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Zelos, the root for the Greek word "zyliea" or jealousy, was the god of rivarly, jealousy, son of Pallas and Styx.
Zelos, the root for the Greek word "zyliea" or jealousy, was the god of rivarly, jealousy, son of Pallas and Styx.

Greeks have the devil inside: Rivalry and Cooperation in the Hellenic community

On the subway today I met an “Old Skool”Greek man in his late 60s. He introduced himself as American Gangster and handed me his business card.  He had done some fill-in acting work for that film and some others such as “I am Legend” and “The Taking of Pelham 123. “

“I would have gotten further in my acting career,” he explained, “but I had too many rivals that kept getting in my way,” as he shifted his wooden cane on the seat.   “You know the worst enemy of a Greek is another Greek,” he smirked slitty blue eyes sparkling. ” Let me tell you a joke–“

There was a Greek and a Jew.  The Jew would come down from the village with his purse across his                shoulder and his hat and his crooked nose. And he would cross paths with another Jew from the next            village. When they meet, they would cross hands . . .” (and here he crosses his two front arms in the              shape of an X.) “Shalom,” they would greet each other, “next year in Jerusalem.” The Greek guy would          come down the mountain from his village with his bag and when he chanced to meet the other Greek            from another village, you know what his reaction was? “Os sto dialo, I had to see this God damn guy.            Get the he’ll outta my face. “

And American gangster crosses his arms in the same way but with force to communicate the anger.

“That’s what keeping us back,” I tell him. “Until we realize that we have to support each other, we will never get ahead.”
“Fugetabbouit!” He waves his hand. “This is the Greek disease. You can’t correct it. It’s in the DNA. For thousands of years.”
“That’s not true,” I contested. “Not all Greeks are divided. If you visit the communities out west or the Greeks in Montreal or even in Chicago, they are supportive.”
“Nah,” he responded, “deep down they are all jealous of each other.” And just to make sure I got the point, io Ellines zilevounai, (Greeks are jealous of each other) he adds in Greek.
“If you go to Greece,” he advises me, “don’t tell anybody how old you are, how much money you make, what kind of education you have, because they will start oh you’re a teacher? Where’d you go to school? How much is your salary? Aeesh sto dialo,” and he pushes two hands in the air as if to air out a towel.

It’s a topic I’ve harped on before. But it is so rampant I have to make a few more comments. The American Gangster is right.  Greeks, esp in the northeast United States, zylevounai. They are only interested in your success in order to find ways to stack up there’s. They really do not want anyone else to exceed their own level of success. They all want to be number 1.  They might make nice-nice and use the collective banner of Hellenism as a guise for mutual advancement, but really their intentions are see through. And frankly one gets so frustrated in dealing with the in-house rivalry, she gives up on even trying to look for support in Greek circles.  The xenoi advance you more than your own tribe.

Take this “colleague” or acquaintance I have. We move in similar circles so we bump into each other now and then. She makes a show about being concerned, asks questions just enough to size me up, says she will talk to me, but she hasn’t. She is really not interested.  As far as she is concerned I am just another rival in the way of her success ladder.  Even if we are not in the same field to have a rivalry, she feels that whatever success I have detracts from her own.  She obviously must believe the same about me.  Sometimes I wish I could just stop with the fakeness and say straight out, “Sister, do you really think others cannot see through your intentions?  Stop all this catinesss and petty competition. It helps no one get ahead. When will we put our egos aside and strive for the collective good? You would get farther if you worked to promote me and vice versa instead of subtly trying to sabotage and secretly undermine my success.”

Another Greek colleague took content including video off my site without permission or offering credit and rehashed it for his site.  When I called him out on it, he never apologized. He only defended himself by saying that YouTube content is free game. But not without crediting the source! And he is supposed to be running a “professional” news site.  My lawyer sent a cease and desist order. But that will not deter him from engaging in more crooked practices; hey, it gets him ahead.  He was bragging about how many writers he has on the site: writers who are translation students who are rehashing news from various sources not citing them and passing off as professional journalists.  But hey, he’s getting ahead.

It doesn’t just happen to me, it happens to others.  A Greek Aussie I spoke to the other day who runs an extremely successful site, and then a few more, said one of her sites keeps getting shut down because of complaints from another group. She suspects they are a rival Greek heritage group.  Go figure, a Greek community site that is aiming to  unify the Diaspora under the spirit of Hellenism brought down by another Greek community that is seeking to do the same thing. Oi Ellines zilevounai o enas ton allon.

Somehow this answer–that innate rivalry is stitched in the Greek genes, that somehow it is going against fate, that the Greek community will always be bickering, undermining and nasty to each other does not satisfy me.  There must be a way to overcome this. Have there been studies that isolate the conditions that lead to group cooperation over competition? I would like to know.  I cannot believe the Greek community is doomed to curse and bicker and nastily sabotage each other’s success in order to make way for their own.  If this is the case then my response is the same to the other colleague, an academic who invited me to his college classroom as a guest lecturer (I think he needed a break from teaching his class or else was curious to see how I teach never to reach out to me again,) “Oi Ellines echoun ton dialo mesa mas.” (Greeks have the devil inside us).

I think the first step is to consciously call out the devil.  When you hear about another Greeks success and you feel the pangs of comparison or zyleia coming on, uproot it in its source. Why should I feel threatened or resentful of this person? We are from the same tribe. I could get farther supporting him or her than isolating, ridiculing, inferiorizing or worse attacking her. Think we instead of me. His victory is our collective victory.  When one succeeds, we all succeed.

The faster we learn to cooperate instead of compete with each other, the faster we can take over the world.