On jealousy and Toy Story

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.


[tweetit]”Toy Story, I discover, when seen through the eyes of a four-year-old, is a terrible, terrible movie.”- @Tanya_Marlow[/tweetit]

[tweetit]”Toy Story and my four-year-old had taught me afresh: jealousy is absurd and fruitless.” NEW post from @Tanya_Marlow [/tweetit]

[tweetit]“Scarcity says: I need more. Abundance says: there is enough. I am enough.” – @Tanya_Marlow On Jealousy and Toy Story[/tweetit]

[tweetit]”Jealousy disappears when you are generous. It kills it dead.” NEW post from @Tanya_Marlow On Jealousy and Toy Story[/tweetit]

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. 

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21 Responses to On jealousy and Toy Story

  1. Pam Smith 17th October, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    I know just what you mean about reading Twitter and seeing everyone else’s achievements and accomplishments – it can be a real struggle sometimes if my own achievements and accomplishments don’t feel like much to write home about!

    I do wonder if this is at the root of the old fashioned advice I was brought up on not to show off. I think if your face is being rubbed in someone else’s success it can be much harder to get it into proportion. I agree 100% about the antidote to jealousy being generosity of spirit, but I think also of admonitions in the bible not to cause others to stumble and fall. That then leads me to wonder why some people feel the need to go beyond simply noting their successes – in the expectation others will be pleased for them – and into the territory of bragging about it! Could it be they lack affirmation in their lives? In which case, counter intuitively, maybe my response should not be to label them as show offs (which is what I was taught to do as a child) but give them some affirmation? Tough one!

    As you can see, you’ve made me think!

    • Tanya 22nd October, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

      I’ve been thinking about your comment for days! Such interesting observations.
      Is it a bad thing to show off? And what is ‘showing off’?
      These are the questions I’ve been rolling around my head.

      I think we should feel free to share our triumphs and despairs with others (even if your achievements don’t feel much in comparison to others…especially then – that is the time to share). I guess we do this naturally with friends, and good friends will be those who celebrate the triumphs and commiserate the losses.

      BUT – we live in a social media age, which means we live in a noisy place, with lots of people who are not necessarily good friends. Add to this the fact that the business world (which definitely includes the publishing world) is built upon brags. If you don’t brag, you don’t become successful, because success is at least 50% image. (at least, this is the kind of thing I am told). So this definitely makes it hard to escape people’s boasts.

      Do people who boast lack affirmation? Possibly, or possibly they are just trying to follow what they are told is a good business model.
      Should we affirm them? I don’t know! This is a tough one. I guess it depends how well we know them. I think authenticity is key: for me, it’s important to be authentic in our responses to others.

      These are my first thoughts on your thought-provoking questions – thank you so much for them!

  2. Rebecka 16th October, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    I have to confess I get jealous often. I’m jealous of healthy people, of people who go jogging and can go to the cinema whenever they want. I’m jealous of my brother and his family who are about to take a trip to London (again!) when the only place I’ve gone to in the last six week is to the doctor’s.
    I’m not sure how I counter it. I think I just say “I wish I could do that too” and I allow myself a moment to be sad that I can’t but then I try to be thankful and happy for the things that I can do. If I think about it, there is a lot to be thankful for, I just need to remind myself.

    • Tanya 22nd October, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

      i LOVE your confession, because it is so true of what so many feel.
      How do we counter it?
      I think what you’re doing already sounds really healthy to me. Additionally, I wonder if we need to get away from the ‘either/or’ language of scarcity, and make it the ‘both/and’ language of abundance. What I mean is: subconsciously we say ‘why do they get to go on a trip to London? Why not me?’ – which means, ‘there’s only one trip to London available. It should be my trip, because I deserve it, because they’ve been lots, and I haven’t been anywhere nice in a long time.’ (I’ve written it so it sounds childlike, because I think that is the child in us that cries out these kinds of things. I think jealousy comes from our inner child – the place of powerlessness.) Of course, there is not just one trip to London, and them not going wouldn’t enable you to go. So – logic tells me, you may as well cheer for them, because it’s not like you’d be able to go either way. And that’s the thing you’re truly sad about. You’re not sad that they’re going – you’re sad that you’re not.

