It was supposed to be such a nice afternoon activity, some special mummy-and-son time while Jon was out at a church meeting. I was looking after the boy for longer than normal, so I had this great idea – I would let him watch his first ever feature film.
It should have been so nice. We had everything in place, even down to the fruit snacks and elderberry juice instead of popcorn and fizzy drinks (note my anxious Mummy/middle class credentials), and Jon’s motorcycle helmet so he could pretend to be Buzz Lightyear. I remembered Toy Story as such a lovely, feel-good movie – right? Wrong.
Toy Story, I discovered, when seen through the eyes of a four-year-old, is a terrible, terrible movie. If you take out the adult in-jokes Toy Story is basically bullying, and more bullying, then torture, then horror-style malformed toys with bald doll’s heads and robotic spider legs, abandonment, more bullying, and finally reluctant friendship in the last few minutes. (And some toy aliens.)
He spent the majority of the 84 minutes (and yes, I was counting) jumping on the sofa and sobbing, “turn it off! turn it off!” and “Why is the boy doing that to the toys…? But why is he so horrible? WHY?”
So far, so bad. I inadvertently caused a large and semi-heated discussion on my Facebook wall about the virtues (or not) of scaring children with movies, and the right time is to introduce them to feature-length films (which is another subject for another day). I don’t know about others, but for my four-year-old this was too soon.
However there was a good outcome from the film, and it was the discussion we had halfway through. I did an intermission, like the old-style cinemas, and we chatted about why Woody had driven a toy car into Buzz Lightyear, and the concept of jealousy. It went like this:
“Why did Woody hurt Buzz Lightyear?” (imagine an accompanying sobbing face and big blue eyes looking up at me.)
“Well, because he was jealous. Do you know what jealousy is?”
“Well, it’s like this: it’s when someone else has something that you want, and so because you don’t have it yourself, then you dislike the person who has it.”
As I’m saying the words, the whole concept of jealousy sounds kind of petty.
He snuggles up to me on the sofa, but still looks a little confused (and his breathing is still jagged from the sobbing), so I explain further.
“Say for example, you were in class, and you wanted the teacher to take notice of you. But the teacher wasn’t looking at you so much, they were looking at your friend, Oodwop instead.”
He giggles at the funny made-up name, which is a gratifying change to the crying, and I continue, encouraged.
“So instead of being mad at the teacher for not noticing you or giving you attention, you get angry with Oodwop because you want what he has, and you don’t want him to have it. And then maybe you do something nasty to Oodwop, just because you want the teacher to take notice of you.”
There is more giggling at the mention of Oodwop, and meanwhile I am grappling for the first time with the sheer absurdity and injustice of this kind of jealousy. Why do we not resent the teacher or the system instead of the person who benefits from the system?
As a child, I generally got top marks in my studies, but it often made me uneasy to reveal those marks to my classmates. Most were okay, but with some, I could see sheer hatred in their eyes because I had done well. I remember being baffled and confused by their hatred: I hadn’t got a good mark to spite them, I had just tried my best, as they had. I hadn’t intended their hurt. Nor would it have made any difference to their score had I got a lower mark.
Toy Story and my four-year-old had taught me afresh: jealousy is absurd and fruitless.
“Do you ever feel jealous like that?” I ask him. He considers the question honestly, and then shakes his head. I believe him. I find myself being thankful that his privilege, stage in life and character have converged to make him pretty content with what he has.
I ask myself the same question: When do I feel jealous? (When do you feel jealous?)
Normally, I love to champion others and celebrate what they are doing, and I enjoy it. Occasionally, when I am tired, and emotionally wrung-out, I look at my Twitter feed and feel an unaccountable rage – at EVERYONE, and resentful of the success of ALL THE SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE in the world, and suddenly my view of others’ success and small triumphs is marred by this ugly mould-green swirl of jealousy, and I just want to start a fight or hide under my duvet.
“Well, if you ever do feel jealous like that, do you know what to do?” I ask him. He shakes his head, and pops a grape in his mouth from the snack box.
Jealousy comes from a scarcity-mindset.
My friend Abby Norman is always talking about ‘scarcity-thinking’, the idea sometimes lurking in our minds that there are only a certain number of opportunities, or book contracts, or promotions, or even blessings. We view good things as being in scarce supply, so we hold onto ours tightly, and resent others for having good things. Scarcity says: I need more. I want what they have.
The opposite of scarcity-thinking is ‘abundance’, like the fruit in the trees in the Garden of Eden. It’s the attitude that God is a generous God and just because He is blessing someone else doesn’t mean He won’t also bless you. Abundance says: there is enough. I have enough. I am enough.
My friend Esther Emery says that the only way to counter scarcity-thinking is through radical generosity. She’s right: it works.
You live generously, as though blessing is not scarce, and your scarcity-thinking starts disappearing. You give things away instead of hoarding them. It actually works. Jealousy disappears when you are generous. It kills it dead.
“What Mummy does is to take a big breath, and celebrate them anyway,” I say. “You say, ‘hey, it’s great that the teacher takes notice of you! I hope she notices you even MORE.’ If you are feeling others have better toys than you, you share your good ones all the more. When you are generous to other people, it takes away the jealousy, and you feel happy again.”
He looks up at me, and nods like I am a wise guru, and so I feel I truly am a wise guru, and in the middle of a slightly traumatic first-venture-into-film-debacle, it is a very nice moment.
“Toy Story, I discover, when seen through the eyes of a four-year-old, is a terrible, terrible movie.”- @Tanya_Marlow
“Toy Story and my four-year-old had taught me afresh: jealousy is absurd and fruitless.” NEW post from @Tanya_Marlow
“Scarcity says: I need more. Abundance says: there is enough. I am enough.” – @Tanya_Marlow On Jealousy and Toy Story
“Jealousy disappears when you are generous. It kills it dead.” NEW post from @Tanya_Marlow On Jealousy and Toy Story
Over to you:
- Do you ever feel jealous? If so, what of?
- How do you counter jealousy and scarcity-thinking?
Check out Abby Norman’s amazing “Scarcity Hunter” mailing list.