“Schadenfreude” by Tiffany Watt Smith.

I have just read “Schadenfreude” by Tiffany Watt Smith.

Here are a few telling reflections from the book. It is revealing about much of the suffering in the modern online world.

What is Schadenfreude?

It is the joy we feel in another’s misfortuneimg_4528-copy or

the times we felt pleased when things went wrong for other people.

“Like when I hear stories of satnavs, which I hate, sending huge Lorries down narrow boreens.

Like when the rude demanding person in front of me in the queue gets their card declined.”

The five-word Irish phrase that is closest to this one German word is “ola ar an craoi é”. Oil for the heart.

And that Irish phrase sounds very similar to the Japanese who have a saying that “the misfortunes of others tastes like honey”.

There have been many tests done on what makes us really happy. Do you know that 32 Irish soccer fans were face tested when electromyography pads were attached to their faces? The pads would measure their smiles and frowns while watching a penalty shootout on a screen between Ireland and England?

I know! I cannot remember such an actual sporting event. Any way here is the result from this lab test.

The psychologists found that the Irish fans smiled far, far, more when the English missed a penalty than when the Irish team scored a penalty. Smith’s example is about Germans watching a game with their arch rivals the Dutch.

So, the result is that we smile far, far more at the failures of our enemies than at our own successes.  This is not confined to the Irish or the Germans . All humans, when it comes to making ourselves really happy, we just love contemplating the humiliations and failures of others.

Now this is not a nice thing to admit to ourselves, that we all take pleasure in other’s misfortunes, that there could be a glint of spite in our smiling eyes sometimes.

Like when my very wealthy sister-in- law went on and on about her fabulous family holiday with her grandchildren to Disneyworld in Florida. I felt bad because I could not afford to give my grandchildren such a holiday. A trip to the bumpers in Bray – maybe!   Then I saw her Facebook status. It rained the whole time.

The Victorian moralists decried Schadenfreude as an evil. In 1853, The Reverend R.C. Trench, The Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, described it as “a word that came out from the strange wickedness deep within the malicious genius of man’s mind”.

But we now live every day in a world of Schadenfreude, according to Smith. We  are forced to examine its existence and maybe consider why it might even be good sometimes. There is a kind of moral comeuppance to Schadenfreude, like when in 2015 US pastor Tony Perkins said that floods were sent by God to punish abortion and gay marriage.

And then his own house flooded, and he had to escape in a canoe. The impartial BBC correspondent even seemed to be gloating posing aerial pictures of the flooded house next to the controversial “God is trying to send us a message interview”.

Fredrich Nietzsche saw Schadenfreude as a necessary form of emotional respite. We feel envy. We feel inadequate.

The famous fail. We feel far better. We feel superior to them.

Nietzsche called  Schadenfreude as the “revenge of the impotent.”

But in this age, which “The Guardian” newspaper calls the age of Schadenfreude there is a tendency to go “too far”.

“Too far?”

Like The malicious behaviour of trolls, the online bullying, the making up of false news to bring down the famous, the politician, the celebrity, the popular girl in class.

The result:  Character assassination! Ruined lives! Depression! Suicide!

The Guardian states that “our delight in other’s humiliations may be not just a private moral failing anymore but may now be a serious public menace?”

Schadenfreude is the emotion that is the dark shadow of empathy, where people have no feeling left for another person.

To think in this age of Schadenfreude that people can will for! can wish for! and can enjoy the sufferings of others.

To conclude, schadenfreude exists everywhere today, and we need to consider it carefully.

It may be innocent when it gives us private emotional comfort!

But it is wicked, if you go too far!

 

What misfortune may happen to another, may well happen soon, God forbid, to you!

We need to remind ourselves daily of this!

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Pilgrimage to Tasmania.

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The Overland Track is a famous 6 day back packer’s trek in the Tasmanian wilderness. In  the southern summer season it calls out to all wilderness lovers to go on pilgrimage there.

The Tasmanian parks department defines Wilderness as “a place where a visitor can have a profound sense of being immersed in nature largely unaware of modern technological society. It is a place where natural systems thrive across entire landscapes.”

The inner desire to leave the world behind and return to nature’s healing setting is something that calls from deep within the human heart. It was once the same call that had the pilgrims of Middle England finding themselves trekking long distances as a penance to  the great medieval cathedrals. Here lay the relics of the saints and martyrs of Christendom with all the promised spiritual rewards for the pilgrim if one only journeyed to their shrines.

