Excerp from Cinderella and Her Sisters: The Envied amd the Envying By Ann Ulanov
Envy is an emotion we all know about, scholars, psychoanalysts, and theologians included, but we rarely talk about it, and very little is written about it. The reason for this silence is the painful, searing effects of envy. It burns into us like acid, whether we are the envied or the envying. But envy really does exist and work its destruction, all the more successfully because we refuse to face it.
In essence, envy is an attack on being – the being of the envied and of the envier, too – and an attack on the good quality or stuff that is envied.
Unimpeded, envy would eviscerate everyone and everything, leaving nothing but shells. Then, perhaps, its own envious clamoring could rest, but only as long as nothing appeared to activate its venom anew.
If we refuse to talk about our experiences of envy we conspire with its savage attempts to annihilate the good, anything that is in any way good, however we define it. For finally, envy between persons is a displacement of our own relation to the good.
When Cinderella’s sisters envy her, they get off the hook of their struggle with themselves and their relation to the good. They dodge trying to relate to their own selves by means of noisy accusations directed against Cinderella. They avoid figuring out their relation – to their mother, to the prince, or to what they see as the good life. Instead of inspecting and muddling along in these real relationships, they mount vociferous attacks on Cinderella. All the sisters’ energies go into trying to destroy Cinderella’s being instead of trying to take hold of their own, sexually and spiritually.
If we can suffer consciously the envy we ourselves feel, whether coming from us or at us, it can be a means of recovering being for us. Envy can lead us to what needs repair in our identities, in our sexuality and our spiritual centers, and in our efforts to relate to the good. And envy can point us toward the very good that undergirds both the pain and the healing.
Envy, so spoiling and injurious, can, if suffered consciously, point us toward the good we thirst for. Envy, that great distance maker, that connection destroyer, can, if suffered consciously, close the gap that its own wounding operations have opened.
The Cinderella tale, so simple and so profound, offers a direct road into and through the thickets of envying and being envied. Envy between sisters, between mothers and daughters, between the sexes, between nations; inwardly, between different parts of our own psyche; envy even of God – these are the multiple places of wounding we touch in this article.
Through Cinderella, whom we see as a kind of female Christ figure, we catch a glimpse of the plight of the good – in theological terms, of God – when in our envy we refuse it and take offense at it. What solace, then, offers itself to those who suffer the scourge of envy.
The answer is in the good itself, which moves us to look at it through the very envy that would attack it, to go with its little bits and pieces, willingly trying to fit them together into a larger whole of self and community.
With a look at the amazing nature of goodness that may gradually become evident in the envy experience, its abundance, its ability to link and make wholes of disparate parts, its abiding presence, and its joy.
The story of Cinderella and her sisters endures as no other fairy tale does. For most of us it is alive in Charles Perrault’s late seventeenth century version, complete with stepmother, fairy godmother, mice, pumpkin, glass slipper, and rescuing prince. For others, there are tellings that reach back in time as much as a thousand years and across the world from the Indians of North America to the peoples of Africa and China. The variations are many, the emphases different, the central figure sometimes not so pure as Cinderella in the more than seven hundred attempts to tell this tale.
Why should this story attract so many tellers, capture so many readers and listeners? What is there about it that cuts through major differences of time, place, and culture? There are other attractive heroines. There are other cruel stepmothers and ugly sisters to bring alive the perils of family life. Rescuing princes abound and if other godmothers, or ingenious animals, or talking fish, or enchanted forests are not necessarily so resourceful as Cinderella’s, enough magic exists in the world of fairy tales to provide contentment to an audience hungry for happy endings magically contrived.
None of these things accounts for the hold of Cinderella upon our imagination. Rather, there is something primordial about Cinderella and her tale. Seated in her nest of ashes, she speaks to us of misery in archetypal terms. She is, with whatever degree of natural or supernatural significance we may want to endow her, the Suffering Servant.
What is more, she not only serves hard and cruel masters – or more precisely, mistresses – but does so as one called to better things, by inner and outer nobility, by blood, and by spirit. She is, in fact, so much the very essence of the noble that we can accept the fact that she is an enviable creature, and is envied, by her stepmother and sisters, even in her condition, down with the grease and dirt, doomed to endless service and suffering.
The story of Cinderella is the story of envy. It is the epochal tale, even in its usual few pages, of this much-felt, much-endured, but scarcely discussed human emotion. Accounted by tradition second only to pride of the so-called seven deadly sins, envy remains on the outskirts of religious, philosophical, literary, and psychological discourse. It has its place in moral theology and philosophical ethics, but not one commensurate with the stern and nasty language used to describe it and to cast it from the precincts of proper behavior. It has a significant book unto itself in sociology and a few articles in anthropological journals. It gets occasional attention from political scientists, but rarely is any attempt made to understand or explain its pivotal role in motivating events as large as revolution or as shattering as family violence.
Where envy survives – and oh, how it does! – is in human affairs, in little ones and big ones, in major and minor events, but most importantly in the ordinary daily lives of ordinary people, in all of us, one way or another, as enviers or envied. However badly or well we enact the roles, we are called upon at some time or other to play Cinderella or her stepmother or step- sisters.
What happens to one who is being looked at enviously, with the ferce scrutiny and malicious intent that the root meaning for envy – the envier or the envied – conveys? How does envy appear to Cinderella, the envied one, the object of her sisters’ eviscerating examination? What does being envied tell us about the dynamics and effects of envy? What archetypal issues relating to the good confront us here? How can we respond to envy, whether it comes at us or from us? What insight does psychotherapy give us to help us to deal with envy?
Cinderella and her sisters show us the energies of envy – its vicious attack, its determination to spoil all it confronts, its refusal of the good at the same time that, in secret, it spies on the good. The emphasis in Cinderella and her sisters is on envy between women, but the archetypal themes of the tale serve as a means to interpret envy in men as well, envy toward women and toward the feminine elements of their own being. In addition, Cinderella and her sisters represent central aspects of the female personality, and especially the conflict between ego and shadow.
Our interpretation of the tale, therefore, will move back and forth between internal issues: how our own feminine and masculine parts fit or do not fit together, and external issues: how we conduct our life with persons of the same and opposite sexes, how we conflict, compete, or join harmoniously with others. First and foremost, however, we must enter into the awful places where envying and being envied rule. For there, where all of us are bound to spend some of our lives, we will find the reasons why envy is so little dealt with and why it is essential to face it.
To be the object of envy is a terrible experience. We know that from our earliest reading. Whether it comes in the form of the scheming plots of Snow White’s stepmother to kill the beautiful child, or the sadistic demands of Cinderella’s sisters, designed to humiliate her, or the determination of the two sisters in the fairy tale “One-Eye” to take all the food for themselves and leave their long-suffering sister to starve, envy makes the misery of others its devoted aim.
One who is envied feels the attack of envy as nullification of her own subjective reality. She is turned into an object by her envier, whether by praise or scorn. Her reality as a person is obliterated. Her hurt, her anger, or her shock in response to envious assault seems not to matter at all to the envier. Any facts of her personal history are utterly discounted. That Cinderella, for example, is also the much-loved daughter of a shared father, or that she has suf fered the loss of her beloved mother, arouses no sympathy in the envious sisters. Or, to take an example from analytic practice, when a woman, envied by her sister, protests that she too has problems to overcome and that she has worked hard to achieve the good position that is now the target of her sibling’s envy, she is met only by the stony face of her envious sister. These facts in her own history make no dent in her sister’s envy; they are simply not taken in. The envied one no longer exists as a valid subject. She is changed into a thing, a mere object of envy. She exists only with reference to the envier’s idealization and persecution, typical defenses against the pain that comes with envying.
In idealization, the envier inflates the envied into one “too good to be true,” one so far beyond the envier, and in fact all human proportions, that the envier need not feel maliciously competitive. The envied one is turned into a demigod and coerced into accepting that role. In persecution, the same defense mechanism operates, only at the opposite end of the scale. Now the envied one is seen as completely bad and as aiming above all else to make the envier’s life miserable. The envier then need not deal with her own envying because it is projected onto the envied one, who can then be blamed for it. The cause of envy lies not in oneself but in the envied one; accusation substitutes for self-examination. In both idealization and persecution, the envied one is turned into an abstraction – hero or villain – and robbed of concrete identity.
Envy generalizes. It blanks out persons in favor of qualities, and even those are not the particular qualities possessed by individual persons but part of a generalized ideal denied the envier by the mere fact of possession by the envied. Here begins that terrible mixture of pain and pleasure which envy always brings with it. The envier may take some pleasure in accounting, finally, for the misery felt in his or her lack of something. But there is great pain, too, not only the original anguish, but a new one. For the immediate effect of turning someone else into an abstraction is to do the same to oneself. One has moved from one’s own special case into the great gulf of generalization, where there are no persons but only great frightening qualities. From the side of the envied one, to be envied is a threatening experience. One feels canceled, no longer validated by reference to one’s own particular identity, one’s own motives , or feelings. All that matters now is the perception of the envier who sees the envied one only in terms of the role he or she plays in the envier’s personality. The envying sister in the case example above complained that if her sister did not always look so nice and do so well, then she would feel better about her own self and not feel so inferior.
In the face of this attitude the envied one feels cut off at her roots, severed from personal connection to the resources of her own being. Her being fully alive and growing is taken as an intentional doing against her sister. She feels negated in herself and co-opted into another’s scheme of things. She is a country invaded and annexed by an enemy, seen now only in terms of service to this hostile neighbor who appropriates both one’s past and future by invalidating one’s autonomous existence in the present. The envied one really cares about relationship to the envier and is trying somehow to reclaim it, but she inevitably must fail. The envied one feels trapped behind thick glass where she can see the other person and be seen but what she says cannot reach through the thick wall of projection the envier has thrown up against her. In this setting, we all become things, mere objects. In personal terms, the envied experiences transmutation from subject into object as being utterly cast adrift. It is as if one has become a garbage can into which all the tainted stuff of the envier can be dumped. The envied one is reduced to the envier’s projections. Human relationship with the envier is blocked, any bond of sympathy or understanding severed. This accounts for the second outstanding mark of being envied: utter helplessness. The envied one feels that the connection with the envier has been broken, hacked off as one might destroy a rope bridge. This leaves the envied one impotent, for the connection has been broken off from the other side and there is no way to mend it from this side. The envied one soon learns that any efforts to be nice will only intensify the break.
Angry confrontations are taken as justification for grudges. Efforts to understand are labeled as patronizing. Showing the pain caused by the envious attack is met by an ungiving hostile silence. The envied one is clearly being perceived through a distorting lens, so any reparative gestures must appear lopsided and wrong. The envied one is left dependent on the envier to fix the break, something the envier clearly does not want to do. Cinderella’s sisters scorn all her efforts to reach them. The envied one comes smack up against the limits of his or her power to do anything to mend the break or reopen the relationship. The envied has run into a wall with no opening and no way around it. He or she must just accept the wall, and stop trying to get over it. The envied one is powerless against the assault of envy. Such helplessness may cure the envied one of all remaining shreds of omnipotence, but it also will undermine any realistic sense of power to do something or to be someone of consequence.
