SCHADENFREUDE

In the line at the grocery store yesterday, It was impossible to avoid the bold headlines of one of America’s more popular rags.  It trumpeted that after four months of marriage George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin are headed for a 200 million dollar divorce after countless screaming fights.  Seeing this “news” placed so unavoidably in the checkout line made me sick to my stomach.

First, it could well be sensationalistic speculation, a distorted spin that feeds people’s schadenfreude: the joy and pleasure felt at other people’s misfortunes.  But even if it is true, it means that two human beings are in a world of pain right now, and to exploit that pain to sell papers and to titillate ungenerous hearts seems unkind to the point of viciousness.

Schadenfreude is countered by the Buddhist virtue of joy, or “mudita” in Sanskrit.  This is not a Snoopy-at-supper-time giddy dance, but simply rejoicing in the happiness of other beings.  It seems obvious that a loving heart embodies compassion and empathy for the fact that we are all fighting a very hard battle, as the popular quote has it.  A great example of schadenfreude is the Grinch, whose “heart was two sizes too small.”  He was ticked off at the joy of Christmas, and did all he could to ruin it.  In the case of Clooney/Alamuddin, the vicarious hit of a glamorous marriage quickly gave way to envy in hearts too small.

I realize that tiny hearts are in pain themselves, and perhaps rejoicing in other’s misfortunes eases that pain a bit.  I know from experience that when I have acted with negativity or judgment or anger, it has always been from a place of pain in myself, and not from a place of open, confident love.  It simply strikes me as terribly sad that millions of people have Grinch-like hearts, at least enough of the time that papers can make so much money pandering to the need to feed on another’s pain.

I also find comfort in the knowledge that millions of people long to be kind, as George Saunders said at Syracuse University:  “So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”   Saunders is encouraging, however, in his reassurance that kindness, while difficult, is a deeply natural part of human growth:

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

The saddest part of Schadenfreude, therefore, is that it hides the marvelous potential for love and true joy at the center of every human being.  Again, Saunders put this powerfully:

“That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”

 

8 thoughts on “SCHADENFREUDE

  1. Hariod Brawn

    From the ‘Stackexchange’ website John, some further detail:

    “Little-used English words synonymous with schadenfreude have been derived from the Greek word epichairekakia (ἐπιχαιρεκακία). Nathan Bailey’s 18th-century Universal Etymological English Dictionary, for example, contains an entry for epicharikaky that gives its etymology as a compound of ἐπί epi (upon), χαρά chara (joy), and κακόν kakon (evil). A popular modern collection of rare words, however, gives its spelling as “epicaricacy”.

    An English expression with a similar meaning is ‘Roman holiday’, a metaphor taken from the poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” by George Gordon, Lord Byron, where a gladiator in Ancient Rome expects to be “butcher’d to make a Roman holiday” while the audience would take pleasure from watching his suffering. The term suggests debauchery and disorder in addition to sadistic enjoyment.

    Another phrase with a meaning similar to Schadenfreude is “morose delectation” (“delectatio morosa” in Latin), meaning “the habit of dwelling with enjoyment on evil thoughts”. The medieval church taught morose delectation as a sin. French writer Pierre Klossowski maintained that the appeal of sadism is morose delectation.

    An English word of similar meaning is “gloating”, where “gloat” is defined as “to observe or think about something with triumphant and often malicious satisfaction, gratification, or delight” (gloat over an enemy’s misfortune).

    The internet slang term “lulz” (A variation of LOL) has acquired the connotation of fun or amusement at another person’s expense, especially in regard to trolling behaviour.”

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  2. Michael

    Great post, John. Reading this, I realize I need to watch Saunders’ speech all over again…! In reflecting on this concept of schadenfreude, and your thoughts on reading the tabloids in the supermarket aisle, it struck me that perhaps not everyone who buys that magazine is doing so out of schadenfreude. Perhaps there are others whose “life dial” is turned down to pretty low volume, and that through reading about and vicariously connecting with these “larger than life” idols and pop stars, they experience or touch something that may be felt to be missing in their own lives.

    There may, for instance, be a whole segment of the market who purchases those tabloids who are crying with George and Amal, who are not happy at all, but feel as though they, too, have lost something. The fairy tale has ended. It’s just a bit of a projection on my part– a leap. But it does come back also to what you describe, nonetheless, to pain that we feel. To some fear or sense of inadequacy that suggests others are in better position to live and express the meaning of life than we are, others who have more to offer, more gifts or talents, more potency of what matters. And what could be farther from the truth?

    It is sad, as you wrote: “The saddest part of Schadenfreude, therefore, is that it hides the marvelous potential for love and true joy at the center of every human being.” It is sad that so many, whether in schadenfreude or lack of esteem or self-worth– for whatever reason– have come to rely on vicarious projection as the generator of life experience, as the generator of emotional fodder.

    There is so much within that is missed in these projections, but also… perhaps it is merely kept safe until we are ready to truly go there

    Michael

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  3. marcia224

    I saw that headline somewhere and I assumed it was pure gossip and not true. Is it true that they have separated? That beautiful couple? They seemed so “matched” in both beauty, brains, and accomplishments. We just them together as he accepted that wonderful Humanatarian Award, she was by his side. George Clooney is seemingly a talented, beautiful, giving, generous with his time man and I truly hope he is happily married.

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    1. jhanagan2014 Post author

      I absolutely agree with you on this, Marcia. I am holding a strong positive intention in my heart for them. And congratulations on your upcoming show in Malaga. How wonderful!

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  4. Mary Kendall

    John, this is a beautiful and thoughtful posting. I agree with you that as we age, we become more caring and loving as well as kinder for all the reasons you listed so eloquently. Forgive me, but unlike many of your readers, I don’t know the Saunders reference. Can you enlighten me or send me a link where I might look? This topic is very dear to my heart. Many thanks for your beautiful blog.

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