Byron's Babbles

“Damage-Joy”

Posted in Damage-Joy, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Schadenfreude by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 25, 2019

My dad used to tell me when I was growing up to always remember that when someone asks you how your doing that “90% really don’t care how you’re doing, and the other 10% are happy if you’re not doing so well.” I used to laugh, but the older and wiser I get the more truth I find in my dad’s wisdom. You really don’t have to pay too close attention to politics and many so-called leaders to understand this. Most seem to focus on disagreement and taking someone down. Most don’t come to the table with solutions – just a desire to discredit others. I’ve recently experienced “leaders” wanting to memorialize disagreement. What? I thought this was a democracy. Clearly, we are missing the point that opposing views many times get us to the best solution – checks and balances. Memorialize means to preserve memories with a ceremony. So, I guess now we need to have disagreement ceremonies. That’s dumb!

In another episode of, you guessed it, Boston Legal, I learned about “schadenfreude.” It turns out that my dad was correct, as he always seemed to be. In Season Two, Episode 2, while defending a woman charged with murder who was very unlikeable, Alan Shore (James Spader) tells the jury:

“Schadenfreude. From the German words, Schaden and Freude, damage and joy. It means to take spiteful, malicious delight in the misfortune of others. We used to dismiss this as simply an ugly side of human nature, but it is much, much more than that...” “…But as for evidence to establish that she committed a murder beyond all reasonable doubt? It just isn’t there. The only possible route to a guilty verdict here is Schadenfreude.”

After a little studying I learned that schadenfreude is a real thing. Schadenfreude is a German word that broken down means schaden: damage or harm; and freude: joy. So, if there were an English word, which there is not, it would bedamage-joy.” It is a complex emotion that basically means we find joy in others’ troubles, failures, or misfortunes. If you don’t think it exists, think again and look around. It’s why you can’t resist looking at the tabloids or checking the latest tweets. It’s one of our worst traits in human nature, but we must own it. Research shows we get more pleasure when watching football when our rival team commits a penalty or throws an interception than when our team scores a touchdown. We can’t help ourselves.

Evan a cursory search of schadenfreude will bring up hundreds of studies from neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and leadership. Part of this is our desire for empathy and compassion. With our growing commitment to empathy, the more our capacity to understand others’ points of view becomes more highly prized and the more obnoxious schadenfreude becomes. But, it is also this emotion that enables us to alleviate inferiority or envy. Research suggests it is part of the emotion that gives us our instinct for justice and fairness, quest for status, and desire to be social and belong to groups. So, all is not bad, and schadenfreude it is a testament to our ability to hold contradictory thoughts thoughts and feeling simultaneously.

Putting ourselves in another’s shoes impacts our abilities as leaders, parents, partners, and friends. While schadenfreude is probably a flaw, it is one we need to face head on and understand if we want to be more effective leaders using emotional intelligence. And, instead of tweeting the faults in others, how about we try to find consensus using the thought partnerships of all sides of the issue.

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