Remember Iago, the arch villain in Shakespeare’s Othello? The one who framed Desdemona so that her husband, believing she’d committed adultery, strangled her? The seed for that crime of passion grew from Iago’s hatred of seeing others happy. He acted according to one of human nature’s darker aspects, schadenfreude.
Well, Shakespeare understood humanity in all its good and bad facets. Schadenfreude is a close cousin to envy. Freudenschade is even worse: taking satisfaction in someone else’s misfortune.
Last year, having been the victim of, and also having seen glimmers of these disgusting reactions in myself a time or two (OK, maybe more), I resolved to eradicate schadenfreude/freudenschade from my life. To my great wonder and relief, I’ve been able to keep that resolution. I did it by catching myself whenever I slipped into such thinking, or sensed that I was even in its presence. I did it by reflecting on how my friends’, family members’, and acquaintances’ achievements and windfalls not only benefited them, but added to my experience, knowledge, and pleasure. Bad things happening to one hurt us all in some measure.
I supported and shared with intent. Being close in good times and bad cements relationships and deepens understanding. Iago failed to gain anything good for himself by his meanness. Healthy human interaction is about true empathy. Shakespeare understood how a generous heart can erase unhealthy emotional borderlines. I intend to expand on this generous heart business in 2015.