To be envied is to be attacked. That is the third mark of the experience. Not only is one violated by being made into an object, cut off, and helpless; one is also actively persecuted. The response is anger and fear. One feels under threat of being robbed, not only of specific advantages or attributes one may possess, but in some uncanny way of one’s very substance. To the envied one, the envy defies causality, and takes on a tinge of madness. After all, what did one do to provoke this awful malevolence? One did nothing against the envier, did not try to thwart, oppress, or malign the other. Often, in fact, the envied one is a source of help, friendly interest, or active support to the envying. Cinderella cooks, cleans, and sews for her sisters. All the more astounding then is their sudden burst of active malice. Helmut Schoeck, in his sociological study of envy, makes the same point about the envy shown by undeveloped countries to those countries which have acted as their benefactors. Generosity has aroused ingratitude and hateful resentment, because the lavish giving seems to demonstrate the giver’s superiority. Logic fueled by envy can reach so far as to reason that something must be basically wrong or unfair about Western society because life is so good there. Rather than receive, envy wants to destroy the giver, pushing for a leveling down so all will be equally miserable.
Schoeck quotes Nietzsche: “If I cannot have something, no one is to have anything, no one is to be anything.” If the envied can avoid being overwhelmed by defensive expostulation: “What did I ever do to you?” “Haven’t we been your great supporters” or by urges to persecute the envier in retaliation, an extraordinary fact will emerge: the very existence of the envied is the problem. The target of envy’s attack is not one’s doing, but one’s being. Cinderella, for example, owns nothing but her work and the attitude with which she approaches it. But her sisters envy her even that. Owning much but doing nothing, they envy her way of being and going about things.
They aim to take it out of her, to disembowel her spiritually, so to speak. Seated in her ashes, going cheerfully about her duties, dressed in rags, the suffering servant has an unmistakable allure about her that the envious sisters clearly lack. Somehow they must remove it – which is to say, must remove her. This life-attacking attitude of envy shows most painfully when a parent envies a child, seeing in the child’s eager young existence something the parent lacks. It may be a particular talent, physical beauty, or simply the child’s youth, its new life. The envied one often feels stunned at this revelation that his or her being is the problem to the envier, and feels even more helpless to do anything as a result. For what is there to do
Like a victim of racial or sexual prejudice, the envied feels an essential self is under attack, not some fault or virtue that is changeable or detachable from one’s central identity. Instead, one’s very hold on life, one’s connection to the good, is the problem. As a result, hurting envious action is experienced as all the more senseless and without cause. Worse, the envier’s touch of venom toward the envied reveals a hostility to good itself. The envier wants to damage, to degrade, and, in Klein’s now famous words, to spoil the goodness of the envied one. Cinderella is exactly as sisters and stepmother want to see her, dirty from the muck of her chores, shabby in rags, deprived, and clearly not worthy to go to,the ball. They want to push onto Cinderella their own disfiguring envy – one version of the tale is called “Scar face” – projecting onto her their life-spoiling envy. Thus, they put Cinderella in the death place, among the ashes. The spiteful efects of envy appear everywhere. Parents who envy their child know the specific torment envy brings: it maims the thing they love. The robbery of being is the ultimate effect. The envying try wildly to gather being up and run off with it, a person’s, a group’s, a nation’s. Failing to do so, they will attack it, vandalize it, so that it is wrecked and of no use anymore to any one, least of all, they hope, to the envied.
The person who is looked at with envy’s intensity must beware, for temptations lie on all sides. The blast of envy brings many aftershocks, any one of which can knock over the envied. Pain comes as the first shock. Envy wounds. The envied one falls into the pool of victimization, thrashing around in undeserved hurt. One may struggle to master the pain by self- accusation, making oneself the cause, taking responsibility for the other’s projections, denying the malevolence of the envying. Such omnipotence simply compounds the envier’s attack with self-attack. The envied may also yield to the opposite temptation, retaliating and persecuting in kind, hoping to expose to everyone how cold, unethical, and grasping the envier is. But this way the envied becomes the backbiter and malicious gossiper When the persecution infects the envied, an all-consuming rage against the envier turns in on the envied one, producing an equally thorough guilt. One woman said she felt guilty for being alive because her very existence provoked such unhappy envy in her sister. She wanted to cut herself down so that her sister could thrive. Indeed, she gave up certain activities that her sister found appealing, simply to leave the field open to her sibling. Either way, rage-filled persecution of the envier or of oneself only makes things worse. The poison of envy fills the soul of the envied one.
Withdrawal offers another temptation to the envied. One wants to hide and not tangle with such viciousness, somehow to secure a place safe from contamination. This quitting of the field often excites more attack from the envier, who wants both to preserve this confounding source of the pleasures and pains of envy and to wipe it out. Thus the envier moves in, either for the kill or with a compulsive frenzy to get some kind of more telling response from the envied one, violent if necessary. The envier cannot tolerate simple withdrawal. It feels to the envier as if the envied one were absconding with the good. It must be pursued, or at least dented. One woman caught in an envious situation at work tried to retire from the battle, only to find ugly signs posted on her ofice door.
An odd but not infrequent variation on the temptation to withdrawal is the envied one’s attempt to become entirely self-sufficient, to deny normal dependencies and needs for relationship, especially to poterntial enviers. The devilish thing about envy, however, is that most often it springs up in close relationships in one’s family or working life, from which one cannot withdraw. How then to deny reliance upon the other, whether co-worker, neighbor, sibling, or parent? The envied one seeks refuge from envy by no longer looking to the envier for anything, trying to become both provider and dependent, lover and beloved, teacher and learner, even, if necessary, male and female. This can sometimes result in a remarkable development of talent and splendid independence, but it will not last. Eventually, chronic loneliness, even schizoid isolation, will develop. The withdrawal will have ended where it started, in a diminishing of being But all this maneuvering to avoid envy only attracts more of it. The envied one who is successful in denying dependence on others makes the self into the enviable object par excellence. The envied one shows nothing that would contradict the idealization the envier projects, and thus arouses even more excited envy. To the envier, the idealized one seems to be intentionally hoarding the good and withholding it.
The envied grow increasingly desperate, for nothing succeeds in warding off envy. If they renounce any hope of being seen and accepted as themselves, they are accused of being cold and aloof. If they try to share their good, they are attacked for showing off or being patronizing. If they try to defend by explaining, they are not listened to, for explanations will not fill up an empty envier. Even if some of the melodrama is lacking, they are in the position of hostages being held by terrorists. There is nothing they can do to appease their captors. Least of all do the enviers want to lose hold of the envied, to let the hostages get away. Withdrawal from envy, whether from the envier or into oneself, meets a dead end, and frequently catapults the envied one into the opposite temptation: to try to do something to fix the break and reestablish contact. Simone Weil reminds us of how much evil is set in motion by hasty interfering actions. These efforts usually prove futile because in them the envied one begins from a wrong premise. Nothing the envied one can do will repair the break because it came from the envier’s side. Often efforts to help the envier are only attempts to ward off this blow to one’s omnipotence. In analysis, for example, an analyst can overinterpret on such occasions, trying to appease a patient’s envy by explanation. But such explaining (especially if correct!) pulls both analyst and analysand above the level of conflict, when what is needed is to get grounding in the envious emotion that exists between them.
These efforts collapse quickly. The patient spits out all the forced food and the analyst gets fed up. What is more, the envier usually retaliates against such intrusive goodwill with an even more savage attack. Goodness figures centrally in the last great temptation for the envied one: to deflect the attack of envy by altogether disowning the good that is the target of the attack. “That is not mine,” one says at such a point; “I don’t know about that; it doesn’t belong to me.” The envied one is saying, in effect: “l am no different from you. I do not have anything you would want. Why, I am really no better than you!” This refusal to own the good that belongs to one, indeed what one may have worked long and hard to reach, is a serious blow aimed at goodness, even at being itself. The result is more trouble for both envier and envied. The envied one’s denial of the envied good threatens to remove all goodness from the scene.
Jesus warns us about the fate of those who deny him: they too shall be denied. Those who will not use the talents given them will lose them altogether and be delivered into outer darkness The snarling tangle that ensues between the envier and the envied is an all-too- graphic example of what that darkness can be like. The envier experiences the other’s denial of goodness as a deliberate hiding of the good in order not to share it. The envier’s frenzy of persecutory reaction reaches fever pitch. The envied one, in turn, suffers the misery of cowardice, knowing the pain of conscious shrinking from the truth, throwing it away in order to play safe. The envied one now feels a deep dread of the good, falling into the temptation to hold goodness itself responsible for the envious attack that has brought so much pain. How long can one feel pleased with something that brings such opprobrium on oneself? Wouldn’t it be better to be less talented, less virtuous, less subject to envy? If the good could just be abandoned, then one would be secure. Better to turn away from the good, pretend it is not good after all, or does not even exist.
The envier also dreads the good in a deep way, and much of the spoiling activity of envy operates to cope with this dread. Above all, the envier feels empty of the good and hungers after it ferociously. A woman patient describes this experience in frantic terms, saying: “I’m starving! I’m suffocating!” She is conveying her panic that she could not get enough of the good to survive. This hunger and accompanying panic account for the confusion of envy with greed.
Though we often experience the two together, they differ in precise ways. Greed operates primarily by the process of introjection: taking in the outer object, positively swallowing it whole, exhausting it of its goodness, even destroying it in the urgency to gobble up all its substance for oneself. In greed, we do not concern ourselves with the fate of the object; often we still try to take substance from it long past its willingness or ability to give. Mothers, for example, may feel “eaten alive” by their infants. But in greed our intent is to stuff ourselves, not to hurt the object. Any damage done is a mere by-product.
In contrast, envy aims to hurt and spoil the object, to empty it of its good stuff, whether or not we can acquire it. Envy, in this sense, is more social than greed. But it sees only part of an object, never the whole. It fastens on the desired part and reduces the object to that part. Instead of taking in anything, envy operates by projection, thrusting its own spoiling, spiteful, destructive feeling of envy onto an object. Cinderella’s sisters, for example, must force her into a degraded condition, reducing her to ashes, to discarded rags and refuse. Thus, by projection, they acquire a fitting vehicle for their own sense of living on mere scraps of life, feeling as they do that no one ever gives anything to them, that others always get more. Others are to blame, then, and must pay for it.
Classical descriptions of envy paint an equally ugly picture. Spenser portrays envy riding on a “ravenous wolf. .. Between his cankered teeth a venomous toad.” The poison runs all over his face, “For death it was, when any good he saw,” and we can conclude that he sees much, for his coat is painted “full of eyes.” The classical personification of envy is as a hater of others’ joy or prosperity or, worst of all, confidence in religion or any truth that can be found in words. The mere holding of principles of faith is enough to gain Envy’s attack in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Marlowe’s Envy says, “! cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt.” The details are few in these and other literary testimonies of the same kind, but the point is almost always the same: envy attacks, envy denies, envy eviscerates. Right on the heels of the hungry emptiness of envy, or mixed in with it, is the envier’s experience of being persecuted by the good. The good threatens to overwhelm the envier’s fragile and nascent sense of self. It is felt as “too much to bear,” as “more than I can stand,” to quote the words of several patients.
