Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

My entire artistic life, I’ve been under the impression that jealousy is bad; that envy is unacceptable. That under no circumstance, should you ever feel this way towards another musician. But this isn’t something I was ever really taught, at least not in music class. Religion teaches that jealousy is like "cancer in the bones", and I guess my imagination ran away with it from there and I applied that to my musical endeavors. Now, I’m wondering if all of that is wrong. After contemplating character personalities from a number of different stories; How they were pridefully envious, ambitious, and competitive; How their sole purpose seemed to be to overtake their rival; And how they reached levels of excellence, so excellent that they were 2nd only to one(if they didn’t indeed reach the top); I have to question, have I made a mistake?

There is no doubt in my mind that initially rejecting jealousy and envy was a good decision, for the short term. They are complicated emotions, and being so young, it would take some time to come to understand them. So they wouldn’t have been good for me back then. And I feel that over the years I’ve developed some very rational and reasonable ideas regarding how I relate to other artists. Understanding that we are all at our different levels for various reasons. That we don’t know the advantages or disadvantages of our peers, and therefore shouldn’t *waste energy feeling sorry for ourselves, or being angry at someone for something that isn’t even their responsibility. I think those are important things that all of us should know.

But that’s where the question is… "wasted energy… wasted energy?". From the characters in these different stories, to the competitive people that I know in real life, it doesn’t appear that these "negative emotions" are a waste of energy. Matter of fact, it seems that these emotions are an element of motivation. Their competitiveness and ambition drives them to work diligently and consistently. They have so much energy and drive, that they forget about everything but their goal. They know what they want, and they are not satisfied until it is theirs. And even if they never reach that top spot, they are always among the best. All because they had someone to compete against.

And then I think of myself. I’ve never had any rivals. Not because no one was better than me, but because I never competed with anyone. I tell my musical peers now; I’m not special. I haven’t worked harder than anyone else. I don’t have any particularly natural talents. I haven’t even been consistent. The only thing I did was commit. That’s it. No rhythm, no rhyme, no magic. I just committed. Music was and is the only thing for me, and that’s why I’m good at it. And quite frankly, even after committing, I don’t feel I’m at a high standard. And I’m nowhere near the standard of people who do compete, and have rivals, and have something to bounce their strengths and weaknesses off of.

I would say it’s one of the reasons why I am so needy and hungry for criticism. Choosing not to compare myself to others; Avoiding and rejecting jealous and envious emotion; And choosing to not compete with others; I needed another way to find fault in myself, and challenge myself. And even though I’m somewhat proud of my few accomplishments, given my plights with motivation and ambition over the years I’m wondering have I cheated myself? Is there some use and value in these emotions, like with most emotions? Should room be made for these feelings, in the heart of an artist? Is there a safe and gainful way to hone these feelings, and use that energy to continue down the path of growth and progress? Or does my limited perspective make me short-sighted and I’m just over-thinking again?

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Hi Jerone

I can’t answer your question

I just want to say what a joy it is to read your thoughts and the way you write. You are a very blessed and gifted person.

All the best
Brian x

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Well Brian, that is a very kind thing to say! Thank you, kindly! This is something I’ve wanted to talk about here for a long time, and it has not been posted lightly, so thank you for taking the time to tell me that you appreciate it :D

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There is not one thing in your thoughts that I could find to disagree about Jerone. Certainly not a light posting, but something all musicians, should they want to be virtuous people as well as musicians, should seek to find in themselves.

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Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Gobby, my thing has always been about sharing. I’ve always wanted to show others the music I’ve come to love and enjoy. So, with that intention, there was no need to compete; No need to be competitive. It wasn’t about being better than anyone, at anything. After I reached a certain proficiency, I became more and more involved in the aesthetic of music, rather than the technical and physical demand of music. I can say certainly that I would never invest into a piece of music for the sake of its technical difficulty. If it does not appeal to me aesthetically, it is a non-entity.

The problem is, when confronted with a marvelous masterpiece, that just happens to be exceedingly difficult, it’s hard for someone of my "flawset" to give it it’s due diligence. That’s when I start looking for motivational tools. If there are tools that I have rejected, without fully understanding their value and potential, I owe myself a thorough reexamination of those tools. I rejected jealousy/envy, because I understood them to be externally and internally toxic emotions. However, after being exposed to them in different ways and under various anecdotes, I feel that maybe they aren’t entirely toxic, if they are indeed motivational elements. Maybe there’s something in there that can be taken advantage of without causing anyone any harm? Maybe one could be full of competitively ambitious fire, without malice?

