Can’t We be Better Than This?
On 2020.10.02, USA Today ran a headline, “President Donald Trump’s coronavirus infection draws international sympathy and a degree of schadenfreude.” If you are like me, the last word jumps out. So off to the dictionary we go!
Schadenfreude – Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.Merriam-Webster Disctionary
As it sounds, this word originated from the German language and is a blend of the words Schaden, which means damage, and Freude, which means joy. It entered the American lexicon in the 1860s.
We should not be surprised that there is a word like this in our vocabulary. People are broken, and some will delight in other’s suffering and troubles. The fact that some people reveled in the illness of an admittedly controversial president, while others pretended to feign sympathy while secretly finding vindication that he contracted the virus.
I am afraid this may be a defining characteristic of the current American zeitgeist. (Go look it up!)
So has this ever happened before? Had our culture ever been this divided and polarized? Of course!
In 1856, a congressman, Preston Brooks, walked onto the United States Senate floor and beat Senator Charles Sumner with a walking stick or cane. Brooks was a pro-slavery Democrat from South Carolina, and Sumner was an abolitionist Republican from Massachusetts. Brooks nearly killed Sumner. Why? Because Brooks was offended by Sumner and Senator Stephen Douglas, who aggressively criticized slaveholders and Brook’s uncle, a Democrat Senator, who was ill and could not defend himself.
Where does schadenfreude enter into the conversation? Allegedly, Brooks broke his cane while beating Sumner. Hundreds of Southerners sent Brooks new walking sticks as endorsements of his assault, and one was inscribed “Hit him again.”
This event contributed to an uptick in the country’s polarization over the issue of slavery. Sumner became a martyr for the abolitionist cause, and Brooks a hero for the pro-slavery cause. This event led to the breakdown of any reasonable discourse, which ultimately led to the civil war and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
If we do not make changes, is this where we are heading? Is this something you find acceptable? Are you becoming so polarized that you experience schadenfreude if someone who has a differing opinion or worldview suffers?
Don’t let schadenfreude be one of the hallmarks of our zeitgeist.
We can do better than this!
You have heard that it was said,
‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you,
love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…Matthew 5:43-44