One woman described the goodness she dreaded as “a huge inflatable balloon that you somehow swallowed. Then it would expand and take up all the room, filling up every space inside you, squeezing you out.” The good intrudes and occupies rather than feeds. Another patient spoke of “being flooded'” with goodness that simply set her adrift. Still another woman saw goodness as an invader she met in a terrifying nightmare. In it, “a big, blunt-nosed, plump, rounded fish beaches itself near me and some other females. One of them, a naked girl, tries to help the fish. She puts her arm around it to stroke it. But the fish clamps its mouth shut on her hand and dives swiftly into the water, pulling the girl in after it, and then rushes to the deepest place it can find. The woman cannot get her hand free without pulling it off. She fears she will drown. She is screaming under water!”
The dreamer associated to this horrifying image her experience of her mother when she was a little girl. Her mother would give lavishly, energetically, and generously of special foods, outings, shopping trips, presents of all kinds. But rather than feeling endowed by these gifts, the daughter felt seized, dragged under, covered up by her mother’s goodness. She could not take it in because it utterly effaced her, leaving her no room to breathe, drowning her. But refusing her mother’s goodness left her hungry and in danger of starvation. Her rejection so angered her mother she would turn away from her altogether. The daughter felt crazy and guilty as a result. Her mother was giving and giving, yet she did not feel being given to. She wanted so much to receive but could not take in anything. She wanted to connect with her mother, but all she did was to reject her and to feel rejected by her. Her mother’s goodness felt to her like the menacing dream fish – an odd male-female fish, shaped like a breast and a penis, something darting up at her from another dimension. It elicited a sympathetic response, but “once you touched it, especially if you were young and naked of any defenses, it clamped down on you and dragged you off to its lair.” It was alive to the dreamer as both an intrusive sexual organ and an undersea monster of great psychological intensity.
The fish is like a phallic part of the female self- what Jung calls the animus – not yet differentiated into a distinct part or integrated into female identity. It shows great power and thrust, but its power is at odds with the standpoint of the dreamer and of the women on the shore. In this form the fish’s power is menacing and, rather than connecting the dreamer’s ego to the deeps, threatens to drown it. As the dreamer’s associations made clear, the fish’s power was like her mother’s goodness, a goodness mixed up with terrifying aggression. The Jungian, Erich Neumann talks about this image of the mother as the phallic mother, a still undifferentiated, male-and-female mother. The dreamer’s mother and the dreamer’s own psyche were in this kind of undifferentiated state. Like her mother, she felt sudden impulses to give or to be given to, impulses not harmonized with the rest of her personality. Both dragged her under, so to speak, rather than connecting her to satisfying experiences as giver or receiver. That the fish grabbed the girl’s hand points to the specific place of missed childhood connection between mother and daughter, and later between ego and self, symbolized in the dream as girl and fish. That the personal connection is missing is represented in the dream by the threat of the girl’s hand being torn of.
In fact, the good things her mother gave her were not given personally to her, hand to hand, so to speak. She experienced her mother’s giving as “a relief to her [the mother], not specifically something for me. I would be eaten if I let her feed me.” What was missing was what D. W. Winnicott calls an appropriate object presentation, timed to a specific child by a sensitive mother. What the mother gave was irrelevant. It did not focus on her daughter’s immediate need. The giving was crude, general, invading, however generous. The child was a “subjective object” to her mother, seen not as a distinct, autonomous self, but only there as something to be used, to play a part in the mother’s need for self-expression. Just like the envied one, the child is thus turned into an object. In this sense a child is a part-object idolized by the mother for the role it plays in the mother’s personality. In Jung’s terms, the ego-self axis is faulty, swamped from the self’s side. The young ego is flooded by an uncaring self without reference to the concrete needs and limits of the ego. The self assimilates it rather than feeds it.
Such experience can produce an abysmal confusion, as in this dreamer’s case. For self. preservation can be obtained only by refusal of the good stuff needed to survive. One must alienate the very source on which one feels dependent. The result? One feels “bad,” “ungratetul,” “hard to please,” “guilty.” Above all, one feels dread of the good that one so desires. For in the presence of such a suffocating goodness, one feels starved not fed, persecuted not nourished, under threat of annihilation instead of supported in one’s being.
In severe instances, this sort of confusion can engender psychotic episodes. The parent may envy the child, which makes the parent treat the child like a part of the parent, and never really give anything to the child at all. The child may envy the parent simply because the parent has the stuff to give and therefore the good remains outside the child’s control. Each leads to the same impasse: the parent cannot enjoy the good the child brings and the child cannot take in the good the parent offers. In the midst of so much food, each goes hungry. Both feel bad about the good and repudiate it, or they feel good about the bad because it does not threaten them the way the good does. Good and bad get all mixed up. For the child, especially, no good is lodged securely enough so that the young ego can identify with it and grow strong. The child is left then with fragments that conflict and compete but do not fit together. The puzzle is all parts that do not make up a whole.
Even more confusing is the fact that the envy which causes this confusion about goodness may also be grabbed at as a means to dissipate it. Envy seems to offer a way to handle this desperate suffering: One envies the good in the other. One wants to spoil it, because it originates outside oneself and remains outside one’s control. But envying keeps the much-desired good in sight. So out of envy one tries to steal the good as the only possible way to possess it and yet keep it at a safe distance. One persecutes the good because one cannot take it in, but this way one nevertheless goes on being involved with it. The different levels and the different routes of envy make this clear.
At a basic level, envying allows one to admit a voracious hunger for the good, but it is a hunger experienced as emptiness, through frustration rather than satisfaction. Repeated experiences of being overwhelmed by feedings that cancel one’s subjective existence (either by too much or too little food) leave an envier unable to eat. There are mothers who are overeager – what Harry Guntrip calls the “doing breast'” – who cannot wait for their babies to signal readiness to eat. They insist greedily on their own pace. Such a mother’s milk floods her infant’s emerging appetite. This kind of giving is in fact a firm denial.
An analyst, too, can flood a patient with interpretations in response to persistent cries for help and demands to know what to do. But a patient, like an infant, must reject the food thus evoked as “too much,” or as inappropriate, in that often repeated remark that what the analyst says may be “intellectually right, but not where I live.” One woman in analysis complained of forgetting everything said in the sessions, presenting herself at each subsequent session in the original empty state. It took a while to realize that that was the point: to experience the emptiness first, and only then, afterward, to inquire how to fill it.
On a second level of envy, stealing the good seems the only way to relate to it because open acknowledgment would end up forcing one to rob oneself. One patient confessed she resisted getting well for fear it would put a feather in the analyst’s professional cap. She dreamed she had baked a wonderful pie, her particular cooking specialty, and that then the analyst took credit for it. She rejected anything said in the session but eventually confessed she would feed on it between sessions. This was like eating in secret, getting fed without having to admit dependence on the feeder. Sharing the good came only at a later point.
The stealing activity merges with the third level of envy which directs persecution and hateful attack on the good that one sees in another, and even on goodness itself. At this level, the hungry emptiness is so acute, and what one can steal seems so little, that the envier feels greatly endangered. The only way to manage such deprivation is to turn it into active hating of what one desires. The good itself becomes the enemy.
In personal relations, the envier projects onto the envied one the excellence that seems so out of reach, or fastens on some skill or wit already in the envied one’s personality. Either way, the envier manages relation to the good by seeing it as existing only somewhere else, in others, never in oneself. The envier goes further, and attributes to the envied an active intent to hoard the good, tantalizing even more the envier’s raging hunger. The envier now can make sense of the deeply felt inner emptiness and muddling confusion and distance from the good. It is the envied one’s fault, intentionally depriving the envier! Cinderella’s sisters blame her for their wretchedness. Burning hate and attack are now the only means of relating to the good. Those people who possess it must be punished! Finally, at this degree of envying we accuse the good itself of retreating from our reach, deliberately evading us. Under such distress we even reproach God.
Dealing with this sort of destructive attitude in analysis makes for explosive moments. The first encounter with this sort of furious, envying transference makes an analyst tremble. Something like hatred radiates from the analysand, and can erupt in vindictive repudiation of any effort to narrow the gulf between patient and therapist. What has to be learned is that the rage is in fact a kind of connection, one to be experienced and not too quickly resolved. The good projected onto the analyst is often so idealized and so far removed from reality that the only way the envier has of connecting to it is by attack. The envier in these moments knows a Luciferian despair of ever being able to receive from or give to the good. That is when the envier is tempted to disavow the good altogether and indulge in an orgy of wrecking. At best, the envier scores a pyrhic victory, leaving him feeling burned-out and in despair.
The analyst must move carefully here, choosing between experiencing a patient’s attacks and not putting up with them, for the patient is really terrified that his spoiling tactics will succeed and will ruin the relationship to the analyst. At periodic points an analyst must just stop the wrecking and guard the analytic connection from the perils of “acting out.”The patient is testing to see whether the relationship is strong enough to withstand the hating envy. Security is gained only when reliable limits are set, those strong enough to be banged against and still survived. The place envy occupies in our psyches and its effects on our development show three possible routes. At its worst, envying uses up a lot of psychic energy and interrupts development in major ways. It produces a state of confusion between good and bad objects. Attacking the good, as we have seen, replaces actually taking it in, and leaves our inner world devoid of the nurturing objects with which the nascent ego can identify and form its own strong core. Like Lucifer, we resent the fact that we are ourselves not the origin of good, that we do not control and own it, and we angrily refuse it, quitting the scene to set up a realm where we can rule instead.
When this envying occurs at a very young age, a child’s ego never adequately consolidates or masters the processes of give-and-take with the warmth or support carried by others, or the liveliness and comfort offered to the child in images from its own unconscious. Instead, envying undercuts the whole process and diverts energy into complicated and wasteful defenses in which the good is seen as bad and the bad as good. These defenses often proceed to manufacture a narcissistic character disorder, a schizoid condition, or even a full-sized paranoia that may reach psychotic proportions The major blow to the psyche falls on the ego, which cannot form a core of identity securely in touch with others and open to spontaneous images from the unconscious. Instead, the ego must guard itself and surreptitiously scheme to get what it thinks it needs to survive. It is poor in identity, as terrible a poverty as we can face. Melani Klein describes the sad fate of such an impoverished ego which, failing to take in the good must attack it instead. Envying is then taken up by the superego, which grows unduly harsh and assails the individual’s assertive and creative capacities in retaliation. If we try to make a good object into an ideal, all-perfect one, we feel even more abandoned. We see it as too good to be true; it seems to be mocking us from its superior height, like king to peasant. As the gap widens, envy grows and sets out to dethrone the good.
