The cure for jealousy

The cure for jealousy

I am a lucky person. I was born in the Europe, white, straight, not disabled, reasonably intelligent, to loving parents, who did not damage me any more than any competent, loving parent damages their children. If any of those things were different, my life chances would have been very different.

If I was born in the USA, and black, my life chances would have been significantly worse. All my other characteristics could be the same, but my life would have been objectively, measurably worse. This is a sad fact with which to reconcile.

If, instead of loving humans of the opposite gender, I had loved humans of the same gender, my life chances would have been worse. Not necessarily because those around me might have treated me differently, but because society, the media, and everything about culture would have made me angrier, more threatened. Margaret Thatcher passed legislation in my childhood that would have affected my perspective and threatened my optimism and self-belief.

I have the perfect flaw, though. I am celiac – my body attacks itself if gluten is in my stomach. The solution is relatively benign: do not eat gluten. Because I was diagnosed as a baby, I have no memory of eating gluten deliberately. And when I see other people eating things I cannot eat, I see them literally doing something I cannot do.

For celiacs diagnosed as older children, teenagers, or adults, their experience is very different. They have eaten in the school canteen with their friends, the same food as their peers. They know what restaurant lasagna, McDonald’s burger buns, Subway sandwiches, food truck burgers, food truck gyros, and objects in patisserie windows taste like. They have taken the hors d’oeuvres that was offered, not knowing what it was, and not being concerned, beyond whether it tastes good. They have tasted all the flavors of Lays and Walkers chips (crisps). They have chosen the candy bar that they fancy, without reading the label. They have been to a Chinese restaurant.

But I had experienced none of that. For me, so many foods just were not ‘food’. When I was still quite young, a chain pharmacy had a gluten free cooking demonstration where someone came and talked to us about how they had cooked this entire table of food. After the talk, we were released to try what we fancied. I looked at the table, not even sadly, and thought ‘I can’t eat anything there’. My dad had to remind me that it was all gluten free.

More recently, I went to a bakery in Washington DC that was 100% gluten free. I could not quite convince my well-trained brain that I did not have to look for a “gluten free” label on anything I wanted to consider. And then I had to consider an entire store’s worth of food, which was more than a little overwhelming. My wife encouraged me to order whatever I wanted, which meant I had a lot of things to eat and carry around the Smithsonian Zoo – a ridiculous amount.

I am reading a book about writing. The chapter that prompted me to write this, was about professional jealousy. Up until this point, I have been with the author every step of the way. I could understand her perspective when she talked about being easily distracted. I could totally empathize when she described problems with a lack of self-belief. And I related strongly with how perfectionism can cause you to not do anything for fear it is not perfect. The author described how sometimes, when you write, it is great, and other times it is awful. And I could completely relate.

The chapter on jealousy, though, did not ring true. So, I wondered why. I like to think of myself as relatively selfless, but I am no saint. I care deeply about other people, but I care more deeply about myself. I am ultra-competitive, but a good friend pointed out that that is probably an element of perfectionism. I should be able to win, because I want to be great at everything I try.

I am not a better person than the author. Definitely not. So why do I not relate to her jealousy of her friends and peers who do better than her?

I believe the explanation is my experience as a life-long celiac. It separated me from everyone else. Everyone else is not-Gavin, and I am Gavin. Everyone else can eat bread, Weetabix, and food with sauces, and I cannot.

And if someone else earns more money than me, or obtains a position despite their lack of skill, I am not jealous. They are not-Gavin. That does not mean I am immune from identifying injustice. I have seen people promoted beyond their skills, or despite the presence of a more-deserving person, including myself, but I am not jealous of that person. That person may have been lucky, or may have skills I do not recognize, or have not had a chance to witness. They may be the recipient of nepotism, or their manager may want to keep them because they are docile. Whatever it is, it does not make me feel jealous.

So, my cure for jealousy, is to not see other people’s successes as taking something from you. I am lucky. Aside from being the right-everything for culture (white, straight, not disabled, etc.) I also have a relatively minor, completely treatable, disease that does not reduce my life expectancy, and which is only a minor inconvenience, and then only very rarely. That disease has taught me that just because someone else can have or do something, does not mean you are being denied it on a personal level.

Jealousy is a dangerous and unhelpful emotion. If you feel it, perhaps consider what it would be like to be that other person. Empathize with them, and you will feel their joy.

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