Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred
The psychoanalytic understanding of envy is that it is an unconscious fantasy aimed at attacking, damaging, or destroying what is good, because of the intolerable feeling that one does not possess and control the object of goodness. As such, it is an aspect of what Freud called the death instinct, since it ultimately involves a destructive attack on the sources of life and goodness. Particularly envious individuals cannot tolerate the pain of not possessing and controlling the "good object," so they preemptively spoil it so that they don't have to bear the pain.
Cain and Abel, by Titian
If we can tolerate "the pain of not possessing or controlling the 'good object'", we can move through situations without envious fantasizing, or worse.
What underlies "the pain of not possessing or controlling the 'good object'"?
This pain must occur when we define ourselves according to something outside ourselves - such as other persons. Conversely, we could define ourselves from within: such as defining our best possibility of performance; or defining our best previous performance, then attempting to best it.
In this area, youth sports can provide valuable lessons. Yet, those lessons are rarely learned. Most coaches have not themselves internalized the skills of creating self-defined parameters of measurement, and of creating self-defined possibilities of performance.
Youth sport is the perfect laboratory and classroom for such lessons: sometimes an opponent simply cannot be defeated on the scoreboard. The opponent is too fast, or too well-coached, or too something or other. Except for flukey circumstance, NO AMOUNT of in-game effort will bring victory, and NO AMOUNT practice effort will create victory.
What is the lesson? That we ought be thrilled and fulfilled when uncontrollable circumstances favor us with a weak opponent? That we ought be devastated and unfulfilled when uncontrollable circumstances disfavor us with a strong opponent?
The lesson is to define ourselves by what we can control: what is inside of us? What is our best possible performance? The lesson is to refuse to define ourselves by uncontrollable circumstances. The lesson is to refuse to define ourselves according to opponents who equate to little Ladanian Tomlinsons, little Michael Jordans, or little one-name Brazilian futbol stars; AND to refuse to define ourselves by opponents who are smaller, slower, and less coordinated than we are. The lesson is to refuse to define ourselves by the beautiful woman who married into her husband's inherited fortune and moved in down the street; AND t0 refuse to define ourselves by other women with maybe less education, less polish, and less wealthy husbands.
Tom Landry used to say: "I do not worry about what I cannot control."
Defining ourselves from within, rather than being defined by outside forces, is often a struggle. The youth sports players and parents on the opposite sideline are celebrating awfully hard. The beautiful woman befriends you exactly well enough to apply the needle to the insecurities she discovers in you. The pain of not possessing and controlling the good object rises within us - maybe is designed to again and again rise within us. Yet, we are designed to move through the pain with the aid of spiritual understanding (and psyche blogs). God doesn't give us any challenges we cannot handle.
How disrespectful are we, to ourselves, if we measure ourselves against sports parents and trophy wives, as opposed to measuring ourselves against what God created us to be? To measure ourselves against others in this fashion is to be INCREDIBLY disrespectful to ourselves, and INCREDIBLY disrespectful to the God who created us as unique individuals. Pish, I say.
Consider a topical story: the New England Patriots.
Bill Simmons says the Pats are running up scores via late-game "Eff You TD"s: "New England continues to send a message: We're going to keep winning and embarrass you in the process."
Might we have enough self-respect to decline to measure ourselves according to Bill Belichik's dicta? Might we have enough self-respect to measure ourselves against self-generated criteria, regardless of how the Pats perform, and regardless of what might be the Pats petty motivation?
If Simmons is correct, the New England Patriots are not embarrassing us. They are embarrassing themselves.
Sport is about many things, including moments of beauty which hint at the greatness of God - which hint at the existence of something beyond that which is strictly Earthbound, and horizontally affixed. If you watch, you will notice transcendent moments infused throughout sport, and saturated all around it. You will be moved.
The New England Patriots reveal their motivations to be base, lowdown, covered in muck and nastiness. The Pats are not steering towards transcendent light. The Pats are not steering towards love. I am embarrassed for them.
Worse, their naked baseness makes me shudder. It hints at something neither virtuous nor transcendent.
Gustave Doré: Cain kills Abel