It’s amazing how television can occasionally provide insightful snippets of information. And I’m not just talking about the news. I’m talking about T.V. shows, some of which are considered the most inane forms of entertainment. Now let us move on from my introductory grab for your attention and get back to musing, eh?
I was watching The Simpsons the other day, when Homer Simpson, possibly the largest ignoramus in television history, is discussing Apu’s good fortune with Lisa, his precocious and spiky-haired daughter. At Homer’s griping, Lisa replies, “Dad, you shouldn’t be jealous of Apu.”
Homer then promptly responds, “I’m not jealous. I’m envious. Jealousy is when you worry someone will take what you have. Envy is wanting what someone else has.”
Lisa later confirms her father’s surprising linguistic insight by checking the dictionary. While I chuckled at Homer’s uncharacteristic literary prowess, I was also taken aback at the immense difference between the intrinsic meanings of the words.
Let us go back to Homer’s wise words: “Jealousy is when you worry someone will take what you have. Envy is wanting what someone else has.” Thinking on this definition, the most striking difference between jealousy and envy appears to be either the possession or lack of a highly desirable object or person of value.
Jealousy occurs when you already possess a wonderful object or person and fear that some heinous intruder will steal it away from you. The most common example of this, of course, is in love. In countless television shows, movies, books, and songs, the protagonist fears that his significant other will run off with another more attractive or charming individual, ultimately leaving him enraged and shattered. This fear subsequently triggers feelings of panic, resentment, and jealousy. Thus, in this example, the protagonist experiences jealousy because he fears that something he already has, the affections of his lover, will be tragically taken away by some outsider.
In contrast, an individual experiences envy when he greatly covets an object or person that belongs to another. Take for instance, the plight of man who envies his next-door neighbor’s Mercedes Benz, personal golf course, frequent business trips, and overall financial success. Alas, our poor protagonist is green with envy because he himself possesses none of these items. While it would be ideal to inform him that happiness is not necessarily the result of luxurious products and social status, that is not the point of this example. The point is to illustrate the fundamental difference between jealousy and envy.
Thinking back on my analysis, I think I’d much rather be jealous rather than envious. If I were jealous, that would mean I had possessed something or someone great enough to furiously defend or keep for myself. I would already be in a better position because I would already have something worth of awe, wonder, and envy of others. On the other hand, if I were envious, my feelings would be generated from a distinct lack of a desirable object or person. Hence, if my desire was strong enough, I could possibly be driven mad from the impossibility of its attainment.
In essence, while I strongly discourage prolonged feelings of either jealousy or envy, I would much rather you be jealous than the latter. Because having something valuable enough to inspire envy in others is indubitably worth protecting.