Envy interferes with any effort to make amends or restitution, lest one really does repair the object and lose one’s superiority to it. One ends up feeling guilty, and worse, hopeless, about a way out. For if the good object is acknowledged as good or restored to its undamaged state, then its very goodness incites a new envying and the vicious cycle starts all over again. In Jungian language, the vicious cycle is set in motion when the infant ego fails to differentiate from its original self. Ordinarily, the self gives rise to the ego by spontaneously breaking up into parts that form the basis for the archetypal images which underlie the ego’s growth into a distinct personality. The ego then can develop over against the self’s archetypes and the mother and the world.
Envy sabotages this process of ego differentiation and identity formation. The infants envy, or the envy of any of us when our egos are fragile, prevents differentiation from the all-in-all self by massive and affective blocking of the precise parts we envy. Instead, the object of envy – in short, the “good” – seems overwhelming to us. We resort then to all the various temptations of the enviers: to feel persecuted by the good and to turn away from it, to want to hurt and spoil it, to fall into confusion of psychotic proportions about the good where we experience the self that could support our egos as annihilating.
The second route that envy can take in our development does not interrupt ego formation but rather impoverishes it. Envy exists strongly, but it is split off from the rest of the personality, which goes on developing more or less normally. The envying emotions, with all their complex interactions, are relegated to an unconscious place, where they operate undifferentiated and confused. In Jungian language, our envy falls into the shadow part of our personality, indeed takes up residence there and threatens our egos. Cinderella’s sisters blame her for their wretchedness. Burning hate and attack are now the only means of relating to the good. Those people who possess it must be punished! Finally, at this degree of envying we accuse the good itselfof retreating from our reach, deliberately evading us. Under such distress we even reproach God.
Dealing with this sort of destructive attitude in analysis makes for explosive moments. The first encounter with this sort of furious, envying transference makes an analyst tremble. Some- thing like hatred radiates from the analysand, and can erupt in vindictive repudiation of any ef. fort to narrow the gulf between patient and therapist. What has to be learned is that the rage is in fact a kind of connection, one to be experienced and not too quickly resolved. The good projected onto the analyst is often so idealized and so far removed from reality that the only way the envier has of connecting to it is by attack. The envier in these moments knows a Luciferian despair of ever being able to receive from or give to the good. That is when the envier is tempted to disavow the good altogether and indulge in an orgy of wrecking. At best, the envier scores a psychic victory, leaving him feeling burned-out and in despair.
The analyst must move carefully here, choosing between experiencing a patient’s attacks and not putting up with them, for the patient is really terrified that his spoiling tactics will succeed and will ruin the relationship to the analyst. At periodic points an analyst must just stop the wrecking and guard the analytic connection from the perils of “acting out.”17 The patient is testing to see whether the relationship is strong enough to withstand the hating envy. Security is gained only when reliable limits are set, those strong enough to be banged against and still survived.
The place envy occupies in our psyches and its effects on our development show three possible routes. At its worst, envying uses up a lot of psychic energy and interrupts development in major ways. It produces a state of confusion between good and bad objects. Attacking the good, as we have seen, replaces actually taking it in, and leaves our inner world devoid of the nurturing objects with which the nascent ego can identify and form its own strong core. Like Lucifer, we resent the fact that we are ourselves not the origin of good, that we do not control and own it, and we angrily refuse it, quitting the scene to set up a realm where we can rule instead.
When this envying occurs at a very young age, a child’s ego never adequately consolidates or masters the processes of give-and-take with the warmth or support carried by others, or the liveliness and comfort offered to the child in images from its own unconscious. Instead, envying undercuts the whole process and diverts energy into complicated and wasteful defenses in which the good is seen as bad and the bad as good. These defenses often proceed to manufacture a narcissistic character disorder, a schizoid condition, or even a full-sized paranoia that may reach psychotic proportions.The major blow to the psyche falls on the ego, which cannot form a core of identity securely in touch with others and open to spontaneous images from the unconscious. Instead, the ego must guard itself and surreptitiously scheme to get what it thinks it needs to survive. It is poor in identity, as terrible a poverty as we can face.
Melanie Klein describes the sad fate of such an impoverished ego which, failing to take in the good must attack it instead. Envying is then taken up by the superego, which grows unduly harsh and assails the individual’s assertive and creative capacities in retaliation. If we try to make a good object into an ideal, all-perfect one, we feel even more abandoned. We see it as too good to be true; it seems to be mocking us from its superior height, like king to peasant. As the gap widens, envy grows and sets out to dethrone the good.
Envy interferes with any effort to make amends or restitution, lest one really does repair the object and lose one’s superiority to it. One ends up feeling guilty, and worse, hopeless, about a way out. For if the good object is acknowledged as good or restored to its undamaged state, then its very goodness incites a new envying and the vicious cycle starts all over again
Cinderella can be read to describe our intrapsychic drama of shadow versus ego. In moments of stress, or as a result of analytic treatment, these envious feelings may come to light, bringing with them intense anxiety, sometimes reaching to psychosis. In this route, envy exists in a pocket of our personality, draining energy from the rest, but not interrupting our growth directly. For example, the guilty feelings (themselves unconscious) aroused by our unconscious envying restrict the pleasure or success or creativity we can allow ourselves. We cannot claim our own identity. If we want to be all of ourselves, or if life forces us to confront all of ourselves, our envying emotions will come to the fore. Then we must work them through. If we do not claim the envy, its presence will unseat the security of all our relations, to ourselves and to others. For envy, always lurking in the background, can at any point break through and poison all interactions.
The sorts of experience that put us under stress and require us to face our hidden pockets of envy can just as well be good experiences as bad. Any attempt at intimacy, for example, really to know and be known by another, to experience parenthood with its demanding intermixings with a child, to use our imagination really to pray – all will bring pressure on our personality, forcing us to acknowledge and to integrate our unconscious envy. On the other hand, efforts to claim, work through, and assimilate our envy can bring great increases of energy – now no longer siphoned off into negative attacks – and a greater capacity to value and to love others because our envy no longer needs to spoil their goodness.
The last route that envy can take is easiest of all, because here envy is modified and even healed by feelings of what Klein calls gratitude. Gratitude includes gratification, a feeling of satisfaction at being in the hands of the good, knowing how pleasing being given to and filled up can be. One takes in the good and feels it living inside as part of one’s ego. The good seems close now, not distant and unapproachable. We are emboldened to take in more. Gratification increases and envy decreases, because we experience the good as given to us, as part of us, as really available. Instead of envying it and needing to spoil it, we want to emulate the good. This engenders the use and development of our own assertive creative capacities. Weexperience the good as quite within our reach. A benevolent linearity replaces the vicious circle of envying and destruction of what we envy. In Jungian language, this last route of envy can be understood as the ego’s experience of the self as a constant spur to respond to the self’s continued unfolding. The self moves the ego to new experience, and the ego’s reception and concretization of new bits of the self ground the interaction between them. In theological language, the ego continues to incarnate the self.
In a startling way, the experiences of the envied and the envier are greatly alike. Both feel invalidated as subjects, turned into someone else’s thing, mere objects. Both feel helpless to fix the broken relationship and dependent on the other to repair it. Both feel emptied of goodness. Both feel dread of anything good, which is seen as putting then into a position where their identities can be obliterated. They seem so much the same and yet they are very different beings. The obvious questions are, What do they do? What do we do?
Envy of The Good
Cinderella and her sisters differ sharply in their responses to goodness, although both feel empty of goodness. Cinderella’s mother is dead and her father absent and she is constantly exposed to the persecutions of her stepmother and sisters. The sisters, lacking a father, have only a negative mother who conscripts them into her power plays. They feel a corroding resentment toward Cinderella. But here the similarities cease. For Cinderella directly, openly suffers her loss of the good. She allows herself to feel her hunger. She weeps her sorrow. She wishes for good. The sisters refuse to experience their emptiness. Instead they hurl it in accusations of blame onto Cinderella. It is her fault they feel awful. They deny their own suf fering and to the extent that they acknowledge its existence at all, turn it into someone else’s malevolent doing. They flee their own being. Their hunger as a result can never be appeased, because it is never fully admitted. Fury replaces the suffering of that lack within themselves. Good, which is being, is responsible for their bad, which is beinglessness.
Denial of the good quickly leads to hatred of the good. The pseudo doers of the world, determined to keep hidden their dependence upon those who really get things done, put themselves in the paradoxical position of hating something – goodness – which they deny even exists. The effect is maddening. One of its results is scapegoating.
The suffering servant is always the ideal candidate for the role of scapegoat. He or she, incarnate God or fairy-tale figure – has an immense dignity that cannot easily be dismissed as mere pomp or the clothing of high office. The servant seeks neither power nor position. The very weakness and shabbiness of the servant is his or her strength. There is simply no mistaking the authority of a Jesus in his setting or a Cinderella in hers. They stand as constant challenges to those around them for whom the only affirmation is denial, to whom the unassailable goodness of suffering servants is an open invitation to perform every possible violence upon them.
Cinderella stays with her being – her experience of hunger for the good, her desire to be flled up. Out of this being, even though it is painful, arises a doing that brings her close to the good. Cinderella longs for the ball just as earlier she longed for love and nourishment from her departed mother. She holds to the good she has and wants more. She does not deny her emptiness any more than she denies her partial fulfillment, as far as it goes.
What is so hard for envious people to accept is the good they have known, however small. They are overcome by their emptiness and make it even emptier by throwing from awareness the small fulfillments they do possess. Cinderella shows us the right attitude. She can still desire and reach toward what she does not have while holding on to what she does have. The sisters, in contrast, disown their being, cover their hunger by false feeding, getting Cinderella to run here and there for different foods and dress and service. They pretend they are not hungry, not empty and miserable, insisting on their superiority. They dread admitting their desire for the good and dependence on it. Out of that dread springs their pseudo doing and persecution of the good. They take offense at it, deny its reality, hide from its presence, and are certain they will never be given anything.
The goodness of the servant is unassailable, but the physical person is not. What begins as envy ends in ritual violence. The suffering servant becomes a class or race of undesirable, unwanted persons. A systematic metaphysics of class or race warfare follows, justifying every form of segregation and, ultimately, of extinction. The theoretical statement is followed by more practical treatises remaking whatever is necessary to support the metaphysics – in history, anthropology, economics, psychology. or theology. Then after a suitable interval, trial,
imprisonment, and execution follow.
In the nineteenth century and earlier, the time between the assertion of the theory and the translation of it into physical violence was fairly long, long enough to make escape possible. That is one reason why in earlier times there was such a large number of suffering servants in exile, and mixed with the true servants of goodness, such a quantity of pseudo servants who could develop their own metaphysics and warfare of envy from the safety of their banishment. In this century, the gap between theory and practice has been closed. Holocausts come quickly. Concentration camps are prefabricated. A gulag archipelago can come into being almost as spontaneously as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption.
