True Confessions from My Dark Side
Last week I wanted to loot my neighbor’s yard.
This week, well, read on…
By Christine Clark
Misfortune and joy—now there’s an odd couple, but someone paired them in the word schadenfreude—enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others. I know it's an evil feeling because I have felt it. When Merriam Webster’s Word a Day sent it to my inbox several years ago, I was relieved. “Gosh! There’s a word for it. I’m not the only person who feels that way.” I am a bit less guilty about schadenfreude, but it still troubles me when I think to myself—or horrors! express out loud—my smug “Ha! [He, She, They] had that coming!”
It’s human nature to feel vindicated when what went around comes back around, but after a few minutes of schadenfreude—okay, sometimes more than a few minutes—I feel bad about feeling good.
Schadenfreude came to call a few nights ago. One of my children shared some hometown gossip that a former classmate is a single parent to a baby. I was shocked at first and then the S word set in, not toward the young woman, but toward her parents.
Holier than thou, and thou, and every other thou in the school and the town describes the parents’ persona. They peered at my family over their Bibles and brandished judgment and an ever-present sting of condemnation. One of their children announced to my daughter at Christian camp: “My whole family hates your sister.” Ouch! Not quite in the spirit of Jesus songs around the campfire, but it’s an example of the hellfire and damnation sent our way. Wimp that I am, I was polite when they spoke to me in public (turned the other cheek) although their harsh assessment was obvious behind the veils of their greetings.
Over the last several years, I heard comments about the kids as they became teens and young adults, but not many because they didn’t associate with the likes of us. I sympathized with those kids because they were treated harshly when they were young (no details, but I know).
Schadenfreude took over my psyche a few nights ago when I heard the gossip. I decided the parents must not feel so high and mighty now. I even said as much as I climbed onto my own goodness platform and peered down at them. And then I fell off!
I imagine those parents had dreams for their kids that didn’t include the ensuing reality. In perceiving this, I open my heart to them because I, too, have had disappointments regarding my kids. The idea of someone having schadenfreude about my personal distress troubles me immensely, so my own dark feelings trouble me even more. A certain amount of satisfaction ensues when someone gets their just desserts, but to be honest, it’s not a dessert I want to taste or share.
To turn away from schadenfreude, I redirected my feelings toward those parents and have new sentiments: A baby is a miracle and an affirmation of life. I hope they wholeheartedly love and accept the baby and their child. I hope they are supportive. I hope they have learned empathy. I hope their veils of judgment have been removed. I hope their hearts are open to the imperfection inherent in being human.
As for me, I want to experience less schadenfreude in my life. I want more pure, forgiving, accepting, empathetic feelings for everyone. I know my heart has no space for schadenfreude. The imperfection inherent in being human might push my sentiments in that direction, but I intend to steer them away and remove my own veil of righteousness.