Monthly Archives: August 2019

Schadenfreude – owner’s fall. Neighbour’s glee.

Tharoor has hit the head of the nail, verbatim. This time, his weapon of dissertation is Schadenfreude. Schadenfreude was born in Germany – the country of pinpoint precision. Schaden means damage or harm. Freude means joy or pleasure. Harm-Pleasure.  It means the malicious pleasure we derive from the bad things that happen to others, after they have caused us harm. Tharoor introduced us to the word while expressing his support to Chidambaram in his little escapade.

Tharoor’s usage has only helped to showcase the wide spread prevalence of Schadenfreude in Indian politics. Indian politics is a business that thrives on Schadenfreude.

Tamil Nadu’s political circus performers are known to trapeze back and forth on the swings of revenge.  When the reigning chief ministers, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha took turns at being the ringmasters, they let loose their Schadenfreude. When Jayalalitha was queen, she summoned Karunanidhi literally by the scruff of his collar and banished him to imprisonment. He languished there, plotting his move.  Har raat ki subah hoti hai, he kept chanting to himself (of course, in the Tamizh version). And rightly, when Amma’s term ended, and Karunanidhi took the reins in his restless hands, he pulled the shots. Amma went to prison to contemplate on her revenge. Schadenfreude with a Tamizh makkal twist!

Schadenfreude has also been the winning formula for celluloid blockbusters of the ‘70s.

It is the same Schadenfreude that was the single biggest contributor to the path breaking success of Bollywood’s legendary Sholay. Had Gabbar not nursed his Schadenfreude when in prison, he would not have demanded Thakur’s haath the instant he was released. And then Thakur would not have crafted the rest of the narrative with Jai and Veeru, and given us a devilish feast that we gorge on over and over again.

Wikipedia, the global guru, says: Schadenfreude is a complex emotion, where rather than feeling sympathy towards someone’s misfortune, it evokes joyful feelings that take pleasure from watching someone fail. This emotion is displayed more in children than adults; however, adults also experience Schadenfreude, though generally concealed.

I contest the last line of the Wikipedia definition. Adults generally conceal their Schadenfreude orientations? No. it’s blatant, out there for everyone to see it.

When Chidambaram was in control, he hammered Amit Shah. Amit Shah, bid his time, all the time, building on the propensity of his Schadenfreude. And when the time was ripe, he struck, and how. Now, many in the Congress, who knew the inside story are on cloud 9, their Schadenfreude dancing merrily.

Turned on its head, Schadenfreude becomes even more relatable, as envy.  It is the reason we are unhappy when good things happen to others.  Dost first aajaaye toh zyada dukh hota hai, said one of Raju Hirani’s 3 idiots. Nothing can be closer to the truth.

Owner’s fall. Neighbour’s glee.

Why this kolaveri di?

There’s psychological research that has discovered three driving forces behind Schadenfreude: aggression, rivalry, and justice. Underlining all three is the sense of low self-esteem. The level of self-esteem influences the frequency and intensity of Schadenfreude.  Someone with low self-esteem is insecure and anyone more successful poses a threat to them. Seeing this successful person fall, can be extremely comforting.

Another dimension is when you are not alone in your troubles. Aha, the comfort in numbers. Well, knowing that your neighbour is worse off is not such an unpleasant thing, after all.

Of the three forces, I find justice to be more amusing. When something bad happens to someone who has hurt us, we look heavenward and say, “divine justice”. In truth, it’s our Schadenfreude doing a quick victory jig.

As Julie Mulhern quotes in The Deep End, “(About a woman’s funeral) Do you remember the part in The Wizard of Oz when the witch is dead and the Munchkins start singing? Think that kind of happiness. I swear every woman there was ready to break into song. Maybe a few of the men, too.”

The Japanese have a saying: “The misfortune of others tastes like honey.” The French speak of joie maligne, a diabolical delight in other people’s suffering.

According to a report in The Guardian, a study in Würzburg in Germany carried out in 2015 found that football fans smiled more quickly and broadly when their rival team missed a penalty, than when their own team scored. “To see others suffer does one good,” wrote the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “This is a hard saying, but a mighty, human, all-too-human principle.”

The British claimed that there is no English word for Schadenfreude because that feeling does not exist amongst them. How wrong. Here’s evidence. “For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” proclaimed Mr Bennet in that most quintessentially English of novels, Pride and Prejudice.

As a race, humans enjoy the failures of others. It’s a human thing. As someone has said, Schadenfreude is wickedly nutritious.  It is the sweet joys of Schadenfreude that bind society together.

When we could not find a name for it in the Queen’s language, we turned to Schadenfreude, er…, to Tharoor.


pic courtesy: India Today images

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