Of course, the spontaneity of an earthquake or volcano is a surface effect. That sort of destruction has antecedents that reach back into prehistory – perhaps, if the enthusiastic rhetoric of cosmologists is correct, billions of years back. The scapegoating to which envy often leads also has ancient roots, primordial in fact. The dread of the good is at the very cen- ter of human evil and is in some ways the most puzzling of all the elements of the mystery of evil. But some parts of it, as with all the great mysteries, are clear. Wherever our allegiance may be in the camps of philosophy, whatever our theological position, we cannot easily deny the fact that dread of the good means dread of being. Those who stand so firmly in these ranks, not simply against goodness but utterly opposed to those who are good, are shaken by being itself;, they fear it as intensely as they do death.
Those who are against goodness and thus against being, the great deniers for whom Cinderella’s stepsisters are exemplary, are not as a result eager for their own extinction. Far from it. It is the death of others that their envy covets. They cannot take up their own being with any satisfaction. Why, then, should others do so well with theirs? The politics of envy follows from this: Do unto others what they would not do unto you. What makes this position so terrifying in the modern world is that it is so heavily buttressed by theory, so total in its violent reach across the differences of human personality to being itself that it becomes an unshakable creed and way of life. Negative affirmation rules all. The cogito formula becomes, “I envy, therefore I am,” or “I hate, therefore I am.” And this visceral conviction comes to replace the motivation of being. Those who live by it live only by shunning the good where the good is most pronounced, in those who exemplify it. They live, as Cinderella’s sisters do, by suppressing the lives of others.
Cinderella, in contrast, actively seeks the good. She not only longs for it, but goes out after it. She misses her absent father and opens herself to love, without any guarantee of finding it.
In theological terms, she corresponds to the good given her by gratefully accepting the gifts of the fairy godmother. That is precisely what the envious person finds hard to do. As one patient said, “l want the analysis to work and I don’t want it to work, because you might get credit for it.” Cinderella uses her energy in the right way. At no point does she engage in a toe-to-toe struggle with her enviers. She goes about her business, looking everywhere for the good. When it comes she accepts it and enjoys it. No masochist, she. She is a receiving woman, who welcomes being and goes out to meet it. She loves the silks, the jewels, the golden coach and liveried footmen. She eats at the ball. She dances. She responds to the prince. She takes her chances wholeheartedly, without measuring, without trying to guarantee their outcome. She shows herself in finery and accepts admiration. No false modesty, no hiding in the cor- ner, no swelled head. She wants to meet the prince, and having met him, wants to love him and receive his love. But not at the expense of her real self. She returns to her rags and gives up any reliance on magic, in order to be seen as she really is, in all her parts, including the lowlier and dirtier parts of her personality, the bad alongside the good. The prince must find her there. Still, when he does come to find her, she steps out to be found; no hanging back, no sniveling excuses. She accepts his claiming of her and gladly joins him in marriage.
In some versions, Cinderella, while still the mysterious beauty at the ball, shares the goodness that has come her way with her envious sisters. She feeds them oranges, which she knows they particularly like. This detail in the story portrays a potential turning point for the sisters and for the envying side in all of us that they represent. They take the food from Cinderella because they do not recognize her. She has never really been seen by the sisters, who can barely see themselves. It is no wonder, then, that they admire this beautiful princess who actually does see them. They marvel at her goodness in sharing herself with them, thrilled that she notices them and gives them fruit. Here the sisters change their relation to the good for a little while because goodness is presented to them from a great distance, far enough away so that they can accept the bare fact of its existence and allow it to deal with them. They do not see the value of the envied one until she comes as a stranger and a mystery. Then their admiration for the good pours forth. Cinderella’s transformation occasions their own, and for a little while they feed on it.
This kind of shift in being must occur in the envious person: a shift from the resentful questioning of being, “Who has the good instead of me?” to a forthright: “Where is it? Let me look at it! Let me take it in!” It is almost as if the good has to become depersonalized, more abstract, more general, a mystery we share in common rather than one person’s possession, before enviers develop admiration for it in place of their dread. They need to disidentify from the good as a personal possession, even if it is one they lack. They must recognize the good as a reality in its own right. For the envied, however, this does not last long. Cinderella is discovered again by her sisters after the ball. They hate her once again just as much as before. Even Jesus, who kept saying: “Why do you call me good? I am not good. Only he who sent me is good,” could not unseat lethal projections. With him their full potential knew realization: his enviers put him to death. But goodness was not killed; resurrection followed.
Goodness is never killed. Resurrections of one kind or another always follow the violernce that claims a suffering servant as its victim. We have much to learn here from the primitive societies that built their order and very survival upon the transformation of violence into a sacred ritual. Whether through deliberate sacrifice of life, human or animal, or the use of sexuality or drugs, one way or another these societies recognized the need to shelter and concentrate their destructive impulses. They saw, sometimes with full consciousness of what they were doing, that order could be established and continuity be assured with the use of a real or symbolic victim. The language of the ritual might speak of the appeasement of the angry gods, but clearly what was being assuaged was the anger of the people themselves – and more than anger, the bloodlust, the greed for power, the need to control the elements, the drive to feel a new strength within themselves and the hatred and envy of those who seemed not to have their need nor to feel anger or greed.
We do not have to emulate the violent sacrifices demanded in primitive rituals to share the insights that provoked them. We can come with something more than mere curiosity or intellectual titillation to our anthropological inquiries. We can look for the enduring truths that are thrown back at us when we stir the primordial waters. Perhaps we can come to see the wisdom of the primitive cultures that understood the feelings of ordinary people when confronted by those extraordinary men and women among them who were not consumed by anger or greed or their own weakness in the face of natural catastrophe. The wisdom resides in their recognition that one way or another the strength of the suffering servant would have to be gathered up, taken in, and shared by the rest. We may find ourselves horrified still at the solution – the sacrificial procedures – that this wisdom ordained. We must not as a result lose sight of the wisdom itself. For the truth remains: we must still find a way to take in and share the strengths of our suffering servants. The failure to do so does not bring an end to violence, ritual violence or any other. Now, instead of the sacrifice of one victim, real or symbolic, we have genocide, in which symbolism plays no recognizable part at all and the only certainty is that millions of people will be killed.
Each of the massive conflicts of the twentieth century has had as its excuse the promise of an end to such conflicts, and in each case violence has prepared the way for more violence. In spite of all that we have learned or at least thought we had learned – in modern anthropology and psychology, we still approach each of our wars and revolutions as if it were merely political or economic. In spite of what should be the most convincing evidence of all – end- less carnage, destroyed cities, concentration camps the nostrums remain the same. Change the politics. Reform the economics. Make over society by giving the people power. How? Through Congress or the Supreme Soviet or the revolutionary tribunal that will rule when the movement – whatever the movement may be – takes over. As if power can be legislated or passed on by committee decree. As if sheer desire, once organized into the rituals and rhetoric of a movement, can be satisfied simply because it has been organized. Are the rites of primitive societies so much more senseless by comparison? Is even an abominably treated scapegoat in such societies to be compared to the scapegoating of whole peoples?
We cannot return to the precise procedures of primitive societies for all sorts of reasons, not the least of them the fact that in our peculiar civilization we are made queasy by the deliberate killing of a single victim. And yet we can somehow live, after a momentary discomfort, with holocausts. No, we cannot return to ritual sacrifice, but we can make good use of what we know about the violence that still lives within us. Unacknowledged, it effects its own sacrifices, finds victims all over the place with remarkably little difficulty. Faced, as it is some of the time in the rituals of psychotherapy, it can be put to some valuable use. If we make the connection between the internal violence of envy, for example, and the external savagery it causes, we can move some of the way toward containing it and giving its energies positive purpose. We can gather up the strengths of our suffering servants and share them. But we must do so with full consciousness. Otherwise our goodnesses do not survive in us as they must. We postpone our resurrections at a terrible cost.
In Cinderella’s case, we do not know the outcome for certain. In one version, the sisters overcome their envy to take the goodness Cinderella offers in bringing them to live with her at court. In other versions, they undergo transformation of their attitude to the good. Two-Eyes’ sisters, for example, can keep the magic fruit tree to help them learn a more loving attitude to their sister, now their future queen-to-be. In other examples, the sisters’ envy destroys their sight. The good mother’s spirit in the form of a bird pecks out their eyes, suggesting they have lost the capacity to see the good and all possible insight into it, knowing goodness only as persecutory. In an analysis that fails to heal envy, it is painful to see goodness clearly offered and equally clearly refused. The envier goes hungry and the one who wants to nourish is left helpless.
Just as the perspective of depth psychology throws new light on our experience of envy, so a religious perspective illuminates the background issues that make envy such a devilish trap. It is much harder, for example, to heal a patient’s unconscious wish to defeat treatment when that wish results from envy than when it springs from a superego that demands punishment for every success. Such a superego presupposes a set of values existing in the patient, values that can be modified, whereas envy points to a gaping hole in the patient’s personality, where no one has yet come to be. The traditional religious notion of envy as sin illuminates what that gaping hole is and its destructive effects on the self.
At first glance, envy seems to differ from other sins because they each point to a goal in itself not evil, except when indulged to excess. Gluttony is hunger gone wild, for example. Lust is sexual desire run rampant. Anger is self-assertion enraged. In contrast, envy presents itself as feeling demeaned by another’s good fortune and wanting to belittle the other’s good to protect oneself. Envy wants to make something alive into something dead. Envy looks hard for evil in another person and takes great satisfaction in finding it. On closer inspection, however, envy reveals itself as more, as fierce attraction to the good at the same time that it resists the good, a wrestling finally with God, the source of the good.
Scripture refers to envy as a recognizable and treacherous emotion. The Philistines envy Isaac (Gen. 26:14). Rachel envies her sister (Gen.
30:1). Joseph’s brothers envy him (Gen. 37:11). The psalmist counsels against envy (Ps. 37:1), and Proverbs advises against giving way to it (Prov. 24:1, 19). The deadly effect of envy clearly is feared: “Wrath killeth … and envy slayeth” (Job 5:2); “Envy is the rottenness of the bones” (Prov. 14:30); “Who is able to stand before envy?” (Prov. 27:4). The Hebrew word for envy, qin’ah, means a burning, the color produced in the face by deep emotion, reflecting sorrow that others have what we want. The Greek zeros, zeal, in its envious form means carrying things to excess, being inconsiderate of self as well as other. Phthonos, another Greek word for envy in the New Testament, characterizes the unredeemed life and the spirit that crucified Christ (Matt. 27:18, Mark 15: 10).
Envy, understandably, has few proponents, however many may be secretly enlisted in its service. For Aristotle, one of the first to give it its place in a systematic exanination of moral behavior, envy is intrinsically evil. It has no neutral zone for him, as, for example, anger does. Envy clearly condemns a man because it is so untouched by what either the envied or the envying really deserve. And Aristotle’s reasoning is followed, with suitable variations to allow for time and place and temperament, by almost all who take it up, almost always briefly, as if to say, “Let me rid myself of this poisonous substance.’
