Schadenfreude: A Confession

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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.

Whispers of Schadenfreude, Mike Pence Edition

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As the self-proclaimed Jimmy Swaggart of Buddhism, I openly admit where I fall short of the ideal established by the Enlightened One, and certainly the cultivation of compassion is an area in which I fall way —make that — abysmally short.

I do sincerely wish that through meditation I could relax the tight little angry fist of my heart and show some empathy for those I dislike when they stumble, rather than luxuriating in a warm, soothing, spiteful bath of schadenfreude.

For example, rather than empathizing with Governor Mike Pence of Indiana as he made a gargantuan ass out of himself on national television, I smirked derisively, enjoying every drop of perspiration forming on his quivering upper lip as if they were karmic pearls bestowed upon me by a benevolent universe. Certainly, I’m no stranger to making a complete ass out of myself, though, of course, I haven’t had the opportunity as yet to elevate my asshoodness to a level worthy of the adjective gargantuan, never having been interviewed by a local broadcast reporter much less by George Stephanopoulous. However, given the chance, I think I’m capable of it.

And certainly, Pence is worthy of compassion if we consider wretches worthy of compassion. I suspect that Pence hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep since deep into last week. Perhaps his problem lay in his admittedly not-exactly-heroic condition of not being able to lie well extemporaneously.  In case you’re just now emerging from a coma, Pence refused to answer Stephanopolous’s yes-or-no question as to whether under Pence’s new Indiana Restoration of Religious Freedom Act, a florist (i.e., a business) could refuse to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay couple. (If you haven’t seen it, you can watch an edited version here:

A more practiced liar would have hissed, “Of course, not,” but then again, I suspect that the bill’s raisin de etre is to have “the base” at least think fundamentalists can refuse to cater or provide flowers to gay weddings, coming as it does right after the SCOTUS nixed Indiana’s ban on gay marriage. So rather than telling a lie, he ineffectually tried to dodge the question, transforming himself from a possible presidential candidate to an international laughing stock, the plump bourgeoise target of many a comedian’s acid-laced arrows.

(Not to worry, he made up for his refusal to lie by providing a tractor trailer load in subsequent days)

And, of course, Indiana’s super-majority Republican government would have gotten away with it, as my native South Carolina did with its law, if it had not been for certain segments of corporate America, including NASCAR, deriding the law as bad for business, which just goes to show, as Bob Dylan pointed out lo so many years ago, “Money doesn’t talk; it screams.”

Well, perhaps this confession is a first, halting step from my detour from the golden 8th-fold path, or maybe not. I hear Pence made Letterman’s Top 10 list. Maybe I’ll check that out instead.