For me, the end of the school year is a season for envy—seniors choose colleagues to speak at functions like graduation, and other teachers receive dedications and prizes and travel grants and fellowships. They are lauded as exceptionally hard-working, as friends to their students, as dedicated to the broader school community, as warm and comic and challenging but fun.
I like to think I’m some of those things, and, as the year comes to a close, a few of my students do quietly express gratitude. A couple ask me to sign their yearbooks. Yet I find myself wishing for more affirmation and can’t seem to escape my envy.
When students throw surprise parties or show dramatic affection for other teachers, I try to feel good for them—they deserve it—but that little voice won’t shut up, “Why not me?”
Envy is my ugliest emotion. Some feelings I rationalize as momentary, negative only in context, or—as long as I can keep them secret—motivating. But envy isn’t easy. In The Conquest of Happiness, Bertrand Russell describes envy as doubly devastating—harmful to you and the object of your envy. The envier feels inadequate and begins to hope for someone else’s misfortune. When someone receives praise I think I deserve, my feelings of inadequacy grow until—if I don’t exactly wish others ill—I begin to resent their success. Why them?
This confession is unbecoming, I know. I try to be Buddhist, recognize I’m craving. The root of my issue is—what else?—attachment, living too vividly in the material world. Buddhists represent envy as a horse because, when horses feel another horse at their shoulder, they can’t bear it. I try to bear it. I don’t want to be a horse or, more accurately, a horse’s ass, so I attempt to celebrate now without thoughts of gain or perceived needs.
Yet, emotions are irrational. Not wanting them doesn’t help.
Western philosophers make a distinction between jealousy and envy, in that jealousy focuses on the beloved—desiring exclusive love, you can’t bear another stealing your lover. In contrast, envy is about the rival. He or she possesses something you feel ought to be yours.
Still, there’s a problem. These interesting intellectual distinctions don’t matter much. Both terms will do. I want students to love me particularly and that means they can’t love rivals more. It’s about the beloved and the rival.
And, as if I’m not confused enough already, I also feel guilty. What sort of teacher insists on being loved—could such a teacher be lovable? No wonder honors land elsewhere—just dividing the world into lovers and rivals makes me unworthy. Teaching should be altruistic, and here I am wishing for credit. No one enters teaching for credit… or money.
If only I could live in the now, I might string an otherworldly necklace of teachable moments until it wound around me like an endless garland of blossoms… with me, the happy Buddha, sitting with a silly grin in the middle of adoring acolytes.
But you see where I’m going—every rational response leads me in ever decreasing circles until I fly up my own ass with a resounding “fwhump.”
It comes down to not ever feeling I have enough—enough respect, enough gratitude, enough love, enough praise, enough honor. It’s a matter of desire, and I want to know…
How can I live without that?