For Spinoza, envy is “hatred itself,” the pain one feels in another’s good fortune and the pleasure one may take in the other’s suffering. Hobbes is content to array envy alongside emulation in his spearing of the appetites of Leviathan: we merely emulate when we join our grief at “the success of a Competitor in wealth, honour, or other good … with Endeavour to enforce our own abilities to equal or exceed him”; when we assuage the grief with our attempt “to supplant, or hinder a Competitor,” we envy.
Hume follows Descartes in classifying envy as a passion and recognizing some of the psychological constraints that lead to it. He sees the special pain for men in watching their “inferiors … approaching or overtaking them in the pursuit of glory or happiness.” And this we feel
particularly strongly in people close to us in character or social rank or profession.
Though envy is for Descartes a vice and “a perversion of nature,” he sees some excuse in the passion that arises when the “less worthy” possess a good that we seek, as long as we confine our hatred to “the bad distribution of the good which we envy, and not to the persons who possess it or distribute it.” Only a rare form of generosity and justice will counteract theMhatred we feel in such situations. But understarnding this, Descartes must also insist on the misery of envy – “there is no vice which so detracts from the happiness of men” both for those who feel envy and for those with whom they share their bilious company. He is punctilious about the medical details as he has observed them: envy properly enough is called livor in Latin, which means a leaden color, “one of mingled yellow and black like battered blood,”
an effect Descartes says he himself has observed.
Whether or not the envious can always be discovered by their livid color, they are sad lot whose spiritual complexion is unmistakable. The 1967 Catechism of the Dutch Catholics, famous for its tolerance and warmth, has very little to say about envy. The definition is only too
clear and the color only too evident: Possibly the ugliest and most abhorrent of all sins is envy – to be vexed at seeing other people being happy. This is really a sin against life. As the saying goes, people go green with jealousy – the colour which is most in contrast to the complexion of health.
The language in Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica brings the whole tradition togethe, from Aristotle through the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers to the moderns, without the color of either medicine or literature. Envy is one of the vices opposed to charity, taking its place alongside hatred and “sadness touching spiritual and supernatural good,” and ranking with “discord within the soul, wrangling and fighting, schism, strife, sedition, warfare.” It is sadness, like the distaste for spiritual things which Thomas discusses in this same dismal category, and it occasions even in his dry text a tincture of compassion. A mortal sin that yields “numberless” other sins as one tries to avoid it or to follow where it leads, it sires, the Summist tells us, “obloquy, detraction, gladness in the adversities of our neighbour, affliction at his prosperity, and hatred.”
In envy, we do not focus on a speific goodness in another’s being. Nor do we focus on the actual desire evoked in us that may activate the development of a matching goodness in ourselves. Rather, we focus on a missing quality – the absence in ourselves of what we spy in our neighbor – or we concentrate on our wish to obliterate that same quality in our neighbor, to make the something that is there into nothing. We fall away from spontaneous admiration to ruminate on what does not exist or on how we can extinguish what does exist. Cinderella’s sisters whine about what is absent, not what is present. They want to smash Cinderella because of what they do not have.
Sin involves will. It is an active urging against the existence of good, whether in oneself or another. For that reason, in exploring envy as sin we begin with the envier rather than the envied. Envying reflects our despair of ever getting hold of the good.
Approaching envy through the experience of envying allows us to examine the effects of envy on the envier and to find an analogy in the suffering of the envied one to the plight of the good. We begin with the sisters’ position and move to see Cinderella as a female Christ figure,
hardly divine, but a true suffering servant and scapegoat. For it is the good that the envier refuses, a refusal that skews the relation of Creator to creature, that is always mirrored in the relation of envied to envier. In both, relation to the good is broken because a basic orientation to being has been falsified. Recovery of connection to the good depends, finally, upon repair of that fundamental tie to being that has been wounded. To effect a cure, we need to recapit- ulate the whole wounding experience. We must move from investigating the effects of refusal of the good upon the envier to the fate of the good itself.
Goodness, finally, comprises the only solace for envy, that same goodness which aroused envy in the first place. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor feels his lips burning with Christ’s kiss, his only answer to the Inquisitor’s passionate rejection of what the Messiah has offered
humanity. But after the kiss he feels he must let Jesus go, even though he had planned to kill him. Kierkegaard says only the good in its silent presence can compel the trimmer, the shut-up neutered person, to speak. How then does goodness bring solace to our envious heart? How does it save us from envy? By sheer presence.
The presence of goodness effects a fundamental change in us, moving us toward repentance, consent and correspondence to its grace. Repentance is always painful, for it means an embarrassing about-face. We must turn around and look at the same thing from a different point of view, one we could not have even thought or imagined before. Repentance brings with it shock, as we look hard, with new eyes, at the old thing. Envy, which we felt before as a corroding emotion scarring the surface of our self-esteem as it ate into any good feeling we might have for the other, now appears as a herald of the good. Whether the envy comes from us or toward us, it is a signal now of recognizing goodness, even if negative. We enter through the back door into the presence of the good. We smell it, sense it over there. We feel alerted to its presence, as animals sensing a stranger in the dark. We wish at all costs to avoid envy. We learn to analyze it, to reduce its effects. We welcome envy now as a pointer to the good. That is a turning around!
This new set of perceptions clearly illustrates the conjunction of the spiritual and the psychological. For, finally, we must accept what comes to us in our spiritual life, what is really there in us, and confess it, if only to ourselves. Psychological analysis of the roots and effects
of envy helps enormously in this hard task, but it rarely can accomplish or complete it by it- self. Deep analysis can open to us the dark secret life of envy, the way it betrays us in our despair, where we see ourselves as worthless and unwanted. But such clarity does not bring healing. The healing comes from a radical change of place, which psychoanalytical insight surely encourages. But the actual changing of our place issues only from our spiritual center. With a gasp, we change our stance, find our departure point radically altered, though we are never really clear about how we got from there to here.
This is the mystery of repentance. We pray for it, knowing that repentance is a gift. We do not make it by ourselves; we are shocked by it and speak of its “before” and “after” qualities. We feel rescued by it; we know why it must be called a grace. Repentance has a familiar and alien texture. We feel established in a new place in relation to
whatever we repent. We see our envy with new eyes. Whereas, before envy separated us from the good, we see now that it brought us to it. Envy pointed to the goodness there, somewhere in the person we envied or, miraculously, here, present in ourselves. We do not focus now on who has the good but on the fact that it exists. Envy becomes a doorway to the good. How very far from its old ways! The sin of taking offense at the good has been transformed into thesin that opens to the grace of seeing the good.
We reach this way to the primordial source of faith in being which some of us see as antecedent to everything else in human yearning. We are striving somehow, in the shock of repentance, to appease the hunger for self which is at the beginning of everything for us, looking for even the wispiest sense of our own self. The enlarged image of himself that we grow toward, as the philosopher R. G. Collingwood stresses, is our first perception of God. It is a more important understanding of God than fear provides and probably comes first. We can- not really do more than grope toward it when we are still deeply possessed by envy, but as repentance mounts and grace falls on us we recognize that a lovable otherness exists not only in God but in us ourselves. We see the possibility of overcoming the loneliness which envy enforces and which has until now been so enervating in our lives. We begin to gather strength. “Loneliness is a kind of weakness,” as Collingwood says, “and attachment is a kind of strength; but a special kind. Strength as such, the strength that a hungry man wants, is his
own strength, the strength of a self which he is. This new kind of strength is a strength he borrows from something else, the strength of something he has.” The “something,” the “other thing,” Collingwood calls our “second self.”
It is a marvelous beginning we make here because it has such an intriguing movement, dou- bling back on itself, moving down to move up, moving up to move in. We are called out of self, in envious preoccupation with the achievement and success and appeal of others, in order to be called back into selfas we recognize in our second self the strength which we possess, the strength which we are. There we may find, at least in the most rudimentary terms, the God who gave us our strength.
But this is only a beginning and it has its dangers. We may find ourselves so caught up in the newly discovered strength that we have room for nothing else. “Look,” we keep saying to ourselves, like Scrooge discovering Christmas, “look at the good in me! See what I am, see what I can do!” And we can do a great deal and it is good. But it is not yet all there, all in place.
Envy, which springs from an emptiness of being, has made us lonely, weak, and slothful about our own gifts. Now, we have a way of flling the loneliness, of acquiring force and energy. But they will remain mere abstractions to us and lead to an even greater loneliness and despondency if we do not stop to reflect on the whole astonishing process in which we have been caught up. We must accept as part of our reality the envy that so gripped us until now and narrowed our lives, just as we take in the possibility of escape from envy and the expansion of our lives that will bring with it. Envy remains near to us, but positively near now, where in the past it was negatively near. It is a movement within us now that, properly nurtured, may bring more strength and an even greater enlargement of self.
The nearness of envy comes in many new ways. Cinderella and her sisters are two parts of one envy complex. As we said in Part One (pp. 77-79), each of them must recognize the opposite emotion within her. The envied one must open to the possibility of envying, and the envier to the possibility of being envied, for each emotion circulates around the same presence of the good and dread of it. Each one, looking at the good from an unaccustomed point of view, must reach to the whole conflict within herself, no longer parceling out half of it onto the other.
For each of us, it may be a little different, but we all must come to terms with some un-claimed emotion around envy. Some of us who are envied do not respond with envy, but know, sadly, the emptiness and loss of self-esteem envy inflicts. In order to avoid envious attack, we may disavow our own good self. For example, a woman recalls recurrent childhood experiences of feeling happy and alive about something and having others attack her, saying: “Oh, you just think you’re so great!” She would think, “l shouldn’t be so happy, when really I’m no good at all.” And then she would let go of the good things she felt happy about.
Although such a reaction makes sense, we must see how wrong it is to let go of any part of the good. It is our own act, not just a reaction to something done to us. We are ourselves responsible, no matter how greatly provoked. Even if our parents, for example, did not stand by our real self, and thereby established a bad procedure that we introjected and imitated, we must also see where we ourselves deserted our true self and abandoned it out of fear of envy and thereby contributed to our inner emptiness. It is both a practical matter to recognize our desertion of self and a philosophical one. We have no chance of reclaiming our abandoned selves if we do not admit that, in the final reckoning, we left them out, we let them go, no one else. We have every chance of admitting what must be admitted when we see that what we have been dealing with is evil and that it is evil’s special quality to appear to be and not to be at the same time. This is its defining mystery.
The only way of facing it is, as Gabriel Marcel points out in a handsome refurbishing of a Kierkegaardian paradox: “Evil is real. We cannot deny its reality without diminishing the basic seriousness of existence and thus falling into a kind of nonsense, a dreadful buffoonery. And
yet evil is not real absolutely speaking.” Evil, he is saying, as so many since Augustine have said, is the privation of being, and yet it is very much with us, more alive in its denials than many other things in their affirmations. What do we do, then, with this acknowledged evil? We turn from it, not, as Marcel suggests, with “certitude, but rather a faith in the possibility of overcoming it – not abstractly, of course, by adhering to a theory or theodicy, but hic et nunc” – here and now, in the immediacy of our emptiness.