      So, I say – BE SAD. I’m sad you’re not going. It makes my heart sad to read ‘the only place I’ve gone to in the last six weeks is the doctor’s.’ I remember my last six-week-stint at home, and it was pretty miserable, and at least I got to see the sea at the end of it. I think you are doing amazingly, but it is really, really hard to be inside for a long time. We are not built for it. We lock people in buildings as a punishment. That’s why it feels so punishing. Mourn it. Mourn freedom. I’m mourning it with you, girl. I am really, really sorry.

      And OHMYGOSH I am praying that something will shift. I’m praying for your body and your health. With much love. x

  3. Cat 16th October, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Hi Tanya,

    This is a really interesting post and I have been thinking about it a lot. I totally understand that for a four year old Toy Story might be quite scary. Is Toy Story a U rating? Its funny how things change when you see films and books in the eyes of a child, things that we don’t find as scary can be really horrifying for a child! It makes you think which films are suitable and which aren’t, but I guess it depends on the child as well?

    As someone who loves watching films and engaging with them, I find your thoughts on it really interesting. I think you are right – the jealousy thats in this film is really destructive and we see it mostly in our lead hero – Woody. He is very mean to Buzz. Its a great example of how our human jealousy is often wrought with bitterness and hate because we focus on ourselves. Yet there are times when Jealousy is right – the Lord is jealous over his people, but his jealousy doesn’t lead to bitterness, it leads to the cross. So, its great that this film has led to that conversation with your son!

    Now one area I was thinking about was the creepy toys. No doubt really scary to a 4 year old and from some of the comments on fb and here they are a bit creepy to adults too! Woody finds them creepy too. But there is a redemptive point with Woody. Even though he is our fallen hero, there is a point where he displays a Christ-likeness. He soon realises that these creepy toys are not creepy at all – they are actually really broken, they have been hurt, abused, damaged and misused. Suddenly Woody feels compassion over them and plots a way to get them out and teach Sid a lesson or two about caring for toys! For me it reminds me of how Christ has compassion on the broken, abused and hurt among us and sets the captives free – crushing the enemy. He welcomes those who look creepy and scary, he beckons in the broken and hurting and he gives them a place in the kingdom. I just think at that moment there is a drop of Gospel truth that is beautiful.

    Woody isn’t perfect though, he is our fallen hero! But thankfully we know a better, loving and gracious hero 🙂

    You may think I am reading too much in it. But those are the things I like to draw out of a film – places where you see glimpses of gospel truth (even in part and not totally perfect) and celebrate them and also places where the Gospel is lacking and there is a need for a better and truer saviour/hero. Thats partly why I don’t think its a terrible story, I think its like every story we have – it echoes some truth but its desperate for a true and better hero and redemption then what it can offer.

    But as well, it may not be a story suitable for your child at whatever age and thats ok. Not all stories are suitable for everyone regardless of what truths they have in there. It is about conscience and what doesn’t make us stumble 🙂

    Anyways…thats a long comment. Hope it was ok to say this Tanya? Those were just some thoughts popping around in my head… it has also made me start thinking about blogging again! hehe

    • Tanya 22nd October, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

      Thanks so much for this long and considered thought, Cat – I’ve been thinking about it all week! (This post has been really good for unexpectedly raising interesting issues!)

