Friday, November 23, 2007

Green-eyed vision

I just read an email from NaNoWriMo from a writer that suggests jealousy is a good writing boost. In some ways, she is right and jealousy does motivate people, but sometimes the green-eyed monster can do more harm than good, especially when it comes own to deciding who had an idea first and who helped whom.

Make no mistake, the baser emotions -- hate, jealousy, revenge, etc. -- do have their place but in moderation, as in all things. What usually happens though is that the person who is jealous can take things to extreme, even to the point of claiming someone else's work and ideas as their own and, depending on the forum in which the claims are made, can cause strife, bad feelings and, in some extreme cases, bloodshed. But let's forget about the bloodshed and concentrate on some lesser forms of devastation -- credibility.

Anyone who claims another's idea as their own is a very low form of life on a par with parasites and sycophants. It is possible the only thing worse is making the claim in such a way so that the thief cannot be called out or called to account because the person whose ideas and work have been stolen would end up looking like a liar and a whiny bitch, neither of which are good looks on anyone.

Example 1: Nick is new to a job and he wants to make his mark and show his enthusiasm and abilities. He starts by asking the same questions everyone new to the company asks and gets the same answers. A colleague, Maria, has been with the company for a couple years and has turned her department around. No one tells her she's doing a good job and the few complaints made loudly when she first began the have been silenced by the great work she has done. Nick sees Maria as the person to challenge because she hasn't been with the company long and seems to be a safe target. He attacks, couching his questions and suggestions in such a way that he appears to be merely the messenger and not complainant. Maria, after answering the first few questions begins to see Nick's agenda and she suggests he take the time to go back through the files and read what has already been documented about his frequently asked questions. Nick takes offense and continues to challenge and harass Maria who decides to let the big boss decide whether or not the job she has done merits such scrutiny and abuse, and she offers her resignation if her work is not up to par. Nick, seeing that he is on shaky ground when some of the other department heads descend on him and tell him to pick another target, tells some of the people around him he's going to quit his job, but he fails to tell the boss or his supervisors. Instead, Nick spreads rumors and sloughs off his work, letting other people take up the slack and leaving his department in the lurch. He blames Maria and her offer of resignation as his reason for quitting even though he never actually quits, preferring to stir up discord and spread more rumors. The big boss talks to Nick directly and asks him why he hasn't offered his resignation in writing and Nick says that he has no intention of resigning and doesn't know how the rumors got started.

In a show of seeming conciliation, Nick sends a memo to everyone in the company and to the stockholders to let them know the truth behind the rumors, naming Maria's offer of resignation as his reason for considering quitting. He also goes on to say that he was acting at the behest of other people who had asked him questions about the value of Maria's work and how it benefited the company and the stockholders and that he had suggested several changes, including changes Maria had already planned and implemented before his memo, changes that had been in the works for months before Nick was hired. Nick's revenge is nearly complete. He has hung Maria out to dry to preserve his own back stabbing, Machiavellian tactics and taken credit for her hard work and ingenuity, and Maria cannot say anything because it will only come out looking like she is whining and out to discredit Nick.

Nick has sown the seeds of discord even though he took the time to mention that Maria could not be replaced and that the company would suffer if she resigned because no one could handle her job with the same quality and abilities that she brings to the work and he has held Maria up to ridicule for being the cause of his desire to deliver himself up as a sacrifice even though he takes his job and his position very seriously. Most of the people who read his explanation had no idea anything was going on because Maria kept the situation in-house and only informed those department heads directly involved, but now the stockholders and the rest of the company have a much different picture of what has gone on in secret without access to the memos, discussions and double dealing in which Nick has engaged. There is no way for Maria to win and no way to salvage her credibility. She's boxed in with nowhere to turn and even those people who know the truth cannot say anything because of the manner in which Nick offered his explanation of events.

Example 2: Two very close friends, Jim and Martin, have shared the ups and down of their work and their lives until Martin gets an idea for a new package design. Jim is excited about Martin's design and even though they work together and are friends he wants to see Martin succeed and get ahead. Jim helps Martin fine tune his design and helps him put together the proposal, making it better and more salable. Jim even suggests offering the design directly to the client instead of going through the usual channels because Jim believes that Martin's design will blow the client away.

