“Schadenfreude” is a word I try to hold on to. I forget exactly how to spell or say it sometimes, but I remember the idea with nausea bubbling up when I feel a twinge of envy over something good or a bit of pleasure over something awful in the life of someone with whom I struggle (or even like). I hate to even put it in writing… but I don’t think I’m the only person on the planet (or the only Jesus-follower on the planet) who has a mean thought from time to time, hate it though I do.
“Schadenfreude” is defined as “malicious joy in the misfortunes of others.” This quote addresses it:
“What a fearful thing is it that any language should have a word expressive of the pleasure which men feel at the calamities of others; for the existence of the word bears testimony to the existence of the thing. And yet in more than one such a word is found…. In the Greek epikhairekakia, in the German, ‘Schadenfreude.'”
[Richard C. Trench, “On the Study of Words,” 1852]
So given that we feel glee at the pain of others, I turn my thoughts towards all the hatred and vile spewed at Lindsay Lohan. Or any other celebrity who’s struggling. We are a culture full of hatred and gratuitous violence, verbal and otherwise.
Yes, she has made some choices that are less than perfect. Just like me. Yes, she is a young woman thrust young into the limelight who has not handled all of it well. And — most significantly — she is a normal, imperfect human being who was not raised by perfect parents, who has not lived perfectly, who deserves love and grace and the benefit of the doubt. Going to jail sounds like it’s in the cards. But why is she further castigated by strangers who don’t know her? People are writing the most horrific things as comments on the internet in reaction to her crying upon learning she is going to jail. I am not going to link to them because reading them is not going to advance my argument yet it will advance the ugliness further.
But watching her holding on to the arm of, I presume, her lawyer, made me want to just grab her up and give her a hug. This is not someone to laugh at (Who is?). Nobody starts out as a young person saying, “I hope to grow up to expose my breasts, have substance abuse problems and go to jail.” Nobody sets out to commit murder, abuse others, end up homeless, do ________ (whatever it is we demonize people for).
Mostly I’m wondering why we are so mean to each other, including and especially strangers and/or celebrities whom we only read about. And why do people choose to say horrible things on the internet that they would not say in person; I know the answer to that question… anonymity.
We are fickle people who set up (often young) celebrities to carry the weight of our hopes and dreams, and then we trash them publicly for being mortals. We set people up as idols, and then we topple them with expectations and then trounce and trample them when they fall. And then laugh and involve Jesus in it, judging and denigrating in His name.
I’m writing about this on this particular blog, dedicated to an exploration in my own life of Biblical principles of jubilee that dictate that I attempt to forgive others, pay debts where they exist, and redistribute what I have. It’s related.
Can we forgive Lindsay for living as might be expected coming out of some of the (publicly told) hardships of her young years?
Can we think about the debt we owe to people who entertain us artistically, play sports that thrill us, and do other things in the public eye? Yes, they have their own rewards for that, and we begrudge them those very rewards. But their lives also come with scrutiny, mean-spirited rantings from strangers and life in a fishbowl. Can we at least ignore their pain?
Today I am grieving over Lindsay Lohan for the state of her life. I can be catty and mean and critical; I often am. I wrote about that recently. But my hope, just for today, is that I can “redistribute” some of my anger over this internet ranting phenomenon and lesson the schadenfreude just an iota.