The new movement of environmentalism is a cause that is based on saving the natural world around us as humanity rushes inevitably to exploit and destroy it. Too late, maybe, humanity has come to realise that we live in an ecological Eden where we are called to live respectfully and in harmony with the super-sensitive environments around us.  Technology may be blindly destroying those delicate environments everywhere and soon they may all be gone. There is an onrush of speed to our lives and we look back fondly to those natural landscapes, formed aeons ago, before they disappear from our sight. Our sense of ancient pilgrimage today is seen in the intrepid spirit that we take on when we don the backpackers gear and we turn our backs on mobile phones, iPads and flushing toilets. We turn our gaze to a past time. Just for a few days at least. The pared down backpacker shows a spirit that is ready to embrace the primal landscape that he or she walks through. It is an exercise in empathy. We are called to understand how this landscape originated, how it emerged slowly from the mantle beneath, how it was shaped by ice ages and how it’s many interdependent eco systems survive now. We tip toe through it, fearing that one mis-placed step might threaten it. We live now in the worst of times, we are daily told.

We live preciously, sensitive to all the wonder around us and we blame ourselves for any threat that we pose to our natural world. Yet the greater forces of the earth, the planets, the solar system , the universe are slowly at work and as our planet  Earth will slip slowly  to a different angle to the sun , ice ages will inevitably return and all our present fears about our responsibilities for the delicate ecosystems will be forgotten and  buried under a kilometre of ice .  Whoever survives beyond the next Ice Age may uncover our skyscrapers, our motorways, our field systems, our buried nuclear silos still toxic and they will look back at our civilisation and declare it must have been the best of times for us.

As they might look back, so we look back to a recent past to understand how that society has arrived at where it is now. So, Tasmania today!  Tasmania is a western country, European in culture, but faraway on the other side of the world geographically.

Battered by Life.

Do yLesmurray.jpgou find yourself battered by life, bullied, made feel an outsider, in a failed relationship? then I propose you read a poem.
Why?
Because poets can be true and wise about life.
Because poets can console.
Because their sufferings can make you feel lucky even secure, what the Germans call Schadenfreude.
The poet I recommend tonight is Australia’s embattled poet Lez Murray.
When Lez Murray was a middle-aged man, he was a popular poet and many of his poems ended up on the Australian school’s syllabus. Murray was wanted everywhere in schools as a reader of his own poetry.
But underneath his success lay a dark secret. As Murray walked across some schoolyard to some classroom to read his poetry, he was terrified that some voice from his teenage past would suddenly shout out his nickname.
“Hey Bottom!”
As a teacher of 35 years I can also identify with such a fear.” Hey- Bobby.”
This terror came to a head one day. Murray was invited to give a reading at his own old secondary school. After the reading a lady came up to him.
“Remember what we used to call you then because you were so fat ha-ha – Bottom, bottom.”
Murray smiled at her and said nothing, but she may as well have stabbed him in his very heart.
The next morning, he began to weep uncontrollably and never stopped for 6 years.
He wrote in a poem ,
“I’d been coming apart all year
Weeping, incoherent;
Any road round a cliff edge I’d whimper along in low gear
Then: cardiac horror.”

The cardiac horror was the constant admittances over and over to A and E with a suspected heart attack. The attacks were in fact panic attacks.
In these depressing years, he called them his black dog years, Murray began to identify with all who were deemed outsiders, victims of the liberal establishment. He identified with the outback farmers like his father who were depicted in the media as God fearing bigots.
I can think of a certain Kerry T.D in this country. The one with the cap, -and the one without the cap.
The media targeted him as Australia’s poet fascist. A fellow poet called him an obese glutton. Murray weighed in at 22 stone at the time and had diabetes 2.
I have diabetes 2- too. My consolation is I weigh in at a mere 11 stone.
But Murray was no fascist. He set out to resolve his psychological nightmare.
Today Murray is in his 80’s. He has won every major International poetry prize and is spoken of as a future Nobel prize winner.
What Did Murray do to turn his life around?
Firstly, he forgave his teenage torturers. Hearing that the lady who taunted him in his adolescence was ill in Hospital, he visited her. She explained to him,” I was only a child then”
“So was I”. he said. His black dog of depression faded-away.
Secondly, he underwent a mind change, reared Presbyterian he embraced the Catholic faith and inspired by priest-poet Gerald Manley Hopkins Murray dedicated himself to holiness.
Thirdly he confronted his enemies. In the eulogy on his father he wrote,
“Snobs mind us off religion
Nowadays, if they can.
Fuck them. I wish you God.”
As an apology as an Irish a la carte Catholic I would never put those two words into the same line of poetry. But devout Catholic Lez Murray did.
Finally, he faced up to his teenage nicknames.
“All my names then were fat names” Fatty, Blubbery, Bottom.
My consolation is I got off lightly with names like, Snowball, God and Bobby Buble. All my names are fun names.
If you find yourself battered by life learn from a poet.
Learn from Australia’s no longer embattled poet but ecstatic poet- Les Murray.