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People who are better than me motivate me and people who I am better at at something, I try to motivate. But I am pleased to see how you talk of all this in the past tense, as lesson’s you have learned- just as I have. That is what life is all about;-i.e., continuously leaning and improving our virtues. I suspect that musicians are far better at this than say, sports fanatics. It is not about survival of the fittest, and winners and losers. It is about co-operative advancement.

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Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

I agree, and hearing someone else say "co-operative advancement" is refreshing.

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

There is nothing wrong with trying to be the best you can be but, in my opinion, this doesn’t necessarily mean competing with everyone else or having to "win" and be above all others.

Especially in music, I believe that the above is true. To compare two or more equally talented and experienced musicians is very difficult but everyone also has diverse skills, experiences, techniques, and repertoire. The differences may sometimes be very subtle but they are always there.

This is one of the reasons I dislike competitions and awards in general as like is very seldom compared with like in these situations.

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Reckon you’re overthinking again. Time will sort this out anyway, when you’ve put on another couple of decades, you’ll wonder why you were concerned with such trifles.

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I have never looked at it that way. I am responsible for my own technique. If I want to get better I do more and better focussed practice. That will make me better and and whether anyone is better or not is irrelevant to my improvement. Dependence on these sort of emotions, even if properly harnessed may be in the long run counter productive because the motivati9m from the May well be stressful.

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

"There’s a tension at the heart of human nature."

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Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Musical talent is a complex set of factors that science has been attempting to codify since at least the 19th century. Music requires a degree of talent. To what level that degree requires varies person to person. Committment is a big factor in the evolution of a player to a musician. You have to be willing to dedicate a fair portion of your time to, not only learning, but expanding upon the instrument. To push the envelope per se. Part of having the talent is a passion for it. Musical ability tends to run in families, so there’s evidence then of a genetic component. For years, the 10,000 Hour benchmark has been held up as key to greatness, but more recent research has shown that this isn’t necessarliy true. Rote practice does not achieve that crucial step. It helps you reach for it, but what seperates the greats from the averages is that certain spark of heart that they express so easily, but which the rest of us mere mortals, struggle to reach. As the auld saying goes, "Ye canna put in what the Guid Lord’s left out." For myself, there’s been many times through my nearly 50 years playing and performing that I’ve been a wee bit jealous of another’s abilities. More so when I was younger, I’d use that to rededicate myself. Now that I’m older, and maybe I hope a wee bit wiser, I appreciate their abilities more than I’m envious of them.

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I’ve known at least a couple of top-notch musicians whose main gratification in playing music seemed to come from one-upping the competition, and from the praise and accolades they received for being ‘better’ than everybody else. To me, it diminishes the accomplishment somewhat, in the way it reveals an unbecoming vanity (and/or insecurity). Sort of like if someone captivates you with their music - and then runs their fingernails down the blackboard. (I know a fiddler who achieves this effect by insisting on cleaning his strings every time he stops playing; he uses little alcohol-soaked swabs that produce ear-splitting shrieks and squeals when rubbed on the strings).

The last I heard of one of the aforementioned competitive top-notch musicians was that he had quit his main instrument altogether - because he had decided that he was never going to be as good as the big popular star of that instrument (I’m being deliberately vague). The thing is, he was definitely in the same league as his nemesis, as far as his ability went, but, apparently, he couldn’t enjoy playing if he thought he had no chance to win top prize. Damned shame.

On the other hand, when Oscar Peterson told his father he wanted to quit school to be a jazz pianist, his father said, "No, you’re not quitting school to be a jazz pianist - if you’re going to quit school, it’s to be the best jazz pianist in the world."

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

"Dependence on these sort of emotions, even if properly harnessed may be in the long run counter productive because the motivati9m from the May well be stressful."

That’s a really good point Stephen. If there is anything I have noticed from these fictional characters, and these real people, is that they all seem to pay a price for their pride and envy. It looks like it costs them either their peace or confidence, and they tend to be very stressed out and uptight people. Sometimes you wonder if that makes them happy to be that way.

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"People who are better than me motivate me…"

"Now that I’m older, and maybe I hope a wee bit wiser, I appreciate their abilities more than I’m envious of them."

I was fortunate to have learned early that admiration is much more welcome and satisfying than jealousy. But admiration was never something I was able to feed off of. It was just something that was there. Here’s a non-musical example. My gym-partner, and good friend, has been going to the gym 6 days a week for months, and this girl is FIT. I mean, she can move. We only started going to the gym together for the last few weeks, and I can not keep up with her. Now, after spending so much time with her over the last few weeks, I’m motivated to catch up to her. But not because of jealousy, envy, or admiration. But because she encourages me, challenges me, and helps me see my potential by pushing me further to my limit than I would push myself. Even before we were gym partners, she’s always been a helpful person and I’ve always admired that about her. Now I admire her even more, for sharing her energy with me and motivating me to continue reaching for my health goals. So the admiration is there, but it’s not this burning pang of pent-up energy. It’s much more subtle and relaxed. It’s the same way with music, except I don’t have bandmates because I’m a soloist.

