Dec 10, 2009

Schadenfreude

by

I enjoy watching sports on TV. My favorites are NFL games and college football.  When games are played at a high level of athletic performance and intensity, I get lost in the action.

Over the years, I’ve identified two other reasons why I enjoy the games.  One reason leads into the other. First, the games are a ritual battle between good and evil. Of course I decide who is evil and who is good. (For the sake of full disclosure, I admit that I am a lifelong fan of the Buffalo Bills. The Bills always represent good.) Viewing sports this way brings me pleasure.  I root for good to overcome evil.

Sometimes, though, my behavior becomes overly influenced by Schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others). This German noun captures the essence of what happens to me. I find joy in the adversity of the opponent.  By the time autumn turns to winter, games become more intense. The performance of the players has risen to a higher level, and games mean more. I find myself intensely engaged in wishing ill will upon any opposition to the good team.

Sometimes the good team is not so easy to identify, so I root against the more evil team. I find that I’m spending a lot of energy on vengeance.  In the midst of advent, the season of preparing for Jesus' coming, I am full of joy over teams losing, coaches getting fired, and expectations being dashed . . . there's something wrong with this full embrace of Schadenfreude.

The more I reflect on my Schadenfreude approach to watching sports, the more I realize how demoralizing it is. As silly as all this may sound, I have to admit that my current approach diminishes the human spirit.

When we take Schadenfreude into the competitive world of business, we wish ill on our competitors. Instead of viewing our competitors as driving us to excellence, we spend time speaking badly about them.  Competition drives us to do more, better. Schadenfreude looks to cheer for the demise of the competitor and thereby competition. It is antithetical to who we are as a people.

It’s the same in our families when we talk about our neighbors. We should abhor gossip because spreading sordid stories and rumors about others diminishes us all.

Christians have a particular optimism about life. We call it hope. Paul’s epistles are filled with references about hope.  Through faith Paul endures, but endurance itself serves as a sign of hope. Everywhere Paul encounters trials and hardship that he endures. He has hope, and love sustains that hope.