Look, we’ve all done it, in some measure or form, and with varying degrees of intensity. It’s part of the human condition: we snark because we can. And as I was just discussing with RtB fiend David this morning, the medium through which we convey our vitriol makes it pretty easy to be hard.
Schadenfreude. The literal translation of this compound German word is “harm” (Schaden) “joy” (Freude). The specific meaning is, of course, taking malicious joy in the misfortune of others. We see it — and participate in it — in many forms. How many of us have found ourselves celebrating along with the shouting witnesses in a courtroom when the “guilty” verdict is broadcast on live TV, or thinking Yes! when the bad guy in a movie gets what’s coming to him?
Any of us who grew up with siblings experienced schadenfreude every time our brother got in trouble for eating the cookies that Mom saved back for us, or when we slapped our sister back, and asked her as she wailed in pain, See how it feels? How do YOU like it? In some ways, it’s a necessary rite of passage, in that we (hopefully) learn that to take satisfaction in others’ misery is a terrible thing to do. It’s malicious joy, and there is no room for that in a good person’s heart.
But lately, especially on social media, this malicious joy is crossing the lines of what is considered even the most marginal boundaries of integrity and respect, and it leads, almost without exception, to…
Meanyism. It will come as no surprise to you that I refer not only to the idiots who run off at the mouth because they don’t know any better and their mamas didn’t bother to teach them anything, but also to intelligent, well-read, otherwise lovely and caring people who lose their frickin’ minds at the slightest suggestion that another person might choose to live his or her life by different rules, or worse, glean an alternate meaning from the teachings of the Bible.
Sidebar from a lay person who was raised in the Baptist church: If the scriptures were not up for interpretation; if they were written in a singular, linear, unyielding, unchanging, indisputable, unmistakably plain fashion, then why so many denominations of Christianity? Why the Grand Canyonesque disparity between Christians and Jews over *one book?* Why are there eleventy hundred versions and translations? Can both Christians and Jews go to heaven? How about Mormons and Catholics and Seventh Day Adventists? Why do some folks profess to adhere to the “letter of the law” in select areas of the Bible, but not in all? The questions go ever, ever on, and the cherry-picking never stops.
Hateful, hateful speech out there right now, fiends. Honestly, I’ve never heard or seen anything like it. And of course, the hotbox topics are politics and religion, which, for some people, are tightly bound together. I used to think it was solely the anonymity of the commenting process that facilitated such verbal cruelty, but I don’t think that’s the whole package anymore. Indeed, Facebook — where everyone’s identity is revealed — is one of the most offensive dens of meanydom. The tantrums about seemingly (to me, anyway) the most trivial issues in the bigger scheme of life are so intense and out of control, no toddler ever in the history of toddlerhood could out-toddler them.
So, what to do about it after all this rambling? Truthfully, there is nothing I can do, except resolve to not be a part of the meanyhead’s world, as I can think of few other names I could be called that would cut as deep. I’d rather be viewed as a caring and kind heathen than an arrogant, self-righteous, mean-spirited tool.