“How Can They Do That?”

It’s a question I have heard often over the last few weeks as we have seen people buying up big in preparation for the end of the world brought about by coronavirus. I must admit that it has been a bit confusing to watch people race for, and fill trolleys with, toilet paper and other inane items that 4 weeks ago were annoying necessities. What drives people to behave in such a way?

Apart from those that are purely taking advantage of this situation and profiteering (which I am choosing to assume is a very small percentage) people that are hoarding are doing so out of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not having enough. Fear of scarcity. Fear of poverty. I can understand this fear. The word for 2020 so far is ‘unprecedented’. We have never experienced anything like this…in the developed world. (Millions of people go through upheavals of life regularly, but that is a conversation for another time). So, fear of not enough is understandable. But fear breeds more fear. Scarcity breeds scarcity. Scarcity subtracts.

To overcome the fear of hoarding requires acts of generosity. To look outside of our immediate needs and see those around us. Instead of acting as a single family unit we connect with those in our community and work as a larger entity. Together everyone achieves more (corny acrostic of T.E.A.M but has the added benefit of being true). When we act as a community, both locally and globally, it creates a generous mindset within us. Generosity comes from a hope that we can achieve things together that we are not capable of as individuals. Generosity breeds more generosity. Generosity multiplies.

When faced with the fear of scarcity, choose to act in generosity and it will have a positive, long lasting impact on our world.

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.