After a weekend of chortling to myself and others over Governor Christie’s many troubles, I tore off the previous calendar page and read today’s page, above. It seemed to me to be a cautionary– or perhaps an aspirational– passage, a message from the universe directly to me.
Schadenfreude– taking mischievous pleasure in the misfortune of others (especially the high and mighty)– is one of my pet vices. I worked right downstairs from Bernie Madoff’s palatial co-op (now sold to pay off the people he cheated) during his arrest and trial. For months, 64th Street and Lexington Avenue was the safest corner in the world, because we had dedicated FBI agents and plainclothes police in cars and on the street all night, every night. And news trucks. And reporters, LOTS of reporters. So, when Mrs. Madoff tried to sneak out of the building by going through a door left open by building staff into the stockroom area we shared with the store next door, and asked politely if she could go up our stairs and through our store to the street (to avoid the omnipresent reporters, I suppose), refusing her was one of my greatest schadenfreude moments of all time. It was very very satisfying to say NO to this entitled woman who was used to getting her way in all things. (Not any more, says my inner voice….)
But I digress. Schadenfreude is clearly a big problem with me. I have been glued to the hourly updates about the latest subpoenas being served on Christie’s cronies. A big part of me can’t help but feel a righteous joy when a bully like him gets a taste of what it’s like to be at someone else’s mercy, and how it feels when all the someones in the world who have a bone to pick with you team up, come out of the woodwork, and bring all their friends, too.
So it’s not so much pleasure at others’ pain, as pleasure at someone getting what I feel is their just desserts.
Yes, I do see the spiritual problem with this, and I’ve been discussing that with my husband this weekend, too. In the largest sense, I know it’s wrong and spiritually dangerous to enjoy this spectacle so much. I haven’t been hurt by his actions, my righteous indignation and anger are not personal but on behalf of others. Do others benefit from my joy at Christie’s discomfiture? They do not. So what is the purpose and why can’t I let this go?
I like to champion the underdog. I like to defend the defenseless. I like to serve the underserved, support the lonely and friendless, give a hand if I can. I was bullied as a kid and I still remember how that felt. So when there are bullies in public life who finally get theirs, I cheer. I cheer for their victims and in doing so, I cheer for myself. So, I have good reasons for these unkind feelings, but I recognize that at this point in my life (where I am not bullied and am perfectly capable of defending myself and others) these unkind feelings have a self-righteousness in them. That is the spiritually dangerous part.
So, I struggle with this; I struggle mightily with seeing the flash of good in my bitterest opponents, and with remembering that they, too are children of God, the same as I am. I need to make that real to myself. I need to see the person, separate from their behavior and actions. I need to feel less joy in their fall, and more empathy for their struggle. If I want to emulate Jesus and live His word, I can’t indulge myself in the delicious temptation that judging another and taking pleasure in his fall presents.
But it’s REALLY REALLY hard for me.
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