Hero or Scallywag.

Hero: A person who is admired for their outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
Hero or Scallywag?
Fellow Toastmasters,
I am a fit 73-year-old Irishman.
I have just come back from walking the Tasmanian Overland Trek – one of the world’s iconic treks, 6 days, 72 kms, through the Tasmanian wilderness.
Am I not a hero?
On the first day I started at the bottom of Cradle Mountain, climbed over 4000 feet, through temperate forests to a plateau of open button grass. There the mountain stands like a great perpendicular shard akin to a Giants Causeway.
Am I not a hero?
On the second day, I cooled my feet in a glaciated lake.
I felt it’s all mighty silence.
Am I not a hero?
On the 3rd day I stood in awe above a plunging 100-foot waterfall.
I withstood its terror!
Am I not a hero?
On the 4th day I climbed Mount Ossa, 5317 feet, Tasmania’s highest peak.
Am I not a hero?
On the fifth day I descended down through the ancient woodlands of King Billy pines, Pencil Pines and yellow gums, all over 100 feet, until on the sixth day I stepped onto the northern jetty of the 20kms long glaciated lake of St. Clair, Australia’s deepest, where once disrobed of my armoury of heavy back pack, walking boots, and gaiters I was ferried by boat like a tired Sir Bedivere from my quest, back to the real world .
Like a tired knight returning from my quest!
Am I not a hero?
Yes! In my own mind!

On the seventh day of rest, like God in the garden of Eden, I reflected.
David, My Melbournian domiciled son accompanied me on the trek. This was a beautiful thing for us both to do. Father and son. There were 12 other walkers, Australians. Asked, I described myself as a retired English Teacher.
At night I might entertain them with Wordsworth’s lovely poem “The Daffodils “around the fire in our hut.
“When oft upon my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood,
They, (being all the sights,) flash upon the inward eye which is the bliss of solitude.”
Now the inspiration for the Overland Trek, one Paddy Hartnett, was like Wordsworth, a lover of nature, but he was typically dismissed by the Aussies as a scallywag-Just because he wore a bowler hat -even in bed.
“What is a scallywag? “I asked them.
They did not answer or would not answer. They all looked at one another and then looked for a long, long time at me.
Was I just a scallywag?
This thought was confirmed on the seventh day. A “snap” was posted on the dedicated walk website. In it I am lying stretched out in, boots, gaiters, sunhat reading a poetry book by a mountain stream. The title over the photograph-?
“What a Scallywag?”
Not a hero then!
Returned to Melbourne my son David said to me over dinner, “Lovely picture.”
“Well!” I said it is gone. I had them take it down”. The fork hovered before his mouth. He replaced it on his plate.
“What!”
“I was hurt. I am not a scallywag”.
“But the Aussies loved you. You were their beloved scallywag.”

Had I become too sensitive in my old age?
My Major theme in this speech! I am a major character in my own life’s drama? 73-year-old Irishman completes Tasmania’s Overland trek and climbs Mount Ossa to boot. Definitely- a hero!
Or am I just a minor rogue, sent to entertain others along the way? A scallywag!
Is that what this speech is about? A mere en-ter-tain-ment?
But! We are the Irish, in the business of reconciliation.
A Hero or a Scallywag? fellow toastmasters? I confess I am both.
But as long as I can be a hero in my own mind, self-esteem, I have to be open to others regarding me to be in any way they wish.
Maybe Toastmasters that is as good as it gets! For any of us? For me!
A, maybe, scallywag in other’s stories.
But the, definite, Hero of my own -story!

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Hero or Scallywag.

