Last week a story broke in this town about a controversial local figure. He stands accused in the media of doing something violent and hypocritical. Whether those accusations are true, false or somewhere in between is not something I’d be prepared to answer–even if I could. I have my thoughts on the matter but they remain nothing more than speculation fueled by my very tangential acquaintance with the accused.
Stories like this happen all the time. I’ve been alive for almost 40 years now, all of that time spent among people who are very conservative in their religion and/or their politics. As I’ve said here before, it’s become a truism to me that the louder or more fervently someone preaches against something the more likely it is that they are guilty of that very thing themselves. The first person I ever heard give a lecture about the importance of commitment and the dangers of adultery ended up shocking his church by running off with a choir member. Men who preached about drugs ended up being arrested for selling cocaine. Countless men who reviled homosexuality turned out to have boy toys in apartments across town. Women preachers who talk about being faithful end up divorced and married again to their business manager/lovers. That’s just the way it goes.
Yeah, I’m bothered by all of this because I don’t like the hurt it signifies. Wherever there is a fallen public figure there are generally spouses and children in the background who have to put the pieces of their lives back together. Not to mention the internal conflict and pain for the public figure. Pain hurts everybody.
What is bothering me most about all of this lately, though, and especially this current verse of the same old story is the over-the-top glee others are taking at this glimpse of warts. I am so utterly sick of Schadenfreude. Because as appropriately understandable a feeling as it is, it has become carried too far. The basic “happiness at the suffering of others” has turned into an endless stream of hateful invective that causes pain which to me is little different from that pain caused by the initial transgression. It seems like there are an awful lot of self-satisfied people sitting around and gleefully saying “serves that blankety-blank right!”
And I know it’s true. It’s oddly comforting to see someone who has made fun of you for being fat put on 100 pounds themselves. (One of my favourite things about the combination of Facebook and pregnancy and menopause.) It’s satisfying to see someone who has called your non-traditional family an aberration turn out to have a messed up family of their own.
But honestly. Schadenfreude should be an initial reaction. Not a driving force of your life.