Schadenfreude: A Confession

Carl_Spitzweg_-_Der_arme_Poet_Neue_Pinakothek copy

Yesterday, at the school where I work, I took a prognosticative multiple-choice test formulated to determine high school students’ strengths. I’m 63, familiar with the Delphic inscription Know Thyself, so I think I can accurately say that my strengths lie in dependability and my main weaknesses in impatience and impulsiveness – “the awful daring of a moment’s surrender” as tight-assed TS Eliot put it.[1]

However, as I clicked my way through the 70-odd questions, it slowly dawned on me that I’m not a particularly compassionate person when it comes to inconveniencing myself to actually help people. Oh, I don’t mind sending a check, but if I had the choice between writing ten thousand times in longhand I’m not a compassionate person of or spending a day with Habitat for Humanity helping to build a house for the poor, I’d opt for the writer’s cramp.

In the test I took, this question came up more than once: do you like helping people? I answered sometimes virtually every time. Of course, it’s certainly gratifying rescuing a toddler caught in a riptide (which I’ve done) but not so much joining an intervention for one of your junkie relatives. The bottom line is that, no, I don’t particularly enjoy helping people if it inconveniences me, so the test was effective in that it made me realize that in reality I’m  not all that compassionate, which I sort of considered myself to be.   Sure, I enjoyed helping the guidance department test the test, but I really had no choice. It was part of my job.

As coincidence would have it, to reinforce that self-assessment, four Team USA Olympian swimmers made a bad decision down there in Rio,. Of course, virtually every bad decision is the culmination of a series of bad decisions. E.g., lying about the robbery was a bad decision, necessitated in the mind of Lochte because someone had vandalized a restroom, which was a bad decision, precipitated by staying at a disco until 5 a.m., which was a bad decision, no doubt aided-and-abetted by the consumption of torrents of intoxicants, which was a bad decision, that over-indulgence a habit arrived at early on in their hotshot days as revered student athletes and not abandoned over the course of decades, bad decisions, ad nauseam.

A truly compassionate person, the Buddhist that I used to pretend to be, would feel compassion for the swimmers. He might recall some really stupid antics committed in the throes of drunkenness from his checkered past instead of schadenfreude.

Unfortunately, what one feels is what one feels. Let the great ax fall where it may.


[1] E.g., sending an angry email at 3 a.m., dropping down the cliff face of a wave you should know you can’t handle in a hurricane swell.

3 thoughts on “Schadenfreude: A Confession

  1. Compassion is a feeling not an action. It can lead to action but that is not required. Standing by a friend in their grief, for example, does not require action, only being there.

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