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Kermit and the green-eyed monster

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Kermit the Frog, of enduring Sesame Street fame, was always a favourite with my children and me: he was so amusing and appealing, and also had a way of unobtrusively communicating simple goodness along with the occasional moral message. He was also concerned with the most important matter of the self, so that in his most famous song he puts a positive spin on the matter of greenness. While admitting certain drawbacks to the condition, he eventually asserts that green is the shade of spring, and of trees. He lists the good things about being green: greenness can be big, important, or tall, and by the end of his song he professes himself happy with his lot and colour.

According to long tradition, however, green is the colour of envy and jealousy, two emotions that are often confused. Jealousy is a negative feature of relationships, and is usually connected with low self-esteem and the fear of being replaced by a more attractive person. Jealousy is thus concerned with challenges to construed possession, while envy concentrates on lack, and on emptiness in ourselves. Both, it seems, are connected with basic dissatisfaction. Kermit, for example, sometimes thinks it might be nicer to be red, yellow or gold. Jealousy and envy have always been with us, alas. Cain killed Abel because he envied the favour Abel had found in God’s eyes: the brothers had both made sacrifices to God, but Abel’s sacrifice was preferred.

Shakespeare was much concerned with the problem of envy, listed in Catholic doctrine as one of the Seven Deadly Sins: think of childless Macbeth’s envy of Banquo, whose descendants will be kings, or of Iago, envious of Cassio being appointed lieutenant, and also envious of Othello, who has won Desdemona: I do love her, too. It is a nasty irony that Iago warns Othello to beware the green-eyed monster. Closer to our own time, philosopher Bertrand Russell considered envy to be the most potent cause of unhappiness, and he was probably right. The tendency starts early, for we see both jealousy and envy in the pattern of sibling rivalry: my elder granddaughter, practising self- knowledge at the age of four and a bit when her sister was born, told her mother that she wanted to be the baby again.

Speaking of mothers, I was extremely fortunate in having a wise one: she was ever on the qui vive for sibling rivalry and the power of envy in general. When I was about 20, and uncomfortably aware of various girl friends owning flash cars, settling down with presentable husbands in houses that could have found a place in Home Beautiful magazine, she gave me one of her casual, low-key lectures: these usually took the form of a couple of sentences or questions, so that I never realised lessons were being taught.

My Mum was never dramatic, so she didn’t quote Proverbs and its reference to envy being rottenness of the bones. Instead she said, ‘Envy doesn’t do, you know. It has bad effects on the psyche, and also makes one forget that life is strange and unpredictable, so that the people one envies may not be fortunate forever. And always ask yourself the question: Do I want the whole parcel?’ I obeyed her, well, often enough, and when I did, usually found that there were parts of the parcel that were not attractive at all.

 

'Both poet and puppet have acquired important self-knowledge, and have, in so doing, overcome a deadly sin.'

 

Being preoccupied with the subject, but no Latin scholar, I was surprised to find that the Latin for envy is invidia, which again translates into the idea of non-sight: when we are envious we are blind to what we have in ourselves. Here, once again, Kermit puts us right by emphasising the advantages in being green. I’ve also learned that in Dutch the word is split into two, so that there is benign envy and malicious envy. The latter is, of course, the one to beware of, while the former can goad a person on to better things in trying to emulate a worthy example. It seems, however, that malicious envy is usually the more powerful force: a mere glance at any social media platform, where destructive envy and the feeding of dissatisfaction are both pervasive, tells us this.

It is doubtless bizarre to mention Kermit the Frog and Shakespeare in the same breath or sentence, yet both express an idea in common, while both admit to being envious: Kermit thinks of colours other than green, while in Sonnet 29 Shakespeare writes that he desires this man’s art and that man’s scope. Envy also leaves us open to the corrosive blight of self-pity: in the sonnet Shakespeare curses his fate and beweeps his outcast state, while in his own world Kermit complains about spending each day being the colour of leaves, and merely blending in with ordinary things. But both Kermit and Shakespeare come to realise and accept that we have to concentrate on what we have at the present time. At the end of his song, Kermit says I am green, and it’ll do fine. He is satisfied, rather than not. My elder granddaughter has now accepted that her baby sister is part of family life, and is entertained by her. Usually, anyway.

And genius Shakespeare moves from a state of self-loathing (myself almost despising) to an elevated happiness in which he would not change anything. Haply I think on thee, and then my state…sings hymns at heaven’s gate.  Both poet and puppet have acquired important self-knowledge, and have, in so doing, overcome a deadly sin.

 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Kermit the Frog. (Jemal Countess / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Kermit, Shakespeare, Envy, Green, Jealousy

 

 

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Existing comments

A thought-provoking article, Gillian, thanks. In thinking about envy, provocation can be a powerful factor in that blight. It may well be that envy and jealousy are a result of a feeling of “otherness”. In the parable of the prodigal son it is the elder son doing everything right who is envious of the brother who does just about everything wrong. When the younger brother returns, remorseful, the over-achieving elder brother’s envy reveals itself. All this to say that these are complex emotions and don’t necessarily fit a pattern. From Vivian Smith’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”: Years of terror, in the mud of years,/absent from the self; the self alone;/wounded like a animal and nothing real/but the closed reality of pain.

For both brothers.


Pam | 22 February 2022  
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Vivian SMITH was one of my teachers at Sydney. I always think gentility and spiritual - his poetic style.


