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The mask called envy

25 Nov 2006

Have you ever been in contact with someone in a school, work or social setting where you’re forced to work with them despite the fact that you may not like them?

For some inexplicable reason you just can’t stand to be around them. Being of West Indian descent, my parents would say ‘my spirit just can’t take ‘em”.  The fact that you dislike them has nothing to do with the way they look or smell, nor, does it have anything to do with their personality. It is simply an overwhelming feeling of hate and contempt that consumes you until it reaches a point where you no longer remember your initial reason for disliking the person. However, if you do remember the reason it doesn’t even make sense nor is it supported by any form of logic.

Last month in a business to business class at Ryerson University , our professor presented us with the challenge of working in groups of 12 to complete a case study assignment. The group was picked randomly by selecting a letter between A and D.

Now, anyone who has worked in groups will understand that this was not going to be an easy task.  Many of us have experienced the problems that can arise, for example, when trying to plan a weekend trip, or night out with a group of friends.

Although they are your friends, these problems usually arise from the mere fact that everyone has their own opinion. If it is a daunting task for a group of friends to agree and work together, imagine the difficulty of having to collaborate and work with twelve strangers. In this group, we were required to do a case study, analyzing the attributing factors behind a struggling corporation. After acknowledging our group and its members we decided to meet up and discuss the case and how we were going to proceed.  From the start of our meeting, one of my group members instantly elected himself as Team leader; which instantly infuriated me. My initial thought was “who does he think he is?”. “Is this guy aware that I have a 3.4 GPA?” Yes, sometimes my cocky side gets the best of me. As he began explaining his direction I slowly started to tune him out and eventually everything else regarding the project. The meeting lasted for about 15 minutes which was completely guided by the one I now refer to as “The Dictator”. At the end of this rally, the objective was to work on the assigned Case Study individually and then meet to discuss our findings within the next few days. In the time it took me to travel from the school to my house, there was an email waiting for me in my inbox with guidelines on how to proceed with “our individual tasks” according to “The Dictator”.

Our presentation was done the following week and to my amazement it was one of my better presentations. Although we had our part, ‘The Dictator’ led the team. It wasn’t until a day later that I really started to analyze what it was that I didn’t like about ‘The Dictator’.

Did I hate that he was confident? Was it because he took the leadership role or that he provided guidelines making sure we met the presentation requirements? Could the reason have been that he was on point and I chose to sit back and observe?

The truth is I didn’t want that responsibility.  So, why did I hate someone who took the initiative? After some deep soul searching, it came to me that this form of hate and resentment is something I’ve done all my life; which was to mask my envy through perpetrating hate. There are many incidences in my life that are examples of this.  I remember how I used to think that people who went to University wasted their time and that anyone could do it if they wanted to until I got in and realized how hard it is to maintain a 3.0 or higher grade point average. I recall laughing at people who worked 40 hour weeks. I used to think that I would never be the chump that had to slave and put my destiny in the hands of someone else’s dream. This philosophy was shattered when reality settled in and I found myself working three jobs in order to pay for school and keep my brother, mother and myself from getting evicted from our way-overpriced apartment.  
I used to downplay successful actors and musicians because I felt that I could do what they do but better.  Once again reality settled in after attempting to record a song that took 40 takes.

In my younger cooler days, my focus was getting the latest Ralph Lauren shirt, this desire to be a trendsetter became my life.  I would walk around with a pompous attitude because my outfit was designer from head to toe and I would laugh at those who wore no name.  Later in life, I found out the joke was on me. While I was accumulating debt, they were purchasing their first homes.

Looking back, the truth became prevalent, I used to mock, laugh and ridicule those who deep down I actually admired.  Maybe we all need to analyze where our hate comes from, why we ridicule and hold resentment towards others.  In examining my life, I realized I was not the only one with this thought process. It was all around me: my parents, my mom in particular used to laugh at other races such as the Chinese and East-Indians because they would have the whole family pick up limited sale items. In high school some of the ruff neck girls used to laugh at the quite, simple, shy to themselves pretty girls because they weren’t as loud as them.  Even my circle of friends thought you were nothing if you did not have the right brand of clothing.

I spent a lot of years hating and putting people down for their attributes only now being able to realize it was so much easier to not like someone for their gifts, talents or achievements than appreciating them. If I had taken time to acknowledge their existence and treated them equally, I could have gained so much from them.  There is so much to learn from other people’s experiences and viewpoints.  It’s a shame not to approach people with an open mind. It’s usually those you wouldn’t normally associate with who can bring so much to your life.

I remember reading a book about the Celestine prophecies. Throughout the series of the Celestine novels, it shows that life is a journey. On that journey or path you will meet people who will have bearing on your life. But you must approach them with an open mind because you never know the importance that stranger may have down the road.  When I think about all the people I encountered in my life who I gave cold a shoulder to or approached with a negative mind, all I see were missed opportunities; closed windows towards a better life. I think we need to put a mirror in front of ourselves before we start hating on each other. Perhaps it is time to stop hiding behind the mask called envy and appreciate the gifts and talents of our brothers and sisters as opposed to beating them down.  Lou Holtz, a legendary college football coach of the twentieth century was once quoted as saying “If you burn your neighbour’s house down, it doesn’t make yours look any better.”  It’s interesting how life comes full circle.  Years ago if someone had said this to me it would have had absolutely no bearing on my life.  Now, I’m writing about it to help others see the destruction envy can have on our lives and society.

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