My daughters and I are “wordies” and share things we come across such as misused words or mixed metaphors.
One example is when one of the Age writers a few years ago wrote, “for all intensive purposes” rather than “for all intents and purposes.” It really struck our funny bones.
One daughter brought my attention to the word, “Schadenfreude.” I had never heard that word. It means “pleasure derived from another’s misfortune.”
This brings me to the court report published twice monthly in our paper. It is one of the most read items. Why? Schadenfreude?
According to Dr. Tiffany Watt Smith, the Japanese have a saying: “The misfortunes of others taste like honey.” The French speak of joiemaligne, a diabolical delight in other people’s suffering. The Danish talk of skadefryd, and the Dutch of leedvermaak. In Hebrew, enjoying other people’s catastrophes is simcha laed, in Mandarin xìngzilèhuò, in Serbo-Croat it is zlùradst and in Russian zloradstvo. More than 2,000 years ago, Romans spoke of malevolentia. Earlier still, the Greeks described epichairekakia (literally epi, over, chairo, rejoice, kakia, disgrace). “To see others suffer does one good,” wrote the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “To make others suffer, even more so. This is a hard saying, but a mighty, human, all-too-human principle.”
Thankfully, Schadenfreude is uusally thought of as glee at minor discomforts and gaffes rather than at dire tragedies and deaths.
But this is some horrible trait that is all around us. Who hasn’t felt some satisfaction when someone’s suffering seems like a deserved punishment for being smug or hypocritical or breaking the law?
Truthfully, we can’t know whether we are actually experiencing more Schadenfreude today than ever before. It certainly seems more of an obvious feature of our collective lives, since what used to be hidden or else communicated in fleeting sniggers by the water cooler is now preserved forever in “likes” and “shares” in the digital arena.
If Schadenfreude is the absence of empathy, how do we replace it with empathy?
Psychology Today said empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings and experiences of another. In other words, empathy is imagining yourself in someone else’s skin: feeling what they feel and seeing yourself and the world from their point of view. Empathy adds depth to the love you feel for others. With empathy, you see those you love for who they are, not whom you imagine or wish them to be. You appreciate them for their qualities, not just what they do for you, and you acknowledge that even when you share the same experience, you may have different thoughts and feelings. Without empathy, you might assume that their needs, boundaries and experiences are the same as yours and as a result, you can make assumptions that get you into trouble.
When we act with empathy, others will respond with the same. That sounds like a far better approach than Schadenfreude. We need to work on this.