By Rev. Jim Innes
Schadenfreude is the pleasure of witnessing another's loss, failure, embarrassment, pain, or discomfort. It is a word used within a CBC article on the imploded Titan. Specifically, it described the after-blathering of many expressing themselves on social media.
Social scientists argue that schadenfreude is an emotional reflux (my words) from those who have had to swallow too many inequities. And it came to the surface in the imploded Titan incident because on board were some wealthy men on a pleasure cruise. Meaning the incident triggered an emotional reflux from those who have been or are sorely stung by the unequal distribution of income and opportunity. Angry statements like, "They got their due" or "What goes around, comes around" screamed in the public forums.
What's disturbing for me is how easy it is to empathize with the pain of those who choose to lift their voice in a satiated war cry. And I hate that I would even think I'd get pleasure from another's loss. Though I disagree entirely with turning a horrendous incident into a political issue, I must accept that side of me that, to a small degree (at least), can find myself secretly pleasured by seeing another's misfortune. Aside from my sense of decency, schadenfreude is a latent guilty reality. Perhaps within all of us?
Social science has detected schadenfreude in children as young as 24 months. When you notice a child deriving satisfaction from seeing a sib get into trouble with mom and dad, a common assumption is that the child displays envy. But, if science is correct, the child may, in a complicated mess of thinking, be accessing a natural reaction rooted in a perceived imbalance in their parent's love.
The opposite of Schadenfreude is Freudenfreude. Freudenfreude is the pleasurable feeling of witnessing another's good fortune or success. I'd like to think we all access freudenfreude most of the time. But, to be 'real,' celebrating another's success is admittedly something that may not happen quickly. Too often, we have to work at it cerebrally (not naturally). Just ask any competitor about their emotional journey immediately after a loss. They often must talk themselves into a congenial appearance of freudenfreude. Or, as the saying goes, "fake it till they make it," if ever they do!
Clearly, the more virtuous emotional reaction is freudenfreude. Schadenfreude is not at all an amiable expression. Not unless you are siding with another to form a mob of sorts. However, after conceding to schadenfreude's shameful behavior, science explains that the function of this emotional influx could be, on a good day, associated with the instinctive drive for justice. A drive that is continuously evaluating, seeking fairness, and initiating change.
On the other hand, freudenfreude, for all its empathic 'goodness,' can be a passive way of living with blinders on. Either living vicariously through another and/or frightened of their own power (and need).
As I see it, those who spoke ill of the fate of those who died in the Titan are just wrong. Their baggage is clearly visible, and they need to talk to someone. However, if they can shift their misplaced anger and coherently voice their real issues, perhaps some positive change will occur.
Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of St. John's, Grand Bend with St. Anne's, Port Franks.