Hero: A person who is admired for their outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
Hero or Scallywag?
Fellow Toastmasters,
I am a fit 73-year-old Irishman.
I have just come back from walking the Tasmanian Overland Trek – one of the world’s iconic treks, 6 days, 72 kms, through the Tasmanian wilderness.
Am I not a hero?
On the first day I started at the bottom of Cradle Mountain, climbed over 4000 feet, through temperate forests to a plateau of open button grass. There the mountain stands like a great perpendicular shard akin to a Giants Causeway.
Am I not a hero?
On the second day, I cooled my feet in a glaciated lake.
I felt it’s all mighty silence.
Am I not a hero?
On the 3rd day I stood in awe above a plunging 100-foot waterfall.
I withstood its terror!
Am I not a hero?
On the 4th day I climbed Mount Ossa, 5317 feet, Tasmania’s highest peak.
Am I not a hero?
On the fifth day I descended down through the ancient woodlands of King Billy pines, Pencil Pines and yellow gums, all over 100 feet, until on the sixth day I stepped onto the northern jetty of the 20kms long glaciated lake of St. Clair, Australia’s deepest, where once disrobed of my armoury of heavy back pack, walking boots, and gaiters I was ferried by boat like a tired Sir Bedivere from my quest, back to the real world .
Like a tired knight returning from my quest!
Am I not a hero?
Yes! In my own mind!

On the seventh day of rest, like God in the garden of Eden, I reflected.
David, My Melbournian domiciled son accompanied me on the trek. This was a beautiful thing for us both to do. Father and son. There were 12 other walkers, Australians. Asked, I described myself as a retired English Teacher.
At night I might entertain them with Wordsworth’s lovely poem “The Daffodils “around the fire in our hut.
“When oft upon my couch I lie in vacant or in pensive mood,
They, (being all the sights,) flash upon the inward eye which is the bliss of solitude.”
Now the inspiration for the Overland Trek, one Paddy Hartnett, was like Wordsworth, a lover of nature, but he was typically dismissed by the Aussies as a scallywag-Just because he wore a bowler hat -even in bed.
“What is a scallywag? “I asked them.
They did not answer or would not answer. They all looked at one another and then looked for a long, long time at me.
Was I just a scallywag?
This thought was confirmed on the seventh day. A “snap” was posted on the dedicated walk website. In it I am lying stretched out in, boots, gaiters, sunhat reading a poetry book by a mountain stream. The title over the photograph-?
“What a Scallywag?”img_1006
Not a hero then!
Returned to Melbourne my son David said to me over dinner, “Lovely picture.”
“Well!” I said it is gone. I had them take it down”. The fork hovered before his mouth. He replaced it on his plate.
“What!”
“I was hurt. I am not a scallywag”.
“But the Aussies loved you. You were their beloved scallywag.”

Had I become too sensitive in my old age?
My Major theme in this speech! I am a major character in my own life’s drama? 73-year-old Irishman completes Tasmania’s Overland trek and climbs Mount Ossa to boot. Definitely- a hero!
Or am I just a minor rogue, sent to entertain others along the way? A scallywag!
Is that what this speech is about? A mere en-ter-tain-ment?
But! We are the Irish, in the business of reconciliation.
A Hero or a Scallywag? fellow toastmasters? I confess I am both.
But as long as I can be a hero in my own mind, self-esteem, I have to be open to others regarding me to be in any way they wish.
Maybe Toastmasters that is as good as it gets! For any of us? For me!
A, maybe, scallywag in other’s stories.
But the, definite, Hero of my own -story!

The Bay Window Christmas Tree.

The bay window Christmas tree. I blame Annabella Terrace.

1953, the year that my mother built the bay window. I was 8.

For the building of the Bay window I blame posh Annabella Terrace all bursting with bay windows like a self-important row of Mallow potbellied shopkeepers. I blame Annabella   for planting such an idea in my mother’s mind .I am sure plenty of her friends tried to dissuade her, what in the name of God do you want a bay window for, far from bay windows you were reared but once my mother got an idea in her mind she became a heroic figure, fit for a  motivational speech on single mindedness. In other words that Bay window was going to be built as she would say “even if it is over my dead body”. It was built and she lived. The bay window however had an unforeseen effect, her future choice of a Christmas tree.

This story is about how I came to save my mother’s dream of Christmas.

This is how I remembered it. My father did not play a significant  role in the day to day running of the house but anything he did inside the house, like the wash-up  or for the house was in the pursuit of what he called” the quiet life”.

Outside he passed life as the tall bespectacled man cycling 3 miles back and forth to the offices of the Beet Factory twice a day. Spectacles, height and a certain sense of his own importance reminded people of DeValera, the long fellow, the Chief and so my father was known to his work colleagues as the Chief. My mother however had a less elevated view of my father’s organisational skills. This view was well founded,    based on his many failed forays into the world on her behalf.

