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The most luxurious home in the world

A first step towards ‘processing’ jealousy might be to break it up into individual and institution, writes Renuka Narayanan.

india Updated: Feb 13, 2009 23:03 IST
Renuka Narayanan

It’s called self-confidence. It’s so fragile that one unkind word can destroy it. It’s so strong that life can dish out any old rubbish and somehow you manage to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking, a little worse for wear but moving. The first rule for creating and sustaining self-confidence – I think you’ll agree – is the hardest to swing. NO jealousy.

How do we avoid or bypass this destructive emotion? It’s the reason lurking behind almost every violent act. Not just obvious violence. But the verbal violence, the mean things people say to each other in what should be close, emotional-anchor relationships. The commonest and saddest thing to see is jealousy in families, between a husband and wife, a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, between siblings and cousins. The first two brothers in the Bible, Cain and Abel, came to grief because Cain was jealous of Abel and killed him. I saw what was purported to be Baba Habil’s tomb in the hills outside Damascus. Just behind it were the Golan Heights. Our driver, Nasir, was originally from the Golan Heights but had to leave in a hurry as a little boy with his family, when Israel took away their land. But when I think of perfectly lovely Israelis I know, I don’t know what to think.

It’s a hard thing to balance each time, between the individual and the institution. I think jealousy works a bit like that, though not exactly the same way as our goodwill for a person vs his country, creed, class, whatever.

A first step towards ‘processing’ jealousy might be to break it up into individual and institution. (I don’t know if this analogy will hold, but let’s try). So we’re jealous of somebody’s success, beauty, fortune, happiness, relationships, are we? But do we actually dislike that person as a person? Have they been rude, uppity or unkind to us in any way? Probably not, if we really think about it. So that absolves the individual from the negative force of our jealousy. What’s left to feel agitated about? Their success, fortune, beauty, fortune, happiness, relationships? Hey, those are the luck of the draw, the ‘institution’. And we can’t mess with that. It’s completely not fair. Our own better sense tells us that. But we still have to deal with our own sorry, short-changed feelings. Is there a way out of there, from shadow to sunlight?

One way might be to think how the whole atmosphere automatically brightens if more people are doing well. Further, if people share skills, meet each other halfway, fall back on that much-neglected virtue, counting their own blessings…it’s really hard then, to stay down in the dumps, especially with the last exercise. Moreover (you may think this is nauseatingly flower child), remember the old poem, ‘The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.’

So interesting that R.L. Stevenson’s two-line child’s poem, Happy Thought, says exactly what Bharata Muni listed in the Natya Shastra as a Major Emotional State: Adbhuta Rasa, Wonder. A great place to live, with no room for jealousy. But so gently encouraging of confidence.