      1. jealousy – is it always bad? What about God’s jealousy? I’ve been thinking about this, because I know the Bible says that God is jealous, but I think we need to be very careful about how we define jealousy, because God is jealous only in a very narrow, very good definition thereof! So – in the Bible God is described as being jealous for his people only in the way that a husband is jealous for his wife. I need to cover this with ALL KINDS of caveats, because normally it is not good for a husband to be jealous of his wife, it can be an early sign of emotional abuse, or insecurity etc, etc. Normally, jealousy is not good. But – where a husband is being unfaithful, it is right that a wife is jealous for her husband. When you marry, you promise yourself to another, and you promise that you belong together, with one another only, forever. It is not right for a wife to ‘share’ her husband with another woman. That’s not the kind of sharing we advocate when we’re instructing small children! So when someone breaks that promise, that’s the right, appropriate kind of emotional reaction to have, that kind of mixture of sadness, and ‘we belong to each other’, and “I want them back’, and ‘it’s not right’, and the word that the Bible gives to this is ‘jealousy’. The trouble is, that we also use that word more broadly to express the emotion that we feel when someone has something that we want (and normally we don’t have a right to get it, or the person who has it has a right to have it). Argh! It’s hard to make myself clear. Does that make sense?

      2. Is Woody a hero for the way he treats the ‘horror-toys’? Well, this is an interesting thing. Because, with my disability rights hat on, I was looking at that part of the film with a disability rights lens, and I was thinking, ‘Woody, the nice able-bodied hero, views these disabled creatures as horrific, because their bodies are broken, and therefore they are repulsive and evil. When he finally sees that they are not an enemy, he instead becomes their rescuer, and tells them what to do in order to achieve his objective (rescue Buzz). Admittedly, they do also achieve their own objective (throw off Sid), but why do they need Woody to do this? Is he their ‘brain’? Do they need someone to think for them? I may be reading too much into it -but it struck me that they are the only characters in the film who don’t have a voice, even after Woody realises they are good. That strikes with the experience of so many disabled people, who are viewed as repulsive/enemies because of their disability or are pitied and then ‘rescued’, without being given a voice themselves.’ (Maybe I should blog on Toy Story and ableism…) But I will concede that that is the part of the film that shows Woody in the best light, as does the part where he doesn’t get on the moving car, but stops to rescue Buzz, seemingly from more altruistic motives.

      3. should we look at films for the parts that they reflect the gospel, or for the ways they don’t?
      This is the deeper theme underscoring what you said. My answer is: we should do both. I am not as good at looking for the parts that reflect the gospel, however twistedly, and I like it when others do that. It sometimes makes me uncomfortable though, because i think Christians jump a little too easily to ‘and that’s a bit like Jesus!’ without considering all the ways that it isn’t like Jesus. When we assign Jesus’ character to a very flawed character like Woody, we need to be super-careful about which parts of his actions are like Jesus! It’s not always obvious. I think people’s minds are picture galleries, and we need to be careful which pictures of God we are displaying. I’m an English Lit gal, so i’m also keen to see literature in its own context, rather than reading our context into it. I’m more of a ‘what worldview does this present, and what’s right/wrong with it?” kinda gal rather than a ‘what parts of this story echo the gospel?’It’s a different approach; both have merit for Christian apologetics, I think. What do you think?

      • Mark Allman 22nd October, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

        I think jealously is good when it is in the context of you protecting something most often a relationship. I think we should be doing all we can to protect those precious relationships we have to the point we are jealous when something creeps into them that should not. We should take action in regard to that.

  4. Cara Strickland 15th October, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    This is wonderful. What a different perspective on Toy Story. (I’ve never loved that movie).
    Scarcity is so sneaky isn’t it? I’m learning that most of my difficulties in life come from this place. There isn’t enough sleep, or food, or time, or wonderful single men.
    But it’s not true. Scarcity is not true. Thank you for this reminder.
    Love to you.

    • Tanya 22nd October, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

      hey lovely friend! I know that scarcity is a lie, but i also know that you are really busy, and i really appreciate you taking the time to stop by! Thank you!

  5. Janice 15th October, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    I saw the FB post and the surprisingly intense discussion it sparked. I ALMOST commented – which you should know is a rarity for me on FB! – because my oldest is 8 and I still won’t show him Toy Story. He’d be in tears on the couch. My 5 year old daughter, however, is sort of drawn to creepy and I’m afraid she’d think those creepy toys were cool…so she doesn’t get to watch either. 🙂

    And I also think you area wise guru.

