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 misfortune 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”.
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!