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Meself, love the literal example for something we often use as a metaphor. I could imagine that being aggravating, and as many fiddle players as I know, I haven’t met any myself that do that…

As for the musician who quit, that is a damned shame. I remember something my Great-Grandmother taught me when I was first learning how to navigate dealing with musicians who were better than me. "Just because there are others who are better than you, doesn’t mean that you’re not good.". I couldn’t imagine giving up music over anyone. It is not worth it.

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AB, thank you for the paper. I read the entire thing. May I ask what it’s relevance is, or the point you’re bringing up? Or… maybe better, could you elaborate on what Dr. King’s ideas mean to you in this context?

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Where do I go if I am better than the best? How do I enjoy magnificent inspired pieces of music? Let others judge I will plod along happy just to be The Greatest competent musician. I Don’t think Oscar Peterson thought he was the best Jazz pianist.Objectivity/Subjectivity
Its a revolving door.

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Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Jerone, is it okay if I don’t give you my interpretation of Dr. King’s words? I consider relevance as relative and open to interpretation. Having said that I have been listening to his words frequently; ever since a college roomate (1972) turned me on to his collection of recordings by him (MLK) & Malcolm X. If you appreciate what he is saying that’s enough relevance for me, Jerone. I just want to add personally I think "you" are on the right road. You are not lost or on the wrong way.

Peace,
Ben

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Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Ben, that is well with me. Go in peace. If any other ideas come up, you are of course welcome to share those as well. And thank you for sharing. It’s nice to hear from you.

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

The point about Oscar Peterson is that it was his ambition to be the best; that was the implication when he told the story - I have no idea if he thought he had succeeded or not. It wouldn’t surprise me either way.

I saw him once at Ontario Place, in Toronto - kind of a small arena. He was introduced grandly as not the best jazz pianist in the world, but the best pianist in the world. I was blown away by the performance - but my older brother, who had seen him in small clubs, said after, "He’s better when he’s not trying to be the best pianist in the world."

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It’s rather ridiculous to want to be the best in the world. How many people out there? 7 billion? More? How many musicians? How would one test that? There would be very few musicians if everyone had that attitude.
I used to want to be the best at certain things, but it just made me frustrated and over competitive.
All I can be is better than myself.

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

I am already better than myself.

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Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Nothwithstanding all the comments above including my own, I cautiously suggest that some competitive spirit among musicians isn’t always a bad thing. It can sometimes help to enhance a performance and the musicians can often "feed off" or motivate each other in the process.

The Wrigley Sisters are and were a perfect example of this and their friendly "sibling rivalry" was always put to good effect in their performances. Quite often, after a hectic set, one or other of them would exclaim words to the effect of "I’ve won". :-)

Here they are in typically good form.

https://youtu.be/GFFCrUHsOQc

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Johnny Jay, I don’t think that competitiveness is bad at all. I think it can be very healthy. But I believe that "competitiveness" in it’s simplest sense is more of a desire for bragging rights, or the thrill of winning. Whereas with jealousy and envy, I feel that they come from a place of feeling threatened, or having your pride and confidence challenged. There’s plenty of overlap, but I would think that competitiveness doesn’t need jealousy/envy, but can be inspired by jealousy/envy. In other words, competitiveness is its own element. Matter of fact, I would say a perfectly healthy rivalry is one where the competitiveness is peaked, but so is the respect and admiration, leaving no room for jealousy or envy. (And thanks for the video!)

Hmm… Well then… I think it’s safe to say that thanks to everyone’s contributions, I may have found the answers to my questions. Or at the least, can move forward with a refreshed perspective.

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For sure it’s fun to win, in a competition, but that’s never been much of a priority for me.

I’ve been doing the pipe band competition thing for 40 years now, and for me having "a good run", playing well, sounding good, and having fun doing it are more important than winning, to me.

Winning in a competition, after all, is merely the result of a judge’s subjective impression. We competitors don’t have any control over that, and I think it’s more fruitful to worry about the things we DO have control over, such as putting in the practice time and having a good attitude, keeping everything in perspective, putting teamwork and fun first.

I have zero jealously of bands who are better than us. Good for them! I enjoy hearing good bands! And we’re a big family, us pipe band people. We all know each other, we hang out and have a dram and a chat at the Games. There’s no "us against them" mentality. Are we happy to win? Of course! Are we happy to see other bands loose? Not at all. But somebody has to loose. We don’t feel sorry for the lower bands, rather we wish them the best, because the whole community is better when everybody plays well.

