Jealousy

The older I get, the more I have to be careful about jealousy.  I don’t mean that I’m suddenly more angry when my wife spends time with other men; I trust her and she can spend time however she wants.  I mean that suddenly there are more things about which to be jealous.  Specifically, there’s an entire dimension of jealousy that simply never occurred to me when I was younger.  (In math we would call it an axis.)  Let me try to explain what I mean.

When I was younger I was jealous of the other kids who had not only more toys than I did, but nicer toys than I did.  I don’t mean this as a slight against my parents, who provided rather extravagantly, especially considering their circumstances.  I suspect all children want more than they have.  I happened to grow up in a period of economic robustness and technological development.  From an early age I wanted not whatever gadgets other kids had, I wanted the best and newest versions of those gadgets.  (Specifically I remember game consoles and shape-changing robots.)

Either way, we’ll call that latitudinal jealousy, just to make up a term for it.  (A term might exist already, but I haven’t found one yet that allows for the distinction I’m eventually going to try to make.)  This temptation has never really left, not least because gadgets have only become more common.  (I have a certain weakness for them.)  But other more adult concerns are affected by the same temptation.  My neighbor has a nicer yard.  My friends have a quieter baby.  Other blogs have more followers.  Other bloggers have better style.

It’s pretty easy to be jealous.  And there are of course a couple billion people who could be jealous of me and what I have.  I’m not trying to compete about this.  (Or, to put it another way, I am not jealous of other people’s causes for jealousy, nor am I jealous for the pity due those less fortunate than myself.  I would of course rather that they not be jealous, because jealousy isn’t good for them or anyone, but such aid as might be inspired by pity, I am happy to give them whenever possible, and want to encourage others also to give.  By all means let us remember that there are those less fortunate than us!)

There’s another sort of jealousy I find I have to be careful about though, what I’ll call longitudinal jealousy to make up a corresponding term.  In very simple terms, the older I get the more I have to be careful about being jealous of my younger self.  He had more time and freedom.  He had more energy.  His body worked better.  He had opportunities (which he largely wasted) that I can’t repeat.

It’s easy to be jealous of him too, which tends to manifest as regret or impatience or some such.  There are so many things from the past that I miss, and that’s exactly where I need to be careful.

Latitudinally, looking at other people in the world today, I combat jealousy with thanksgiving.  I give thanks for what I have, and I give thanks for other people having what they have too.  I rejoice with my friend when his baby sleeps, or with another blogger who has success.  I rejoice that my own baby is boisterously and energetically alive, and that I can write at all and that anyone seems to enjoy it.  It simply impossible to appreciate gifts if I don’t appreciate what I have or if I demand what everyone else has.

Longitudinally, the struggle is a bit harder because it’s newer, but I suspect the principle is the same.  I rejoice with my younger self that he had the freedom to stay up late with friends to talk about everything, and I don’t demand that from him.  I rejoice that he could eat as much as he could and still lose weight, that he could move without stiffness even in winter, that he viewed doctors as a luxury, and I don’t demand those from him.  Those were his gifts, and perhaps they are gone.  But missing them can easily become a disservice.

I’m out of time, and I suspect I didn’t say clearly…  anything.  But then, I’m not entirely clear on what I was trying to say.

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