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jealousy, turning saints into the sea

As (some of) you know, I’m currently studying abroad in Costa Rica.

It’s awesome, I love my cohort and host family, I love practicing my Spanish, I love having my own bedroom and sharing meals with my family and living only a ten minute walk away from school.


But recently I’ve become very jealous of my friends’ housing situations.  There’s this one girl who gets her own guest house apart from her host family’s and another new friend who lives in a McMansion, a palace  apparently plucked straight out of Beverly Hills.  All of this in a neighborhood rife with potholes and stray dogs and unattended beehives (looking at you, Matt).

This envy, it’s an interesting phenomenon, really – I was 100% happy in my little home, but after seeing these other students’ situations, I’ve become so much more dissatisfied with my own.  Crazy, right?

It kind of reminds me of this one really old story about an agriculturist who has a bunch of crops and who need workers, trabajadores, to come harvest them. So the jefe rises early, and at six in the morning he finds a bunch of guys in town to work his fields all day.  He makes an agreement with them to pay them 10 dollars for their help.  The man returns home and goes out again at nine, sees a few others hanging about in the marketplace, idle and desempleados.  He invites them to work his campo for the day as well and promises them fair payment.

photo by fellow student Ashley Berg Grabb

beautiful, right?  photo by fellow student Ashley Berg Grabb

So the man does this a few more times, bringing back new trabajadores each time – once at noon, again at 3, and once more at 5 o’clock.  At the end of the work day, all of his empleados find themselves tired (some more exhausted than others) and happy, wiping the sweat from their brows, lining up for payment.

The farmer starts by giving those who he picked up only an hour ago ten dollars.  He continues to do this for those he hired at 3 and at noon.  As the line shrinks, the workers who have been at it todo el día start getting excited and expectantly anticipate increased wages.

However, when the farmer hands them each their previously agreed-upon dollar amount, they become enraged.  ¡Qué ladrón, what a dishonest man!  He should have paid us much more than the others, they grumble.

The owner of the farm overhears them, and I love his response to their complaints.  He essentially asks them “Did I cheat you?  How did I break my deal with you?  We agreed upon ten dollars and I paid you ten dollars!  You have no right to be jealous of them.  Go spend your money and be at peace!”

The story ends before the workers can give their response, but I like to imagine them realizing they were in the wrong on this, that they should’ve been happy for – not jealous of – those other workers.

Jealousy.  It brings the noblest, most awesome people to their knees.  I long for that day when I’ll be able to see something really good happen to someone else and think not why can’t that happen to me?  but  something good happened to someone! and break a genuine smile.  I love the people who think like that.  It’s such an admirable sense of solidarity with the entire human race, knowing that if at any point anything good happens to anyone, we should be glad because it affects us positively as well.

I know that sounds ridiculous.  Maybe it should.  It’s this radical claim that these old divisions, they’ve just sort of passed away, that there’s no longer these extraneous labels of friend and foe, neighbor or stranger, Jew or Gentile, male or female, “Christian” or Samaritan.

There’s that one line, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, that until all of us are free, none of us are.

I think those words resonate with so many people because they reveal an often unarticulated something that we know deep down to be true:

it’s all connected.

Humanity, God, this planet, we’re all tied together like a (blue-yarn) spiderweb.  Sexuality and spirituality, cell phones and social justice, margaritas and mountain ranges, all of it, touched by the same Life and sustained by the same Force.  The Chinese and the Costa Ricans and the Palestinians and the Israelis, we track one heartbeat, one shared humanity.

All that to say, I don’t really see the point in being jealous of my fellow man (and woman) any longer.  My house, my host family, they’re awesome.  Even if others have been given more, I can be more than content with what I have been given.  I’m learning that in all aspects of life, continuing to compare myself to other people will only bring pain.  For those with bigger houses and better friends and higher IQs and hotter girlfriends, I am learning to genuinely be happy for you.  I’m not there yet, but give me time.

To all of my friends here in Costa Rica and back home – honestly – I pray you continue to appreciate the abstract art of human solidarity (rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep).  May you find within this journey not only a sense of truly redemptive empathy, but also an intimate act of self-preservation.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. A friend, fellow heretic, and wanderer #

    Mr. Brightside,

    First off, Your blog posts are so thought-provoking and full of truth!
    It is obvious that you do a lot of thinking throughout the day.

    Secondly, I love that parable in the Bible. It is one of my favorites!

    And third, I believe you made a very valid point in this post that I think we all need to be reminded of.
    It is so hard not to compare ourselves and our situations to other people.
    A wise friend told me the other day that when we compare ourselves to others, nobody can win. Comparing creates a hierarchy (inequality), and by comparing, we are either making ourselves feel less and putting another person above us and making the person seem better (which creates jealousy), or we are making ourselves seem better, and looking down on the other person (which makes us feel better about our lives and we judge the other person).
    Either way, it’s a toxic practice, but a mindset that is very easily slipped into.

    It’s so hard to be genuinely happy for others sometimes, especially when our own situations aren’t the best, but I think you’re right. We all need to learn to smile and rejoice with those who rejoice. We are all connected!
    I’m waiting for the day when the extraneous labels fall away.

    So glad to see that you are learning how to work through these things, and thank you for sharing!

    May 15, 2013
  2. Melissa McCabe #

    It’s really interesting that you mention that, because I’ve had both a similar and opposite situation in Morocco. I live in a guest house, like your classmate- and I hate it. I mean, I *loove* that I have my privacy, because I’m a very private, introverted person, but I only go into the actual house for meals and to shower. I am so.lonely. sometimes. The only member of my family that I say anything to other than “Hello” and “How are you?” is my host mom, and occasionally my host grandmother (although that’s partially because of the language barrier), but I didn’t spend enough time with them to be able to improve my Arabic enough to talk to them. My host mom says that I’m like her family, and while I really do like her and enjoy talking to her, I can’t say the same
    So I sometimes find myself jealous of some of my friends who have an actual relationship with their families, because that was one of the things that I was looking forward to in Morocco.

    Just thought I’d share, since you had an interesting twist on my situation.

    Also, RE: For those with… hotter girlfriends.

    So what? If someone has an all-around awesome significant other and an awesome relationship with them, and that person finds them attractive, that’s what really matters.

    Sorry if that sounded bitchy, but whether a guy (or girl) has a hot significant other (or hotter than [whatever]) shouldn’t be a huge thing to be jealous of. That’s my opinion of course, but I was schwiya (slightly, in Moroccan Arabic 😛 ) to read that.

    May 15, 2013
    • Mel, I love that you are kind of in the ideal situation I was talking about and it’s still less than perfect (and in fact, you wish for a situation like mine!). That’s so funny. Thank you for sharing 🙂

      and PS that was a joke! I was actually wondering if I was going to get some pushback on that line from my more justice-minded friends, but yes, I completely agree with you. Hotness? What does that even mean? All that matters is the attraction/chemistry between the couple, not some outside objective standard to (you guessed it) compare ourselves to.

      Thanks for the comment, I love it when I hear from you. You will be back in the states soon, I hope?



      May 15, 2013
  3. Admirer #

    Wonderfully written…great pictures

    May 15, 2013
  4. #

    Awesome Ryan. Love you. mom

    May 15, 2013

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