Enjoying your schadenfreude?

My friend and neighbor on Bolivar, Rusty Cluck, pulls some mighty big words out of his hat from time to time. I confess up front that I got this one and the idea for this column when reading something he wrote recently. He told a woman to “enjoy her schadenfreude,” and I wanted to be certain I understood what it meant. The woman writer has an overly offensive attitude and she is at her worst when writing. She can make the most simple statement sound like it has been driven into readers’ hearts with a sledge hammer, and in the prelude to this writing by Rusty she had told folks to enjoy a recent property tax hike on their holdings. She also pointed out that she had said a week ago that this would be coming and that we should have been forewarned.

No one saw it coming. Not one person predicted it would be in the high amount that it was. Not many families can afford the very high increases assigned to their property values, and even if they could, they certainly don’t need anyone shoving it down their collective throats with a hard vengeance and an “I was right and you act like you didn’t even know” attitude. Rebuilding after Hurricane Ike has been job enough for most.The purest definition for “schadenfreude” means to take delight in another’s misfortune. I have learned that no matter how much you dislike a person and how deserving something bad happening to them might seem to you at the moment, it is best not to take delight in their undoing. Karma has a certain way of coming back to bite the person doing the bragging. The Bible teaches us “to take heed least we ourselves fall.” (“Wherefore, let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  – Matthew 10:12)

The first biblical illustration that came to my mind was from a series I taught some years ago on the Book of Esther. This is a very interesting book, and the word “God” is not mentioned one time in the entire writing. Wicked Haman was out to destroy all of the Jews in the land, and he ordered a set of gallows built from which to hang Mordecai, a good and honest man. As you read the chapters one by one and get toward the end of the book, one finds it a great hero and villain story. In Chapter 7, we read that Haman was hanged in public on the very gallows he had built for the innocent servant of God, Mordecai. In Verse 9, a servant describes the scene for us. “The gallows which Haman ordered built are 50 cubits high and stand ready.” The king said, “Hang him thereon.”

The word with which I began this column comes from the German language and joins two words meaning “harm” and “joy.” Etymonline further describes the word as “having malicious joy in the misfortunes of others,” and says the word originated from “damage, harm and injury” paired with “joy, happy, and hoping for joy.” At any rate, it sounds bad to me, and it is something I want to avoid.

Lord, help us to be very cautious about taking joy from the misfortune of others in any avenue of our lives or theirs. We never know when the shoe just might be on the other foot.

Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.

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