I have a dream of a world without green monsters—a world free of jealousy. It is perhaps the loftiest of all possible dreams, as increasingly I’ve come to see jealousy as innately human, and yet deeply connected to the dark, egocentric side of human nature that people like Bishop John Shelby Spong or Christian thinker M. Scott Peck call “evil.” Further still, I assert that while part of our nature—and therefore one about which there should never be embarrassment or guilt—jealousy is perhaps our greatest barrier to living fully, loving wastefully, and finding deep and profound fulfillment and spiritual wholeness, regardless of our particular belief system or religion. Indeed it seems a reasonable goal for anyone wishing to love more purely and attain the highest levels of human existence, is to master jealousy—however impossible that may be.

Webster says jealousy is intolerance of rivalry, hostility toward a rival, or one believed to enjoy advantage or vigilance in guarding a possession. So what’s wrong with guarding a possession? Well, nothing if that means you have property rights. The great evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains jealousy’s probable historical purpose: “From a Darwinian perspective, sexual jealousy is easily understood. Natural selection of our wild ancestors plausibly favored males who guarded their mates for fear of squandering economic resources on other men’s children.” It is also worth noting Dawkins has railed at the lunacy of what he calls society’s approval of the “deep rightness and appropriateness of sexual jealousy.” More on that at the end.

So I have a dream, where scarcity is recognized as a substantially self-imposed rat-race, and I have a dream of a world where there are no perceived “rivals,” per webster’s definition. A rival in today’s world of abundance is usually just a matter of how we view that person, isn’t it? Isn’t there enough for everyone today? Since we’re dreaming a utopian dream, lets envision a world were abundance allows us to move past competition and toward loving cooperation, where people are not to be conquered, but seen as what they are: the “Greatest Resources”—in the words of economist Julian Simon. We no longer have to bang each other over the head and steal cattle or wives (or shouldn’t have to); cooperation is our future.

Most of us realize that even guarding our material possessions with too much zeal, or defining our existence by way of things, or worship of things, is to miss the very essence of what it means to live fully, love, and add meaning to our existence through our experience of connectedness with others; unfortunately worship of things puts things on a higher plane than humanity.

But far beyond these concerns over our obsession with—in the words George Carlin’s hilarious comedy routine, our “stuff”—the question we must ask is “what is the possession” that we are seeking to protect from our “rivals”? Can that be another person? “Of course not,” we answer quickly with our modern mind. “You can’t own people. That’s slavery.” But the truth is that we do think we can own other human beings. Despite the zero-sum game articulated by modern preachers of the prosperity gospel, true enlightenment comes in caring, teamwork, and cooperation; in the modern world that is how magic happens. But contrary to Jesus, and even the great management guru Ed Deming, we live in a world that basks in combat and competition, and seeks to tear down cooperation at every turn.

We Westerners are selfish. Our egos get out of hand, and when we get jealous and see rivals where there are none, we violate the very spirit and definitions of what it means to love, which in its purest forms looks not inwardly, but is an external selflessness that centers on the wellbeing and needs of others.

Non-jealous Parental Love

Here is an example. Healthy and centered parents, I would argue, want great things for their kids. They even wish for their kids to grow sufficiently far in life—in success, in love, in happiness—that they transcend their parents! I know I want my son and daughter to be more knowledgeable than I, to live life more fully, to find abundant love and respect, and certainly to find material things to the extent their needs are securely met and they are able explore all the world has to offer them—and discover what they have to offer the world in return.

Never would I wish for my children that only their mother and I provide for them all they need to meet their needs for life. We wouldn’t teach “you can only love us,” from an early age. Only a twisted and sick parent would say to their child that the he or she could only receive hugs from the parent, that they should never marry or leave the parent, or have human needs met from anyone other than the parent. That would be crazy; we want them to recognize the variety of resources for recognition, knowledge, growth, giving, sharing, receiving and loving. In short, we wish for our kids to experience life—and love—in a way that transcends what we had, and even what we can give them as a parent. We want them to be more fully human, to be better humans, to contribute more to the world, and to be more successful beings than we are—however we define that. We want more for our kids.