It is a privileged process, for it confirms the positive element in that negativity which must at some time or another afflict all of us. It is what sustains us, if we are daring enough to think about all we can do in the light of what we have not done. “And what would we be,” Marcel
asks, “and what would the diffhcult journeying which is our very way of existing be, without the light, which is so easy both to see and to miss, and which lights every man who comes into the world?”
Envy, then, is a movement into the light. Its darkness is a means of revelation, which does not mean that we should bless it- if by that we mean how glad we are that it exists. But, in another sense, of course we must bless it, for it does both exist and not exist in the terrible paradoxical way of evil, and we must give thanks as we claim the gathering of feeling in us around envy, as we make room for the goodness which is a presence of being to replace the absence of being which is evil.
As envied ones we must accept the violent negative reactions stirred up by the intrusion of another’s envy as revealing something about our own character. Many of us, when envied, want to retaliate, feeling hate, wishing to hurt the other as we have been hurt. We have a desire to push everything away, which can extend even to repudiating the good in ourselves that occasioned another’s envy. But we must claim our hate as our own, not entirely created by others even if elicited by them. It is something arising from ourselves that we must consciously acknowledge and assume as our responsibility. Such conscious acceptance of our own pushing away from the good comprises the concreteness of our confession.
When we accept what we have done, and fully acknowledge our negative feelings for the envier, we can connect to the envier, who bursts with similar emotional experiences. We can forge a link to something opposite to us that had before remained unknown to us. We now know in ourselves some of the torments envy can stir up. To confess this knowledge means to carry it as our burden, no longer to experience it as a neighbor’s burden thrust on us. Now we willingly take it up and share in its carrying.
To repent such attitudes means to own them and recognize that we have been only too willing ourselves to discard that troublesome goodness which attracts envy and embroils us in our own kind of hatred in response. The repentance introduces a radical change in us. Where there was only conscious dread of the good, there now is a warm expectation of it. No longer is the goodness just a happy possession which might bring pleasure to the one who owns it. Almost any good quality takes on a presence before us that is fearful and wonderful. We see that goodness constellates evil, that it sheds enough light for us to see the darkness. The en- vied one totally experiences and admits to – the temptation to refuse the good in order to avoid the onslaught of evil it brings with it. We lose our innocence.
Similarly, when we envy we must reach to the opposite side, connecting to the good that arouses such envy. Whether it is in us or the other, the good is there and must be accepted and wherever possible admired. Instead of sinking down into despondency at our lack of what another possesses in such abundance, we must reach toward that plenty with all the wonder and pleasure it can arouse.
We must recognize that we prefer our version of ideal good, perfect good, cure-all good, too-good-to-be-true good, to goodness it- self. The envier begins to catch sight of the perspective of the envied one, and through the envied one of goodness itself. This is a sorrowing goodness that feels the attacks against itself, a suffering goodness that enters into the miseries of those caught in evil, a good-enough goodness that survives all the fear, dread, and envy unleashed against it. No longer can the envier set up goodness as a prize to be snatched, a talisman to banish all hardship. No more of “If only I had had the advantages you had, then I would have. …” The good takes the hardship into itself, persisting despite the fact that it is persecuted, despised, or rejected.
Goodness continues to turn toward us as a living presence, though ambiguous, shadowed, sometimes even hidden. Seeing this, the envier can consciously recognize the temptation envy really represents against goodness, the evasions, the ploys, the elaborate dodges to avoid the good. The envier can now contemplate the possibility of just receiving the good as it is, looking at it, opening to it, feeling it and the changes it brings.
Goodness displays itself as the linking of the most unlikely parts together: male and female, body and spirit, death and life. The envy between the sexes is gathered into the figure of Christ who, as male, in the Eucharist feeds us like a female, out of his own flesh and blood. We are knit into his body, as Lady Julian puts it, where he gives birth to us, each of us, waiting on us like a patient mother until we are all, in each part, caught up into the life of the spirit. The spir- it enters our bodies like food – to be chewed, swallowed, drunk; to nourish our feebleness
into strength. It is a new life that still includes suffering, loss, even death.
The good does not annihilate the bad but binds it up and brings us through it into something different. What seemed an inevitable result is transmuted into the operation of new creative forces. What seemed lost is refigured as found; what was broken, as mended; what was damned, as forgiven. The good does not banish evil or death, but it does persist. It does not quit any of us, but enters us undefeated, as itself, shining like the pearl or the potent seed. Its insistence on its presence and its appearance in the most unlikely places give weight to those words of Paul that neither principalities nor powers, neither death nor life, can separate us from the love of God. disjointed lives and those of others. They had dealt with epilepsy, violent stomach disorders, and what they saw as inordinate sexual desire or excessive need for political power and personal preferment. They knew human limitations well and, more important, they knew how to be enlarged by those limitations and to triumph over them. To their listeners and readers, those close to them in physical or historic existence, what they were talking about was entirely recognizable. They were convincing, not because their audiences were more credulous than later generations, but because they spoke with the unmistakable conviction of experience – their own and that of those around them – of a towering goodness, of a deeply planted and all but instinctive virtue. For them, this was reality at least as much as sin, and the essential reason for condemning and moving to extirpate all those human frailties and fallibilities that get in the way of such a productive goodness.
In a secularist age, the language of virtue wears a smirk. The goodness it seeks to make commendable belongs in fairy tales. It is simply not convincing to most people. But still they go on reading fairy tales, or their even less persuasive imitations, Gothic romances, or whatever form of love adventure may at any moment catch their fancy. And they go on dreaming. In both the realm of consciousness and the realm of the unconscious, Cinderella and Prince Charming retain their hallowed roles. The suffering servant and the noble rescuer may walk less openly among us, but they have not disappeared and they will never go very far away. We need what they bring us symbolically. We have to hope this way, to believe that flesh-and. blood human beings can bring a palpable goodness into our world. We demand our Christ figures, large-scale or small-scale, with or without a varnish of romance. We fight this way against all the fragmentation of our lives, the massive destruction and the trivial. We look to some way to hold the pieces together, to effect a marriage of the parts that cannot exist except in devastating disharmony unless united. We look to someone. It may even be ourselves.
Goodness connects all the parts – and all the people – when it is allowed to do so. That is why the familiar image of the realm of God as city or community endures; we understand that what is really good is shared by all inhabitants. Goodness, when we go out to meet it, no longer seems an object possessed by one sector to the exclusion of another. It is shared or it does not exist at all.
When goodness is envisioned as a community, we mean we are in communion with one an- other, sharing the same food and drink, feeling an interpenetration of our distinct selves, the parts that make up the human whole. Selves neither withdraw into isolated separateness nor fuse together, losing their individual identity. Interdependence replaces infantile dependence on others. We still have needs; they are unavoidable and appropriate parts of our human condition. We carry and experience them, suffer them, if necessary. At our best, we answer them in each other and find them answered in ourselves. Either/or gives way to both/and, as a story of the feast of heaven makes clear. In it, an abundance of food stands before an assembled people. Unhappily, all of the people have a basket-like contraption fastened to both their hands, so that when they try to scoop up the lovely food the basket stops the hand from reaching the mouth. The basket is too long, too big, too clumsy.
Heaven is the discovery that each person can partake of the plenty when he feeds his neighbor, for the baskets are perfectly designed to reach from one self to the other, and all can be handsomely fed that way. Envy is now matched by relief that others do what we cannot or will not; we can rely on their goodness when our own falls short, can depend on their accomplishments when we reach the limits of our own. We are no longer under pressure to do it all ourselves but can share in what others can do. On a small scale, this experience of sharing and interdependence is felt by parents, each of whom counts on the other to provide for their child what one alone cannot do. And when there is only one parent, a matching contribution can be made by an older child, a relative, a close friend. These are the essential links that make life livable.
So it goes with all sharing: the skill of one person supplements that of another. One friend provides a softening another lacks. Coauthors move in and out of a subject according to their skills, reaching into their separate resources as chamber musicians and acrobats do, and knowing them as complete when they are brought together. Human life seems possible then only if shared and carried together. Like a circle of hands and faces, we survive because we are linked, each one with each other, some close and touching, some a short distance across the
way, some just within viewing distance communication by letter or phone, but all connected, person to person. We do not bemoan the fact that some have and others have not, but rejoice that as each one has and has not, we can make up for our deficits through the over- flowing gifts of others as they can enjoy the flowing over from ourselves to fill in their defi- ciencies. Mutuality is both an overflow out of abundance and a supplement, even out of a meager supply, to make up for each other’s lacks.
We are tutored in mutuality by the example of the arts. When a piece of music works, it works part by part, each fragment fitting into the others with precision, whether it is the end- less flow of materials drawn with such economy from a stated theme in a Mozart concerto movement or aria, or, say, the deft crabwise side-mirroring in a Schoenberg twelve-tone composition. When we look at the huge gatherings of details – people and things, textures and colors – in a Brueghel painting, we see every bit fall into place without any one of them losing its individual life. If we move brushstroke by brushstroke into the anatomy of a Cézanne still life, we recognize how each one of the painter’s applications achieves an almost independent power while contributing unmistakably to the strength and conviction of all the others and the finished whole.
In a poem, a novel, a play, a film, quality is accomplished by that interdependence of parts which it is the privilege of a knowing reader or spectator to take in and in some way or another hold on to. The goodness that establishes and defines being is a gathering of parts in this way. It brings us presences that depend upon each other, recognizing as we do in appreciation of another’s accomplishments that such dependence does not diminish us in any way. On the contrary, we grow with others; we are enlarged by their wit or charm, by their beauty or artful inventiveness, by their imagination, by their goodness.
The creative power of people who correspond to the good has a presence that acts as a linking force to bring all things together. It reconstructs broken parts. It unites other people. It is more than mere passing goodness. It is constructive where everything else is destructive and is so with such persistence and persuasion and over such a long stretch of time that we begin to count upon its presence among us and to depend upon it. We see the power, for example, in the victim of cerebral palsy who faces her handicap with constant good cheer, able to put up with her deformities and to share both her illness and her pleasure with us. We find it in those endlessly useful people whose power is to help others but not to press it upon them, who can be counted on for almost any task but who do not intrude themselves into others’ lives in the doggedly demanding way of the do-gooder. We find fulfllment simply because that power is with us. We look for it as on a depressingly cloudy day we look for the sun. We reach for its analgesic relief as we never do for a painkiller. It is clearly not a nostrum, a quick fix, a means of forgetting or suppressing unpleasantness and suffering. It – or rather, he or she – carries our suffering for us and with us. The suffering servant moves among us and we know peace.
What we experience this way is what we might call original virtue, as opposed to original sin. In people of this kind, there is a residual goodness that seems always to have been there and never to depart.