Jim KABLE | 23 February 2022  

Jim, I am only familiar with a few of his poems (from an anthology) and like them very much. Further in the poem I quoted: he stumbled on the roadway in the sun,/a mirage or a vision, falling, fell/and broke into the country of his heart/and lay there drinking by its dying well.


Pam | 24 February 2022  

Thank you, Gillian, for extending my education. I had never before considered the difference between envy and jealousy and that they can be split further into good and bad influences. However, it occurs to me that in order to be either envious or jealous one must have some knowledge of the higher level to which one aspires. What possible knowledge of "a better way" can be had by an African child walking miles each day to fetch a can of water?


meriel Wilmot-Wright | 23 February 2022  

Those connected with the writing, production and presentation of Sesame Street are downright brilliant. It is not Shakespeare, but Shakespeare was not writing for children. That is a totally different Art. From memory, Sesame Street was originally envisaged as a means of empowerment for disadvantaged Minority children in New York. It worked! Kermit's dealing with colour and identity are brilliant. What's more, this is not served up with the blows of a self-righteous moral sledgehammer. The world of Sesame Street is profoundly moral. This is a morality I empathise with.


Edward Fido | 23 February 2022  

What a trip down memory lane. Kermit is the gentle beta male who does not need to be a jealous, possessive and toxic alpha male. A world with more Kermits will be a much better place.


Stathis T | 23 February 2022  

Kermit isn’t green, unless appearance is more important than substance. He only appears green to the human eye because he absorbs all wavelengths of light except green. If he appears black, it means he’s absorbed all wavelengths and if he appears white, he’s absorbed none.


Bathed in the Light of the Father, the holiest disciple in Nature would be the one who is in appearance all black because, in substance, s/he would have absorbed and now contains all wavelengths of the Father’s Light. The least holy would be the one who is radiantly white, having renounced all wavelengths of the Father's Light, which tells you that appearances can deceive. Which tells you that the (red) Devil is sufficiently versed in science so as not to appear white, and that whatever a radiantly white angel tells you in an apparition or in your mind, test it against the black-letter text of Scripture and Tradition.


It’s just as well that Theology (at least in its colloquial metaphoric expressions such as ‘Light of the Father’) is not subject to Nature. Perhaps that is because Theology is SuperNature, or Nature is fallen and possesses less dignity than Theology.


Anyway, that’s Kermit’s skin. As for the webbing between his toes, perhaps Continual Revelation will, in due time, tell us whether that has any theological significance, because, for some reason in courtrooms, lawyers are forever talking about webs of deceit, if not tissue of lies, and if they are feeling particularly expansive, farrago of lies.


roy chen yee | 24 February 2022  

As usual Gillian a thoughtful article. I was aware of the difference between envy and Jealousy and have tried to avoid both. I have often been amazed at the wisdom of our mothers who have passed on a reminder to take the time to look at the objects of envy and remind ourselves of the the things we should be grateful for. My favourite quote was from miss Piggy ‘Pretentious ? Moi?’


Maggie | 24 February 2022  

A wise article, thank you.

I always loved Kermit's 'rainbow connection', which makes room for the lovers, the dreamers and me, all of us under its spell. I agree that the quality of gentleness abounds in this little green bloke, which is a quality we all need. That, a little magic and a key change or two from Kermit can overcome discontent.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS5fTzMP_mg


Barry Gittins | 25 February 2022  

Thank you Gillian, for this beautifully crafted and erudite story.
Reading it transported me to another place. :))
And Kermit and Macbeth will be forever linked in my mind; such a wonderful teaming!
Just super duper.


FIONA | 25 February 2022  

Well, Roy Chen Yee has been at it again, philosophically unpicking Kermit in the way only he can. I think we need to remember Kermit is a puppet. Puppetry is an ancient Art form, which still exists in Java, Greece and Sicily, to name three places. Puppets can 'speak', but what they say depends on those manipulating them. For instance, dalangs (master puppeteers) on Java were often paid to insert material supporting family planning into the classic wayang plays. On that overcrowded island, that is understandable. I remember seeing well crafted ads for family planning at the movies in Bandra, an upmarket suburb of Mumbai, long, long ago. This comes with political freedom. As Stathis points out, Kermit is a bit of a SNAG. That is definitely OK with me. Obviously RCY and I are at different ends of the religious and political spectrum. That is also OK with me. The right to disagree is part of democracy.


Edward Fido | 25 February 2022  
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‘has been at it again, philosophically unpicking Kermit'


Consider that on a par with inserting FP ads in puppet plays. Each is pushing dogma with puppets.


roy chen yee | 12 March 2022  

Thank you for this thoughtful piece, Gillian. It took me back to Joseph Berke's great work and exploration of 'grenvy'. http://www.jhberke.co.uk/articles/psychosis.html


cecile yazbek | 26 February 2022  

A wonderful reflection, Gillian. Your granddaughter reminds me somewhat of my own reaction to no longer being the youngest child. I am glad that she, as I did, can now see the positive side!


Juliet Flesch | 26 February 2022  

Kermit the Frog was such a gentle character and one of the nicest things to come out of the USA, but I'd forgotten how wise he was. Your article left me feeling calmer and happier. Thank you.


Stephen | 27 February 2022  

I think Roy Chen Yee took the post just a wee bit too far with his analysis. Kermit is a puppet. Puppetry is an Ancient Art Form. Puppets basically are manipulated and 'speak' what their handlers say. Kermit is probably a SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy). We all need to be a bit of a SNAG. The alternative is an unfeeling brute.


Edward Fido | 28 February 2022  
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'wee bit too far '

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing to excess.


roy chen yee | 02 March 2022  

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