Now, of course some people don’t think that way; some even view the children as rivals and competitors. Ruby Payne has written extensively on the “Culture of Poverty,” and one hallmark characteristic that contributes to the cycle of poverty is the attitude of parents in this culture of poverty: they often do not wish for their children to surpass them—in education or life. That threatens the family unit, it threatens the fabric of the culture, and it threatens the parents. It is thus often culturally un-cool to be smart or educated in disadvantaged socioeconomic classes. Apart from the “sickness” of such misological and unenlightened parenting philosophies, hostility toward perceived “rivals” whom we see as “taking things” from us (in that case schools and knowledge are the rivals), has direct application to other kinds of relationships.

Jealousy and Marriage

Very unlike a healthy parent who wishes for good things for his/her child, somehow we no longer exhibit such selfless and pure love when the perceived “property” is a person with whom we have a romantic, or intimate relationship. Have you ever pondered that? We still cling to the old ideas of property, and many women still love to have a man fight for her as if the man is defending property. This is sick and backward thinking; we see rivals where we could see opportunity. We selfishly don’t want our spouses to have needs met outside of our own love. We don’t want them to receive love and affirmation elsewhere. We fear loss of our property. We don’t want them to grow to career success beyond our own (we’ve probably all seen marriages that were threatened by the success of one, particularly if they work in the same field).

Much as the biblical history of adultery is centered upon the woman as chattel—akin to your ox, ass, or any other piece of property—so too is romantic jealousy based upon the view of ownership, even if only to the extent we believe we have an exclusive contractual right to ones interests, thoughts, affections, and attention. Plain and simple, this is shallow and selfish thinking. We even make contracts (marriage) from which there should ideally be no extrication from this often dark and selfish agreement. How is that selfless love at it’s finest?

A Utopian Dream

So I have a dream. It is a lofty, idealistic, and unrealistic one, and no doubt one I can’t probably achieve either. But, here it is:

I have a dream that someday all of humanity will not need to fear for our basic needs, and through the removal of fear and insecurity, we will put the concern of others ahead of our own. We will not pledge at age 21 to never love another person romantically (unless parted by death), as we will not fear the loss of one person by befriending another; there will be no perception of “rivals,” only former rivals to whom we offer more love, and wish well upon. So instead of marriage being selfishly protective of human property, we will pledge to put the needs the people we care for ahead of our own, with no need to protect it from fictitious or imagined rivals. We will celebrate for our loved ones when they find someone who is truly providing them even more selfless love than we could alone. We will recognize that in our now-approaching eighty years of life expectancy, there will be phases and stages in life; and we will further recognize that there may be people who can more perfectly love us and accept our love at certain times and stages of life, than at others.

What we can give and what we are able to receive may vary dramatically between child-rearing phases of life, and say the retirement ages, and in my dream we will understand that. We will recognize that I may be the absolute best fit for you in one phase, but perhaps your needs for intellectual challenges or physical activities will mean that at other phases I will not be able to meet all of your needs (e.g. I cannot be your ski buddy because of my bad knees). But I will celebrate for you the blessings of those who can meet those needs for you, and I will be cheering you on. Even if that means you cannot accept as much of my love in that phase—or even that you move on completely—I will still be loving you, as true love does not end; in fact, I will in my heart be loving the person who is constructively, selflessly, and caringly meeting your needs. How could I not? That person is loving you genuinely and selflessly, and I love you, so I must love that they wish to feed you spiritually as well.

I have a dream where our children are safe from the violence and petty squabbles over the reprehensible idea that we can own exclusive rights to someone’s humanness, their love, or supply their every need. How many divorces, how much pain, how much alcoholism, how much suffering might be ameliorated? I have a dream where we are free to have deep and meaningful relationships with people of the opposite sex, because there are no arbitrary boundaries of social propriety, and there is no jealousy. I am free to talk long walks with a friend who happens to be a woman, to have her call upon me at any hour, or have a shoulder to cry on as I would of any friend. This jealousy-free world affords that.

I have a dream where children learn not how to enrich themselves first, but how to care for others with emotional intelligence. In that dream, the fear of loss is not the driving force—the child has no fear and knows that caring is abundant; they are assured they will always be cared for. As we grow older, we even know that the more we love something, the more we set it free; if the relationship is genuine and synergistic, that thing comes back. But even if it does not come back, we love that person still; and by giving selflessly, we know that simultaneously someone or something somewhere else is also free to care for us or meet our needs, because everyone loves selflessly in this caring world.