Goodness displays itself as abundance to those who really see it. Envy sees goodness as a limited supply, like a pie that offers just so many pieces – the bigger the wedge for you, the smaller for me. Envy competes for goodness, whereas goodness shows itself to be more like the manna of Scripture or the tiny seed that grows into a huge tree. Like the loaves and fishes, goodness feeds more than physical hunger, a fact that silences those arguments against goodness which keep demanding to know what use it is to feed a limited number of the poor. Here again lies the offense of goodness: God’s goodness differs altogether from Caesar’s. Our versions of the good come smack up against an unscalable goodness. Its height discloses to us our small, partial, feeble view of things.
No wonder we are scandalized and take offense! Another beginning! No wonder we can understand now our savage rejection of the good! It is too much, too other, too different, throwing us out of ourselves to find ourselves beginning at a new point. We can touch here our own participation in what theologians symbolize as original sin. Even the best of us are tempted here, tempted against goodness. We cannot believe we have hold of anything so substantial, so otherworldly, so much beyond our deserving. This is where so many good people turn superstitious, fancying all sorts of incompetence or failure or simply bad luck that must interfere with the goodness that seems to have come their way. Love is the particular victim in such circumstances. It just seems too good to be true. How can anyone deserve it?
Cinderella’s example should tutor us here; we should move forward with every confident expectation to fit ourselves into whatever glass slipper is offered. When we do so, with faith in the real possibilities of goodness and thus of love, we do not exhibit our egoism; we show our
trust. The envied fall very easily into the temptation against goodness. They are so often the objects of extravagant praise by the envying – who do not for a moment see the gifts of others, but only their own failure to possess them – that they have learned to discount any good words thrown their way and even to distrust goodness itself. The envied may or may not realize the envy that stands behind the admiration, but they do sense that it is not trustworthy. As
a result, they not only reject the praise of the insincere but begin to doubt almost any offering of the sort – words, friendship, even love. They come to rival the neurotic behavior of the envying in their insecurity with their own gifts. And so the least likely of alliances is made, between the envied and the envying, an alliance in the service of self-doubt and pessimism about human goodness.
The virus of self-doubt and pessimism about others is wildly contagious. We are all sufficiently uncertain about ourselves to be quickly susceptible to anything that may confirm us in our low self-esteem. And we are all just hopeful enough to be proved wrong in this so that anything that can be imputed to others that will raise our low rating of ourselves is bound to be just as catching. The unbeatable combination here is that the pessinmism about others does not altogether relieve us of our agony of self-doubt, for all we can know for sure is that others have been undiscriminating in their praise of us. We have no assurance that because they have overpraised us, we deserve any praise at all. We sink further into the extremes of rejection and misunderstanding. We push goodness farther and farther away. It is not for us.
We are not for it. Nonetheless, despite our rejection and incomprehension, goodness continues to offer itself and in abundance – enough to go around and more left over, heaven as an eternal feast. We can participate in the banquet by taking even the tiniest seed of good even in the midst of evil, suffering, and death. We participate in abundance when we choose to taste the good crumb rather than sink into the threatening vacuum of bad thoughts, agonizing failure, illness and loss.
Here, for a moment, husband and wife meet, eyes recognizing and calling out the best in each other, even though one may be dying of cancer and the other of grief.
Here, for a moment, mother and daughter repair the wounded relations of a lifetime, touching hands, seeing and gladly affirming each other, even though one feels near death and the other feels sunk in depressed middle age.
In such moments, all that life offers is contained, its depth reaching right to the core of what is important and lasting. For only what is rescued into love will survive.
Here, for a moment, two persons meet as man and woman, touching each other’s bodies and reaching into their souls, even if their sexual encounters are drastically uneven or unful- filled.
Here, for a moment, a stranger riding by in a truck in a winter storm stops to help a man immobilized in a snowdrift in his driveway. Unknown to each other till now, they recognize each other’s struggles against skidding and ice – and this way do know each other.
Here, for a moment, a woman travels many hours to be present for her friend at a meeting where that friend will be attacked by others. Her coming will not prevent the attack, but she will not leave her friend to face the attack alone.
Here, for a moment, one sees a beautiful painting that unmistakably displays someone’s struggle with pain, despair and death. There, in colors, textures and lines, one person offers hope to another, showing how it was possible to meet those forces and triumph over them, and the viewer goes away filled in the spirit.
Here, for a moment, is a man speaking from his heart to his colleagues at a meeting, with- out trying to trick or cajole them, just speaking the truth as he sees it. And one of his colleagues, so often fallen away from the truth to the expedient, to the half measure, to the opportune or the equivocating – this colleague feels himself stirred, addressed, called for, and finds himself answering in kind.
Here, for the moment, in the cellar of a house fallen from bombs in a European city during World War II, a mother and her son fight to free themselves from the wreckage that pins them under flooding water that rises to drown them. The mother, being taller, is safe from the water, but hopelessly caught fast under a wooden plank. The child, young and small, is also caught fast on the other side of the cellar, unable to rise above the rushing waters. Just before he drowns, he calls out to his mother to be comforted; it is not so terrible, for she is there with him. What a child! To offer such a crumb of goodness to his mother, crazed with her helplessness to save him!
At the opposite end of human experience cluster those events where we fill up with others in a shared goodness: feeling pulled together by the music in a concert hall; feeling a sense of the transcendent together in a service of worship; dissolving into mirth together. We are positively ejected from seriousness and gloom into a great gale of laughter. We are swept out of ourselves – and into ourselves – by a breathtaking view of a new season: spring, summer, autumn, winter, it does not matter which.
Goodness calls us out of ourselves into glimpsing something beyond ourselves that actually is there among us, the reality we have named the truth, the beautiful, or goodness itself. Goodness also calls us into something well within ourselves – our reality, the truth, the beautiful, the good, the centers of life as only we can understand them. They come to us in the peculiar rhythms, the subtleties of meaning which, however slight may be their differences from the rhythms and understanding peculiar to others, are our own and speak to us and of us as nobody else’s can. This is the world of being. This is the world where being comes into its own. There is no place for envy here. We cannot even contemplate the possibility of envy if we have arrived at this place where all our security is in our entrusting ourselves to goodness and its accompanying truth and beauty. Here we must, like Cinderella, be transparent to goodness.
Envy may have been useful to us in coming to this point. We may have learned from the envy of others what it is that we bring with such clarity, conviction and distinction into the world that it prompts the utmost desire in others – desire to the point of envy. We can better
understand ourselves and what we possess this way. We can nurture it. We can learn to carry it with such understanding and assurance, with such unmistakable authority, that others may see that it is really ours and fully claimed by us. They may see that to envy us is to deny our right to be who and what we are.
We may have learned from our envy of others what means most to us, what we must have in order to be most fully at ease with our own being. We may or may not be able to accomplish what others have done that we find so alluring. We may lack a talent, a skill, a physical, intel- lectual, or moral quality that gives the envied other his or her special grace. Our own special grace will be, then, to recognize our own limitations, but not necessarily to relinquish all claim to whatever it is that we envy. We have the possibilities given us by the moral imagination. We can see ourselves in the perspective of our envy and the accomplishments of others. We can nurture, if nothing else, the hope to develop or to become what we want. Failing, for whatever reason, to achieve our end, we can so deepen our appreciation of the accomplishments of others that we become a critic and scholar of the moral purpose or beauty or goodness of others. We do not duplicate others’ achievements this way or show our own inadequacy in our attempt to do so; we add something. We enlarge being by confirming and accepting it, both in someone else and in ourselves. It is not a trivial thing to do. We do not simply turn into a groupie, fawning on someone or something. We bring acceptance into our lives, even reverence, as we do when we are brought to awed admiration of a musician’s or a dancer’s or an actor’s performance. This way we nurture quality in the world.
To say this is not to convert envy into a positive factor, a “civilizing” one, as Schoeck does. To make good use of evil does not make it anything other than evil; it simply transforms its ef fects. We can take some comfort, as Schoeck does, in the fact that envy occasionally results in innovative performance by those determined to “outdo” the envied. But a productive or creative act is not to be attributed to envy.
As Schoeck says, in his attempt to view envy in some positive light, “The only activity that liberates from envy is that which fills us with different impulses, feelings and thoughts which, to be of help, have to be value-asserting, dynamic and forward-looking.” In other words, envy must be subverted, defeated, replaced. It may, at some distant point, have been the energizing factor for the first spiral of activity that has led, finally, to something fresh and innovative. But the assertion of positive value that Schoeck describes is not in any significant sense an effect of envy.
Rooted in being, a movement of posi- tive value is entirely against the destructive forces of envy
In the name of envy, we claim what belongs to someone else. In the name of being, we claim what belongs to us. We cannot take away somebody else’s being and make it our own. We must see it, no matter how admirable and attractive, as utterly foreign to us. It cannot be transplanted in us; the organs of our spirit would reject it with a finality greater than any displayed by the body in refusing a new liver or heart. We may come to give accommodation to a new auricle or ventricle, as some have been able to do; we can never really absorb the person that those chambers once animated. We may be enlarged by others, deepened, made to make better use of the person we are. But we can only be our own person, and every attempt to be another one must be a disaster for us and for all around us. The effort to cut away and reshape our persons to fit another’s form is as much a mockery of human behavior as the surgery with which the ugly sisters hack away at their feet to make them fit Cinderella’s glass slipper. The fatuity of such a performance may not be so quickly apparent as in the case of the stepsisters. Its long-lasting effects on society may not come at all to mind as we move more and more into a world where failure and incompetence are not often allowed to be identified and where the inversion of ancient prejudices so frequently obscures individual accomplishments in the name of racial or sexual justice.
The point is that envy has existed and does exist. The answer to it is not legislation that seeks to banish some of its effects by declaring an equality that never has existed and never can, an equality not of opportunity but of achievement. The suffering servant is a more useful figure in this moral and psychological combat than the egalitarian legislator or judge, and a far more realistic one. He or she, Cinderella or alter Christus, anyone of this grace-filled persuasion, offers us the opportunity to see ourselves and to accept ourselves with whatever we have or do not have. A false perception does not come this way, but neither does any opprobrium attach itself to us because we have not accomplished what we simply are not equipped to accomplish. We see ourselves instead as we must see ourselves and accept the world as we must accept it. We recognize evils where they exist and the possibilities of goodness. We do not confuse the one for the other or engage in that worst of civil wars which results from the confusion, a war of hatred in which we fight against ourselves or our society for not being what we insist they must be, in spite of all the evidence that they can never be.
Envy, the enemy of being, is central to all of this, and all the more so because it is so rarely admitted to our inspection or contemplation. We suffer from it. We live in its battlefield. Now we must move to soften the suffering and end the war. We can only do so by going beyond the facile rhetoric of dismissal with which envy is quickly condemned and then just as quickly hidden or forgotten so that we do not have to face the disagreeable facts of its existence. If we do, we may be surprised to find that, as with Cinderella, as with all suffering servants, there are blessings that await us, not the least of them the blessings we bring to others.