I learnt a new word this week – an informal Irish word ‘begrudgery’ – meaning general resentment of any person who has achieved something, particularly if they share common features with you. So in Ireland that means those who are unable to feel good about the success of their fellow Irish men or women; and so on through all the minorities.
I was trying to explain the situation that happens sometimes within the disability arts movement, when someone gets something – an award, a grant, a job, a commendation – and rather than celebrate it, others use it as an opportunity to try and pull them down instead. Apparently, it’s a social phenomenon – also know as Tall Poppy Syndrome or referred to as The Politics of Envy, but I rather like the simple word begrudgery best.
I did some digging around to find out where it might have started – and it goes back a long, long way. Its what Samuel Johnson was referring to when he observed: “The Irish are not in a conspiracy to cheat the world by false representations of the merits of their countrymen. No, Sir; the Irish are a fair people; – they never speak well of one another.”
One thought is that the rapid changes within Irish history meant that people quickly learned to keep their heads and not draw attention to themselves, and perhaps its this habit taken to an extreme – if you stick your head up, you are going to get flack.
Now begrudgery isn’t all bad. It’s great at puncturing pomposity and brilliant at dealing with ‘Hello’-styled celebs – always refreshing to see an oversized ego skillfully deflated. The problem is when it becomes automatic, when it’s the only response we ever make to the success of others; when its born of our bitterness rather than our wit.
I’ve been on both sides – both giving and receiving begrudgery. It hurts both ways, to be honest. It doesn’t feel great to puncture someone’s success – you are left feeling mean and spiteful. And it really smarts to have your own achievements thrown back at you. So 2012 – a new word and a new resolution – less begrudgery and a more welcoming approach to success – both mine and others, please!