be a bit vigilant or they might end up raising someone else’s kids. This is, of course, not a justification for this behaviour. It’s just that it’s a potentially successful strategy on the part of the genes and thus such behaviour will likely maximize differential reproductive success. It’s a depressing reality. Fortunately, we also have empathy and personal morality which can help counter this sort of thing. Most of us want to be kind, good people, not selfish douches who can’t control our urges.

So that occasional jealous pang is a ghost from our evolutionary past, and the best way to deal with this is to silence the voice when you hear it. If you nurture jealous feelings, or give them air time, you will be miserable. And vigilance isn’t going to stop your partner cheating if that is what they want to do. Sometimes, of course, your partner may step over some agreed boundary, and a conversation will be needed. But most of the time jealousy is unfounded, and it can also be very hypocritical if you have different standards for what is acceptable for you and what is acceptable for them. It’s always good to do a quick personal inventory to check that you aren’t judging others more harshly you judge yourself. Ultimately it all comes down to trust. If you can’t trust your partner, then you have a big problem that vigilance and jealous feelings will not help in the slightest.

The best solution is to remember that another’s success is not your failure. You have your portion, and you don’t need more. Be grateful for what you get. By all means strive to do better, but don’t be so driven that anything less than number one – or all of the trophies in life – will satisfy you. You cannot be friends with jealousy.

From time to time it will knock; if you open the door and invite it in, it will consume you.

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