"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

S Is For......Schadenfreude

I'm a huge fan of the German language. Not so much so that I ever bothered (despite three years of classes in high school), or will likely ever bother, to learn it, but I enjoy knowing about it. I like the language's tendency to introduce new words for new things by simply stringing together old words. Flugzueg is the German word for airplane, made from "fly" and "train." The German language has always struck me as very logical in an engineered, mechanical sort of way. There are also words in German that don't translate so well, and in my mind don't need to. I love them the way they are. Gem├╝tlichkeit was described to me by my first German teacher as a word meaning roughly "hospitality." I've found since that it is more. It means the feeling of coziness and comfort and belonging one gets from being welcomed and accepted by others, especially into their home and their life. I am incredibly blessed to know in my bones the meaning of this word with respect to my closest friends. English has no single word for that. I was recently introduced to the word Zaftig. It describes a woman who has curves, who is pleasantly, attractively and even alluringly full-figured. It has roots in an older Middle High German dialect word for "juicy," so there ya go. I love this word and wish it was embraced more often in our society. Doesn't it even sound awesome? Zaftig doesn't sound cutesie or even worse condescending. It is the kind of word that when applied to another sounds respectful and admiring. But even better, when applied to oneself it sounds proud and self-assured, even powerful. Our language has nothing like this and that says something not very good about us as a culture. Weltschmerz goes a long way toward describing exactly what had me feeling down last month. It means in short "world-weariness." It is the feeling that the world is full of meanness and cruelty and that the the bad guys win and the innocent suffer and there's nothing we can do to stop it. I felt that.


Far and away, my favorite German word is Schadenfreude. It means, put very simply, happiness at another's misfortune. Sure, that could be a bad thing carried to extremes. It could even be kind of psychotic if you were happy every time someone else was in pain or had troubles. But that's not how I interpret the word. In my world, Schadenfreude is tied to Karma. I got damned tired of seeing bad things happen to good people. I got tired of seeing people act horribly, even hurt my friends, and suffer no consequences. I started to wonder if Karma was broken. This year I found out it is not. Once again a friend was attacked, rather personally, while trying to do something good. But this time it turned out differently. This time people recognized the good and supported it, and by extension supported my friend. No one would begrudge me or anyone else being happy about that. But that isn't Schadenfreude. I'm also happy that the people acting maliciously, that attacked my friend's competence and tried to prevent something good happening in our community lost. I'm happy they got frustrated and angry. I'm happy they found little or no support. That IS Schadenfreude and I make no apologies for feeling it and even reveling in it.

One thing our participation trophy society has forgotten is that winning means nothing without losing. We want to believe that everyone is good-hearted and kind, that conflicts are the result of misunderstandings and we can solve them by coming together and working out our differences. Sorry, but that just isn't the case. We humans have real negative emotions and tendencies. We feel hate and jealousy and greed and envy and we sometimes act on these feelings. We purposefully tell lies to hurt others, we insult and degrade, we condescend and tease. This isn't misunderstanding. This is behaving badly. All too often the failure of our society to accept that we are capable of such behavior leads us to make excuses for those engaging in it. We blame it on a personality disorder or assume we misunderstood what surely were fine intentions or worst of all we blame ourselves for somehow bringing this behavior on. Sometimes, though, perfectly healthy people do mean things on purpose that we did nothing to deserve. It isn't a happy thought, but pretending it isn't true does us all a disservice. We owe it to ourselves and to our society in general to recognize bad behavior and call it out or at least beat it back. It's the right thing to do. And when we do it, we shouldn't feel the least bit bad about being happy we did and that those responsible for the misdeeds paid some price.

Schadenfreude. Embrace it.


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