I have a dream where life-long commitments and commitments to child-rearing are real and lasting. This is not a world where we make impossible and impractical predictions of the future—or pledge to withhold love from others due to unrealistic marriage pledges and jealousy—but where we love unconditionally, so that love never ends! True love transcends the ebb and flow of differing needs and different seasons of life, because we givers of love are still giving—cheering for our loved ones, helping them, and if possible still supplementing the new love our beloved is receiving in the languages and ways they find most helpful and appropriate for that phase of their life. In this dream, true love knows no artificial constraints, and yet is permanent.

I have a dream where our successes are celebrated genuinely by those who love us, not tepidly because of underlying envy. In this dream class warfare does not exist because the poor are happy for the fortunate, and the fortunate give to the poor.

I have a dream of a world where when I falter or am in need, someone is there to help educate me on how I could have done something differently, or better, and that this assistance comes without anger or judgment, but with love. In this world of no jealousy, it is easy to set ego aside and gain knowledge.

I have a dream for a better understanding of the most fundamental principals of Christianity. In this dream we understand the Jewish apocalyptic setting in which the Christ story takes place—wherein “this age” of suffering was so inconceivably painful that surely an anointed king was going to be selected by god to come and usher in a “new age,” imminently; god would then turn the world upside down so that the kingdom of heaven would come to everyday life here on earth. There would be no more pain, and no more jealousy in this vision. All the demonic forces of power and corruption, hoarding, and tribal rivalry would be extinguished, and the poor would inherit the earth—led perhaps even by a simple carpenter. I dream of a day where these vital concepts are no longer lost amidst a literalistic approach to Christianity, a world where we see the beauty of this vision, and we hear the metaphorical call of the mythical Christ figure to help us cast off the burden and the idols, and George Carlin’s “stuff,” and instead see humanity as the greatest path to our actualization and depth of experience.

While historical understandings make clear that those “predictions” of apocalyptic Jews were in fact merely a phase in the evolution of a Western god-zeitgeist, and their thinking would later usher in even newer god-definitions (which later became today’s “orthodoxy”)—we can still share the dream of a world without jealousy. And as the Gnostics and Christians and Buddhists teach us, that begins by looking inward.

An Impossible Dream?

Of course I mentioned at the outset that this is indeed a utopian dream and it is an impossible one to attain. Others do NOT have our best interest in mind, they don’t love us, and therefore it’s a classic stalemate akin to the Cold War. There is no trust, we see rivals everywhere, and thus feel we must protect our “stuff,” and our “love slaves,” and defend against everything and everyone. Even where there is trust, our religion of competition means we create friendly rivalries—as in business. The result is lose/lose for relationships. It appears we cannot move forward. Dawkins is right: it is human nature; and society celebrates that nature by celebrating sexual jealousy, encouraging men to go defend “their” women, or women their men. Society even celebrates marriage as a prohibition AGAINST loving interactions (with members of the opposite sex). Heaven forbid society allow me to have dinner, or share, or talk—or even be best friends with a woman, if all affected parties agree without stress or duress. What a pity.

But why can’t we grow beyond our nature? Isn’t that the very truth hiding behind the window dressing and mythology of most religion? We can do better. We do so daily as we defy our nature and aspire to overcome our out-dated, evolution-driven tendencies in virtually every other aspect of our existence, so why not work on this one? Why not cooperate rather than compete?

There are substantial benefits to beginning to think this way, even if the world does not follow. Isn’t that what religion, and ideals of spiritual growth are about? Becoming as Christ- or Buddha-like as possible? As fully human, as loving, and as selfless as possible? I’m strongly inclined that this is the case. I’m convinced that the more selfless, the more loving, the more giving of ourselves we can become, the closer we can get to our own, real, earthly, sustainable Nirvana, or Heaven-on-earth, or sense of meaning and purpose. We get what we want not through wishing and wanting for ourselves all day, but by transcending ourselves. We can cure that existential hangover in a way that church-hopping among literalist sects cannot.

So it seems that this dream can begin to become a reality only when we help others grow and succeed—even beyond ourselves, and when we grow beyond ourselves as well. That’s a tall order, and I may never make it, but I hope to die trying. Care to join me?

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(Stephen L. Gibson is the author of Truth-Driven Thinking, and A Secret of the Universe, a critically acclaimed, citation-rich novel about the intersections of science, reason, and faith. Still an emotion-driven thinker in recovery, Steve shares his journey in search of ever-elusive truth with thousands via his Truth-Driven Thinking podcast, and his Perspectives blog; © 2009, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC.)

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