Martin takes Jim's advice and goes to directly to the client who is excited but has to check with his board of directors first. The new design is cut from the board's agenda because not enough board members are present for a quorum. Martin gets antsy and wants to pull the design and go somewhere else, but Jim tells Martin to hang in and wait because he is certain the board will approve the design. Six weeks go by and Jim keeps bolstering Martin's confidence but Martin prefers to be negative because nothing good ever happens for him and he's going to be stuck where he is forever. Jim tells Martin to wait a couple more weeks and Martin reluctantly agrees.

One week later, the client comes back with a contract; the board approved the design without question. Martin is ecstatic and rushes to tell Jim he was right. Throughout the contract negotiations, Jim offers his support and suggestions but Martin begins to feel that Jim is trying to control him and is jealous of Martin's success. Martin has forgotten how hard Jim worked with Martin to help him succeed. Jim, feeling that Martin needs some space, backs off and goes on with his own work while Martin tells people that he never thought his best friend would ever be jealous of him and starts pulling back from Jim and spreading stories about him -- not about how much Jim helped him but how Jim wants to take credit for Martin's work. Things come to a head and Martin ends his friendship with Jim.

Over the following months, Martin's design goes from drawing board to public debut and he seems to be making friends right and left. He credits his success to some of his new friends and doesn't mention Jim or how supportive and helpful he was when Martin first had the idea for his design. He publicly thanks people who had nothing to do with those early days of collaboration and emotional support and starts spreading stories about Jim and how jealous he is of Martin's success. The stories get wilder and more absurd but Martin enjoys the limelight and how everyone rushes to his defense when anyone with any real knowledge of the events leading up to the board's acceptance of the design calls Martin to answer for his deceptions, omissions and outright lies.

In the meantime, Jim shrugs it off and works on his own designs, each one more successful than the last. Jim racks up several successes and his career takes off like never before and Martin, seeing Jim's designs and mounting contracts, is jealous and angry, reviving old stories and embellishing them to cast Jim in a bad light. Jim is oblivious to most of it until mutual acquaintances point out how Martin has publicly slandered and libeled Jim. Jim doesn't care. He wishes Martin well and wants Martin out of his life so Jim can concentrate on his own work, but every time things get quiet Martin stirs things up. Martin's jealousy of Jim is so strong he can't enjoy his own success. Martin's jealous has taken on a life of its own that slowly and systematically destroys his happiness and his relationships, none of which have really be more than superficial acquaintances, but which Martin believes are deep friendships. As people begin to see Martin's rampant green-eyed jealousy and begin to fall away, Martin blames Jim.

What can Jim do? He can't tell what really happened since Martin poisoned the well. Jim would end up looking like a jerk because his credibility is gone in the wake of Martin's jealous and vicious tirades. Martin doesn't owe his success to Jim but he does owe everyone the truth and that Jim was instrumental in getting his design seen and accepted. Martin will never give Jim the satisfaction and Jim doesn't care because he has his own success and recognition for all his hard work and talent. Still, there will always be those who believe Martin's story because they don't see Martin in the wee hours of the morning when his conscience is plaguing him so much he has to seek out Jim's designs and reread all the press about his successes.

When you get right down to it, both situations are bred in the hearts of people possessed of the feeling that they are somehow less talented and less important than those they have attacked. Their jealousy has poisoned their ability to think and act rationally and instead of owning up to their own feelings of inadequacy they attack those they fear the most.

Jealousy in moderation can be an excellent goad to keep you reaching for success or to help you realize the value of friend, family or lover, but rampant, unchecked jealousy is a destructive force that makes a person miserable and those around them even more miserable. Misery does not love company. Misery needs to see suffering to equal its own and will destroy the very things they once cherished the most. Jealousy is one of those emotions that, like some spices and herbs, must be used with discretion and care.

That is all. Disperse.

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