    • Tanya 22nd October, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

      ‘so she doesn’t get to watch either’ – ha! you always make me laugh. I’m impressed that I tempted you into Almost-Commenting. I always love your comments, so I’m grateful too for your Almost-Comment, though FB discussions can get a bit scary all too easily!

      It’s a good point, too, that it’s not just an age thing, it’s a matter of personality and knowing what’s right for each kid. Does that mean we just have to watch a La-HOT of kiddies movies?? Sigh…
      p.s. thanks for thinking i’m a wise guru 🙂

  6. Anna Wood 15th October, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    Oh, nicely written. I think this happens with peole with ME ALOT- and actually not just being jealous of people who are well, but jealous of people who have ME but *seem* to be better, or able to do more than you can. The trouble is in both of these case, you don’t know the whole story. It is easy for me to be jealous of the friend who is well, as two beautiful children etc etc, but you don’t know what is going on in her life really, you don’t know the struggles she has (turns out having two little ones is very tiring – who knew!). And I was soo surprised when she exressed envy at me! I mean I can’t imagine anyone envying me (I’m house bound with severe ME). But it turns out that the success I’ve had passing an MSc, discovering something I’m really passionate about (even if I can’t do it properly at the moment) made her feel that she wasn’t using her brain and she was envious!
    The same is true when I read about what a friend with ME has done – a holiday they have been on for example – itis so easy to think, ‘how have they done that, they can’t possibly be as ill as they say they are’. Gosh isn’t that terrible! It is so important to remember that you don’t know the whole story – you don’tknow how much pain they’ll be in afterwards, or that they spent the last 3 months in bed preparing for it. Thanks Tanya

    • Tanya 22nd October, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

      Comparison is such a thief, isn’t it? And a liar. That’s what struck me from reading this – that we tell ourselves that others don’t have any struggles.

      It’s really interesting that your friend was jealous of you. I also find it surprising when people are jealous of me. I think that’s partly because people don’t really believe how bad ME is (but that’s another story…) I remember being surprised when I saw expressions of envy on the faces of some twenty-year-olds sitting by the pool when we were on holiday, despite me telling them that I was housebound with severe ME and this was the first time I had left the house for a month. Their faces were so unsympathetic I wanted to say it again, just to check they’d heard it – but then I realised. They’d seen my gorgeous little boy running around, and they’d seen the love as Jon as he carried me from the pool to my room. I had what they wanted. I could see their point – I did feel rather blessed.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  7. Jamie Wright Bagley 15th October, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    Oh, yes. I struggle with two things. Anyone who lives in a house with a yard, and everyone who seems to have more time than I do to work on their dreams. But celebrating with others and their successes and dreams coming true is surely much of the antidote. I love what both Abby and Esther have to say about scarcity. I’m reminded of their words quite often. I know also that if we want to be content, we have to cultivate contentment; it doesn’t randomly arrive on its own. Practicing gratitude, sacred seeing, and praying the hours can help tremendously with that. I’m still imperfectly pursuing it.

    • Tanya 22nd October, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

      I love your honesty! Also, I should probably say that I have a house with a yard, and I probably have more time than you to work on your dreams. I am always in admiration of how serene you look when you are surrounded by kids! It’s hard, I reckon. I always admire mums with young kids – it’s really demanding. (I know I have a kid, but I think singular is significantly easier than plural!)

      Hard work and blessing go together, I think. Toil and futility all mixed up together with goodness. I love your solutions – especially the praying the hours thing. I always need reminding of that!
      Thanks so much for stopping by here.

  8. Mark Allman 15th October, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    You are a wise guru as is our friend Abby Norman. I shall keep this in mind when jealousy jumps my mind wanting to go for a ride.

    • Tanya 22nd October, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

      Yay! Thanks for naming us both Wise Gurus. I also think YOU are a wise guru! Thanks for stopping by!

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