I guess what I’m saying is that competition doesn’t equal jealousy. Everyone can strive to win by trying to be their best, taking care of their own business, and not having any ill will towards anybody else.

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Great stuff Richard, I wish we as a species had that mentality. Goodness how different things would be.

"…because the whole community is better when everybody plays well."

Let’s all be great together!

Thank you for sharing your story! I do envy those who can be apart of large musical families and communities; But thanks to Irish music I’ve been relieved of quite a bit of that, as now through playing tunes and dancing at contras, I have found my small families and communities :)

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Quote: Winning in a competition, after all, is merely the result of a judge’s subjective impression. We competitors don’t have any control over that,

I have entered competitions in Irish music for the sole purpose of putting myself in the most stressful of situations. Nothing compares to being judged 1 slow air, 1 6/8jig and 1 reel and a complete wreak afterwards. BUT I use the competition as a yardstick any performance or gig after being in a competition situation is so much more relaxed and enjoyable.

I once played Lord Mayo (the slow air] with feeling . The judges feedback was. I should consider playing something like Danny Boy as an air WTF

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Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

Nah, I just play to my own satisfaction, and bugger everyone else!

And I love it endlessly!

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

A wee true story but I’ll not name names…. :-)

A very well known and excellent mandolin player whom I’ve known for several decades introduced me to his partner a few years ago. I had actually met her many years before and we used to be in the same circle of friends during the seventies but hadn’t seen her for many years.
Anyway, she said something along the lines of "Great to see you again. I hear you are playing the mandolin these days too…"
I replied "Oh yes but I’m not as good as *** yet though. To which *** quipped "Oh that’s OK. There’s nobody as good as me.." :-P

Although he was bragging, albeit in a jocular fashion, I felt it was actually the best thing he could have said in the circumstances. Far better than being patronising about it or saying something like "Oh I’m sure you’re better than me in your own way" or "Stick in and you’ll get get there" etc.
So, far from feeling deflated, I could even kid myself on(If I wanted) that I was still a pretty good player if not the best. :-)

Re: Jealousy and Envy: Utilizing and taking advantage of negative emotions.

I do not think jealousy and envy are useful emotions. They result in putting other people down rather than improving yourself. You have been quite right to keep well away from them. The aim is admiration, not jealousy, and respect, not envy. Admiration and respect can be a basis for competitiveness if you want to compete, but mostly we don’t need that either. Recently I have realised that often what seemed to be a problem with motivation was really the lack of a defined and achievable object. If you know what I want to do then you want to get on and do it.

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I got into traditional Irish music coming originally from a background of solo classical flute competition all through my teen years. Hated it, really was miserable every time I had to play in front of judges. My teacher was a former first chair of the L. A. Philharmonic and as part of some association of professional music teachers, she had to have her students compete regularly, and I was her most senior student. Went all the way to the California state championship level. There were some great moments, but mostly it was massively stressful.

Fast forward 15 years and after playing mostly early music in college I discover traditional Irish music sessions in the 1990s. Finally, I had found a virtuoso music genre with a rich social aspect that I could enjoy for the rest of my life, and I’ve thrived there ever since playing in many sessions and learning several instruments to a reasonably high level of proficiency.

It’s why I have mixed feelings about the competitive aspects of CCE, but can see the value for kids competing, developing the skills they will enjoy for a lifetime. I’m sure many enjoy it immensely while others must, like I would in their place, find it very stressful. I’m quite grateful to my parents giving me the opportunity and my teachers pushing me hard as a child and early teen. They provided for me a foundation that I have benefited greatly from my entire adult life.

I have zero interest in competing in the arena of traditional Irish music as an adult, but can understand why others, particularly if they didn’t have the previous childhood experience might want to do it just for the fun and bragging rights. I know it open doors for many players to make a career of the music, it’s just not for me.

It is quite possible to pursue excellence without competition being part of the equation.

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People are different regarding competition and stress- I’ve known many people over the years that don’t get stressed out. Their attitude is "I’ll give it my best shot and whatever happens, happens". Part of it is not giving a #%$ what the judges think.

I used to know a piper who had zero stress in competition. She would play her tunes in front of the judge exactly the same way she played them when practicing at home. In competition she would routinely beat pipers who played much better than her everywhere BUT in front of the judges, where they would get nervous and play below their normal level.

I was like that, I was always nervous in front of the judge in solo competition. It wasn’t fun for me so I stopped doing it. Oddly I’m not nervous at all in band competition. I know pipers who are the opposite.