So says Wikipedia. The German equivalent of gloating, in other words, although the word does convey meanings more subtly than that definition might presume, of which more in a while. However, how many people can truly say they have not indulged in very basic schadenfreude?
Remember when you were at school – there was always a fearsome teacher, of whom everyone was afraid. I bet that teacher put the fear of god in you a few times, didn’t he? But can you remember the unalloyed joy you got when he grabbed one of your fellow pupils by the ear and gave him the 3rd degree?
Even the most saintly of folks can’t help wishing disasters on other people at times – a natural human emotion. But what precisely does this say about us? While most people might consider schadenfreude to be an evil, malevolent streak, sometimes it might simply be the “there but for the grace of (deity deleted) go I” – we are counting our blessings, knowing full well our time for whatever disaster, major or minor, might befall others.
But even though we don’t like to admit we have enemies, there are always people you secretly despise and wish the worst upon. Call it a modern-day curse, though any detrimental effects would be purely accidental rather than cause-and-effect. Maybe it’s because you want to avoid a confrontation, but you would dearly love it if they suffered a nasty accident or a horrible illness, which if it happened we would greet with childish glee, while at the same time shaking our heads in sympathy. When everyone else is out of sight, we shake our fist triumphantly and say out loud to ourselves, but barely above a whisper, “YES!!!”
At any rate, you would not want to be seen in polite circles gloating over somebody else’s misfortune. Schadenfreude is such an ugly emotion, as well as being a social taboo, though you may indulge in a spot of slagging off other people when out with your mates – along the lines of “he had it coming, couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke” etc.
As you grow older, schadenfreude should hopefully be tempered by empathy, particularly with those you love. However, even in those cases I can imagine that even a public show of caring would not prevent private relish at the misfortunes of your nearest and dearest. Of course, complexity of feelings mean you could feel many conflicting emotions at the same time, some of which may be harmful and negative, so small wonder if we secretly take pleasure at even people we cherish coming a cropper on occasions.
One of my grandfathers died young in 1967, but even though I was young at the time I remember his wicked sense of humour – he loved playing practical jokes on people then laughing uproariously. Any accident or disaster affecting other people would have him in stitches, such as slipping on a banana skin and falling flat on their faces. But somehow he failed to see the joke when a seagull crapped 0n him during a holiday at the seaside. The rest of the family thought it was hilarious though!! That’s the downfall with schadenfreude – like the boy who cried wolf, you won’t get any sympathy when it happens to you.
Of course, there are those who believe in karma, or in common British parlance “what goes around, comes around.” Think ill of someone else and just maybe you will find yourself suffering the same fate, though strictly speaking karma refers to an action or deed. But nonetheless, it’s a worthy philosophy of life to think good things about people, change what you can for the better and help others when possible. Call it anti-schadenfreude if you like.