Greed and cheating are in the genes

Are we born with a dark side? Are Jealousy and Envy, the subjects of my last two posts, innate? One comment I received suggested we are born a “blank tablet perfect in every way.” Biologist Lyall Watson would disagree. In his book  Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil, Watson proposes that all living creatures are born with genetic instincts that induce them to act immorally. He calls them the laws of the genes. In essence, they are…

Be nasty to outsiders.
Be good to insiders.
Cheat whenever possible.

Distasteful as those laws sound, all organisms rely on them to survive. Outsiders are not to be trusted; they pose a threat. They could invade our territory, take our jobs, steal our food, kill us. This law explains prejudice against people of a different race, religion, country. We instinctively distrust people who are not like us. They present an unknown and we fear what we don’t understand. Our primal response is to drive them away, shut them out.

The second law behooves us to be good to insiders, those within our tribe, family, community. We need their help and support. We may not like all the members of our family, neighborhood, workplace, but we recognize the value of community. Survival and well-being depend upon it so allegiance is strong. But entirely selfish. By protecting the group, we protect ourselves. So we turn a blind eye to an  employer cutting corners, the irrational dictates of a religion or the corruption of a government. “My country, right or wrong!”

Finally, human beings are essentially selfish. Toddlers think the world revolves around them and throw temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. As people mature, they develop more subtle, deviate behavior. If not given what they desire, they find a way to take it. Adults use lying, stealing, cheating to get what they need, envy, feel entitled to.

As we evolved, we learned to deny our dark impulses and cloak baser impulses and instincts in socially acceptable behaviors. By pushing them out of conscious awareness, they actually grow stronger. They loom in the unconscious creating what psychoanalyst Carl Jung called the shadow side. “Everyone carries a shadow,” he wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

We may not be aware of our own dark side but we have no difficulty seeing it in others. We project our greed onto corporations that employ child labor or raise the price of a product 5000%, angrily denouncing them. We project our self-centeredness onto narcissists and condemn them. We hide our jealousy and envy behind false goodwill, secretly loathing those who have what we want.

              “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Jung

From Healing Feelings: Fortunately, no matter what insecurities and dark impulses reside within, we have the power to transform them into positive energies. But first we have to face them. We can’t heal what we refuse to acknowledge. It is in denying our thoughts and feelings, driving them out of conscious awareness that they grow into frightful, negative forces that cast a dark shadow over the True Self and stifle the flow of pure energy. Looking is the light that illuminates darkness and dispels it.


Honestly acknowledging and confronting our dark nature, our insecurity, judgments, misperceptions, repressed emotions, guilt, fear, attack impulses, grievances, selfishness.

Genes and egos may give rise to our dark nature, but we also have a higher nature, a pure side. Non-Catholics as well as Catholics were moved by the visit of Pope Francis. Why is there such universal outpouring of love for this man? Because he resonates our higher nature. He reminds us of who we can be, who we truly are when we dispel the darkness. The difference between the pope and us is that he forgives the dark side and thus, forgiving, overcomes it.

Is envy sabotaging your growth and relationships?

I have yet to meet anyone who is totally confident, self-sufficient and happy. We all feel lacking, incomplete in some way; not quite good enough. That feeling makes us strive to improve ourselves, learn, grow, explore and achieve. But it can also give rise to envy. Envy takes us in the opposite direction. It shines a spotlight on our inadequacy and increases feelings of inferiority. As with jealousy, envy puts the focus on what we lack.


The more we envy others, the more deficient we feel.

artwork-797_640We live in a hierarchal society. It is natural to crave status. We want to move up the ladder, stand out, rise above the crowd. We seek power, we compete, we strive to get ahead. We believe that “He who has the most toys wins.” More common than envying people for what they have is envying them for who they are or the life they lead. There is always someone smarter, more successful, more attractive, happier, healthier, more admired. The list is endless.

Envy diminishes us. It keeps us stuck in a negative mindset and blocks the path to change. Rather than striving to accomplish what we desire, we would like to steal it from someone else. When we envy people, we harbor resentment and wish them ill – subconsciously if not consciously. We entertain visions of their downfall. Then their well-being would cease to resonate our feelings of lack and inferiority. We might even get to feel superior – for a little while at least.

The Germans have a word for taking pleasure in another’s misfortune: schadenfreude. Schaden means harm and freude means joy.  Who doesn’t take a bit of guilty pleasure in seeing famous people fall from their pedestal? Or someone ‘too big for his britches’ get ‘cut down to size’? We try to justify our feelings by saying, “S/he got what s/he deserved.” But such attitudes spark shame and guilt, making us more hostile and resentful.

“Success makes so many people hate you. I wish it wasn’t that way. It would be wonderful to enjoy success without seeing envy in the eyes of those around you.” Marilyn Monroe

We can use envy to grow. It shows us what is missing in our lives. It highlights a goal worth striving for. The positive flip side of envy is admiration. A student admires a teacher. An apprentice admires a mentor. Children admire parents and role models. Admiration creates a bridge between people rather than a wall. Admiring others can inspire us to learn and grow, and accomplish what they have achieved.

Jealousy: Poison to You & Your Relationships

Did you ever try to pet one dog when another is in the same room? Dog #2 runs over, tries to push Dog #1 out of the way, capture your attention and guide your hands onto his furry coat. The second dog sees the first dog as having what he wants and tries to take it away. That’s jealousy. It’s a natural instinct in human beings as well as animals.

stick-309861_640Jealousy makes us respond like Dog #2. We resent people who take attention away from us. We try to push them out of  the way and recapture what we think is or should be ours.  In a family, jealousy often occurs when one sibling receives more attention than another. In a couple, when one partner exhibits interest in someone or something else. I once had a boyfriend who was jealous of my affection for my dog. In the workplace, jealousy rears its head when someone else receives more approval than we do, or a promotion that we think should be ours. In business, we might feel jealous of a competitor who has more customers.

We’ve all experienced jealousy at one time or another. It is a dangerous brew of fear, insecurity and inferiority that  sparks feelings of anger, resentment and hatred. Jealousy is a destructive emotion and leads to destructive actions. We’ve all heard about murders committed by people in a jealous rage. Jealousy can also be deadly to the person experiencing it, leading to suicide. “The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves.” William Penn

Jealousy is inevitable when self-worth, security and happiness depend on someone or something outside ourselves. It resonates painful feelings of failure and insufficiency. We imagine all will be well if we can only fix the outside picture, but the inside causes remain.

Jealousy is more likely to destroy a relationship than preserve it. It makes people suspicious, possessive, demanding and controlling, the very things that drive others away.

Jealousy and envy are frequently confused. While they often go hand in hand, jealousy involves 3 parties, and envy involves 2.

Jealous Triangle

Jealousy: A third party, a rival, is competing for, stealing something that is or should be mine.

Envy: I want what another has.

We’ll look at envy next time. In the meantime, find suggestions for dealing with jealousy.