Schadenfreude

I am often confronted by my shadow. Not the shape on the ground made by body blocking the sun, but the ‘dark side’ of my personality. It’s confronting because the shadow “consists chiefly of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power.” We all have a shadow but it requires some work to see it, to truly get to know yourself and understand what is happening within you. It’s not easy and I don’t think it’s a journey with an end point.

What is easy, however, is seeing the shadow in other people. We can spot it in those around us in a split second, but this is not about them. This is about you and me. So, instead of thinking “this is so valid for my spouse/friend/colleague”, let’s take a look at ourselves.

It is within my shadow that I find schadenfreude. A German word which sounds like a sneeze but means deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. Here are some examples:

  • Laughing at someone who trips over
  • Smiling when a team that you hate loses
  • Feeling good when someone you know fails

Ever done anything like that? Yeah, me neither…*cough*

Is schadenfreude good or bad?

Some people suggest that it is to our benefit to experience schadenfreude because it that experience helps motivate us to achieve success. It keeps us going as others around us fall away. Which seems to be like a pretty lonely way to experience life and sounds like the opposite of what I would consider success.

So it must be bad then. Surely if I feel good about something bad happening to something else, it can’t be too long before I consider initiating something bad to someone else for my own pleasure? From considering to doing doesn’t take too long either, so schadenfreude has to be bad.

The truth is that, by itself, it is neither good or bad. It is part of the human emotional experience but what we do with that can create positive or negative outcomes. How we process our emotions when we experience them makes all the difference. Just as with any element of our shadow, when you experience it, just notice it. See it for what it is, an emotional response, and move on. Schadenfreude, and other emotions from the shadow, are heavily weighted towards isolation, which is unhealthy for us. I would suggest moving towards relationship at every possible moment.

So, don’t seek to avoid schadenfreude (gesundheit!), notice it when it happens and move towards relationship. When you feel good about someone else failing, that’s okay but don’t stay in that space. Move towards the person, even in your thoughts, which will help you begin to understand how they could be feeling in that challenging situation. Now comes the opportunity to be generous with them, but also with yourself if you struggle to do that.

We’re all in this together…

One of the greatest things that we can offer humanity is empathy; a sense of understanding and share the feelings of someone else. Often empathy can be a challenge as many of our human experiences differ from each other, depending on our gender, age, ethnicity and life experiences. All this means that for many, we simply cannot begin to understand how other people experience the world.

Among many other terrible things, the Coronavirus has brought us a sense that we are all in it together. Its effect is not just on one country, people group or race, the effect on all of us is the same. Suddenly, empathy is not that difficult. I can understand what you are going through because I am going through the same thing, or a very similar thing.

How we choose to respond to that is vital. In this moment I can do very little to help those suffering in Italy, or in other states of even other suburbs. But I can help my street.

We live in a small cul-de-sac with 7 houses, so earlier this week my wife took it upon herself to connect with each of our neighbours to see how they are. We don’t usually see much of them – it is typical suburbia, protected by our roller doors on the garage, but we got thinking if we are finding this time challenging, how is everyone in our street going. What if we have a surplus of something that they desperately need but can’t get hold of? So, she went door to door, met everyone – got over the embarrassment of not doing so 18 months ago when we moved in, and collected all their contact details. She then distributed the list to everyone so we can all stay in contact. Not a lot has changed since then, but I have to tell you, I don’t feel so alone. I know that if we get stuck without something urgent, I can reach out to those around us. I also know that those closest to us won’t be suffering in silence. We are all going through the same experience.  

Empathy is the birthplace of generosity. When we can understand what other people go through, we can bring the best that humanity has to offer, a generous act.

There is Never Just One

I’m not a bug person. I hate them all.

They are on a spectrum though, some I hate less than others, but all are hated nonetheless. Spiders are the worst and ants aren’t too far behind them. At moment we have ants at our house. Not as invited guests, but more like a weird neighbour that comes over, even if you aren’t there and eats your food. Kind of like Kramer from Seinfeld, except without the crazy hair and humour.

A few weeks back I hadn’t seen any for a while and I thought we were rid of them. Not long after, I saw one, solo ant. I wasn’t bothered by that because it is was not near the kitchen and it was by itself. How much damage could it do?

But then I remembered, there is never just one ant. If you look hard enough you will find a second. Where there are two ants, you are guaranteed to find more, and a group is one step away from an infestation.

I hate ants.

But I love the idea that things are happening all the time without us noticing in our world, because it is not just ants that we don’t notice. Bad news travels fast. It’s what we tend to focus on because we are psychologically wired to do so. We can often get so caught up in the terrible things in our world that we can’t see anything good.

But look for the ant. Look for one good thing, something positive that is happening in your world. When you find it, (and you will because you can’t get rid of good things…just like ants), you can be sure that there is never just one – you will find a second. Where there are two, you are guaranteed to find more, and a group is one step away from an infestation.

There is plenty to be thankful for, even in the tough times. The more we focus on the good, the more good we create and it infests the rest of the world.

Oh, That Hurt.

I recently hurt my back. You may have heard about it if you have seen me; it seems that I can talk about nothing else.

I didn’t do anything specific to cause the injury, just a combination of a newborn baby, lifting things and a minor history or back complaints. Every couple of years or so something like this happens, but this one was worse than normal. If you have ever experienced back pain, you will know what I am talking about because you use your back to do everything. I couldn’t put socks, shoes or pants on, I couldn’t sit in chairs, or find a comfortable way to stand and sneezing was a nightmare.

My effectiveness at work plummeted. If you can sit or stand, you can’t email, or plan, or meet or pretty much do anything that a job requires. But the worst thing was the threat of a sudden burst of pain at any given moment. It was all I could think about because one false move would conjure significant pain.

It gave me a glimpse of what it is like for someone who constantly lives with pain, where it permeates every area of your life, it wears you down and changes the way you think. It gets to a point where you cannot imagine life without pain, and it is terrifying. Things that were previously possible are no longer possible because of your pain. That is the cruel psychological effect that it has.

Not unlike the effect of poverty. I have often referred to the psychological effects that poverty has on people, because not having enough to feed your family becomes all that you think about, it permeates every area of your life. Things that were previously possible or may seem possible to someone on the outside looking in, are not possible because of poverty. You cannot imagine a life without it, and it is terrifying. Unless…

Unless someone does something to overcome it. Unless something changes.

Now, I can see a specialist and do my rehab exercises and work to improve my back. That’s up to me, no one else can do it for me.

Poverty doesn’t work the same way. It is a trap that no person can work their way out of by themselves. It requires someone to step in, make a donation and take what seems impossible and make it possible. That is what ending poverty looks like.