This is what happened that Christmas. He was asked by her, well more ordered by her, to get a Christmas tree fit for the new importance of her new bay window. This was a task, I even knew at 8 was  way above my father’s domestic abilities and may I say far beneath his Chief like dignity and like many a boss he shared his dilemma with one of his clerical colleagues, one Mikey Cronin, yes a relation to a certain person here. Mikey was a part time farmer who on hearing of his Chief’s dilemma volunteered immediately to cut a Christmas tree down on his own farm for my father. At lunch hour my father after his cycle in from the Factory announced the good news to my mother.

“Where is it growing now” she asked bluntly?” suspecting it might be a stray conifer blow in on a ditch.

She was indeed a woman defined by her own bluntness.

“Ah leave that to Mikey” my father said “and would I insult the man by asking him where it was growing and he doing us a favour”.

In other words my father was telling my mother to butt out and leave it to the men.

On one of those dismal December Saturday’s Mikey Cronin appeared at our front door with the Christmas tree. The signs were not good. He held it in one grasp of his fist. The tree was set aside. It even seemed to vanish into a corner in the front room while the farmer-clerk was brought in for the traditional Christmas drink and lapped up my father’s blandishments, god you are a great man Mikey and you going out and you cutting down a Christmas tree just for us, as if it was a forest tree, trying all the while to warm my now staring mother up into some sweet feminine appreciation, she who was not into undeserving praise even if it was deserved.

She said nothing. She bided her time. Mikey Cronin eventually left, my   father shouting eternal gratitude after him as the farmer ambled down the garden path and closed the front gate.

Before I was just the nosey  onlooker but I was now enlisted by my mother for the lesson, the lesson of shame for my father. I was instructed to place the tree in the good bucket, the special one used for holding up Christmas trees, firm it straight with my father’s books, the penguin paperbacks of Evelyn Waugh, Tom Barry’s “My Guerrilla Days” and there it stood, not in all its naked glory in the space of the bay window, but an embarrassment gradually shrinking before my mother’s stare. I swear it practically shivered and shed the last of its few needles, getting smaller and smaller by the second in the ever vast expanses of her Bay window.

“God isn’t it a grand specimen” said my father making one last attempt at exaggeration, followed by a desperate won’t it do, his powers of rhetoric, logic and persuasion disappearing by the millisecond before the scalded eye of my mother.

“You call that a Christmas tree” she woundingly said, her mind probably full of the platonic ideal of what a real man was, a somebody from Annabella terrace   and what a real Christmas tree should be   a huge elegant tree filling her bay window and with a customary nod of her head to me she damned the imposter to the hell of the outhouse coal shed where it would be stripped to provide the blaze for the Christmas morning fire.

There was an ambivalence to a woman’s view of the purpose of a Christmas tree in those days. There was the inward Victorian ideal of a happy family gathered around its branches exchanging gifts and there was the second outward view, the importance of display. That damn tree had to be seen to fill that huge bay window and bloody well impress the neighbours. Even at the tender age of 8 I knew that.

And so it happened that my mother passed her Christmas tree ideal to the next generation. I became throughout the 1950’s her eyes and ears for the perfect Christmas tree. From early December on I consulted with shopkeepers, kept an ear out for Christmas tree deliveries and my eye was trained and zoned in on any Christmas tree that loitered for sale outside the doors of grocery shops, Mortell’s the fishmonger, and the three hardware shops in the town. I was quick to reject the scraggy, the short stumpy, the tall skinny arboreal giants pretending to be specimen Christmas trees. They were all dismissed by an eye trained by the expansive arrogance of that bay window. This tree had to be as wide as it was tall. Like an ample matron.

At the age of 8 I became a Christmas tree aesthete.

At the age of 8 I learnt the psychological needs of a woman.

At the age of 8, I became a counsellor to the soul of my parent’s marriage.

So in those distant 50’s every December the people of the Spa would witness a walking tree heading to the only house with a bay window, enveloping the legs of a boy.

When the correctly proportioned tree   filled the bay window I knew my mother’s secret desire for ostentatious display was satisfied. On the way home from midnight Mass she would take pride in its luminous presence shining down the whole street through the frosted bay window. My father was assured of his “quiet life” for Christmas and my sisters were indeed happy playing with their prams and dolls under the shadow of the tree on Christmas morning. All absolutely content! As content as that colossal lit-up Christmas tree in that vast Bay window! As content as my mother in her kitchen, cooking up a storm.

P.S. The reject was spotted by one of my playmates and ended up living out its Christmas tree dream in his family’s much more modest window!

All was well with the world. I had done well for an 8 year old.

Happy Christmas!