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Searching for the roots of family envy and jealousy

John Fountain (in right corner) jokes around with cousins on a family dinner outing circa 1960s. | Provided photo

The Judases catch us unawares. They fly beneath the radar with warm-blooded handshakes and pats on the back, even as they walk with you and witness your heart, tears, struggle and sufferings.

We are blindsided by our brothers  — and sisters  — who smile in our face but spew daggers when we turn our backs. Et tu, Brute?

Those closest to us have the potential to inflict the most harm. The so-called brothers  — and sisters  — with whom we have shared the secrets of our heart. Those around whom we are completely disarmed.


I am reminded of biblical David’s lament: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend…”

You. My “brother”…

Over time, age and heartache, I have begun to more clearly discern the signs of hate present in the sacred spaces of family love. It includes but is not limited to the sly remarks that praise you on the one hand, and belittle you on the other, which I call “dis-pliments.”

It is the consistent, sometimes seemingly playful digs or needling about your clothes, your hair  — about something, anything, aimed at knocking you off your high horse.

It is sometimes the whispering in corners whenever you enter a room or arrive upon the scene or function. It’s the “lol” at the end of mean or insensitive comments. The talking behind your back that eventually finds its way to your ears.

It is the kind of ill will manifested by uncles, by cousins and aunts. By distant relatives, even by sisters and brothers. It is not everyone. But haters camouflage themselves well in the circle of love.

It can be difficult and disheartening to search for the root of loved ones’ hate. But I have found “Envy” most often the culprit. Envy and his dearest cousin Jealousy who are kissing cousins of Hate and Murder.

And the ensuing hate and slights sometimes have less to do with “us” and more to do with the haters’ own insecurities and unrequited dreams. With their disdain sometimes passed down like a torch by someone dear to them whose issue may have really nothing to do with you.

It can be the fact that by just showing up, your presence alone —  aglow with the God-blessed, hard-earned glory of success  — stands as a stark reminder of their own perceived shortcomings or failures. They covet your coat of success but know nothing of the price and pain of your journey.

Perhaps it simply boils down to the impurities of the human heart.

One thing I have learned for certain: Haters gonna hate. And this brand of hate splinters far too many families with subsequent hurts, discord, bad feelings and disharmony that are the antithesis of what we are meant to be as family.

So what do we do?

In the words of my dearly departed grandmother: “Keep living…”

We must also forgive and move on, guarding our hearts against becoming what we despise in others.

I was reminded of all of this recently. Reminded that no matter how much you dumb yourself down, or seek to walk humbly, you can never get low enough for some folks. I was reminded of the difference between “relatives” and “family.” Reminded that we can’t choose who we are “related” to. But we can choose “family.”

I choose family. And I choose to bid farewell  — with love  — to all my haters, blood or otherwise. At least I am resolved to stand apart from them and let haters hate on.

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