In Othello, Iago warns:
“O beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meet it feeds on”
Green is a common theme when referring back to our most primitive selves. Our eyes, for example, are adapted to distinguish between more shades of green than any other colour, most likely an adaptation utilised by our ape-ancestors living in forests and grasslands. In order to most effectively catch a glimpse of our predators making their way towards us, our vision became finely tuned to recognise what was shrubbery and what was on the hunt for dinner.
It’s quite odd that green has been more recently relegated from personifying external danger and, instead, has become the texture of internal inadequacy. Peter Van Sommers insightfully distinguished envy and jealousy, by saying:
“Envy concerns what you would like to have but don’t possess, whereas jealousy concerns what you have and do not wish to lose”
Envy and jealousy tend to be depicted as the worst human qualities to display, but they’re emotions that are easily conjured up within. We are a people that routinely take pleasure in flaunting our riches for approval, and are remarkably capable of betraying our friends and family in the pursuit of money or power. So, in a sense, it’s wholly reasonable to be a little bit green now and then, given how regularly there are reasons to feel envious or jealous of other people’s fortunes.
But what of this monster? What makes it a fiend that we would much rather suppress than give oxygen to? Well, unlike anger, which is a fairly recognisable projection of rage, there is a quiet embarrassment about welcoming in envy and jealousy into our lives. There is nothing remotely unusual with getting angry and losing your cool when provoked, but no one wants to admit that they feel insecure at the expense of others. God forbid that we grow to recognise that our lives are not as perfect as they could be, and that we dare to despair at that realisation. As Van Sommers described, experiencing each feeling leaves you stuck in the middle of an equilibrium, somewhere between longing for better and praying to avoid worse.
So this seems to be a reluctant kind of monster, something we are ashamed of harbouring. But Iago became it, embodying it for his selfish desires. How did he see strength in a set of emotions that we now perceive as weakness?
Reaching a state of contentment is hard when you are bombarded with pipe dreams of greener pastures. How can you be satisfied when the appetite for better things becomes insatiable? Instead of suppressing envy and jealousy, maybe we can let them be motivators. If you crave more than what you have, strive to attain it. If you fear losing what you’ve earned, secure it tightly. This of course won’t override the ultimate importance of being content, which will slowly reduce the extent that external desires dictate your internal state of affairs, but it’s a way to de-stigmatise that shame at the very least.
Although Iago was plotting his best friend’s demise, maybe he was onto something. Maybe we are too often servants to emotions that we would be better off expressing openly and capitalising on. The green-eyed prey becoming the green-eyed predator.
What if you’re right, and they’re wrong?