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Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The mayor of Toronto is continuing to self-destruct, to the joy of pundits, late-night comedians, and the wider media. Everyone, it seems, is getting a piece of it. A friend calls it SchadenFORD, after the German term Schadenfreude.

Sometime last week, it stopped being funny.

I have become uneasy with the dominance of Schadenfreude in our cultural narrative. Because taking joy in the misfortune of others has become a national and international pastime. Some examples:

  • reality TV
  • "What not to wear"
  • Fat-shaming, hoarder-shaming, class-shaming, slut-shaming
  • Political coverage (e.g., Sarah Palin, other political women)
And, reading what is above, it would seem that there is a thread of misogyny (although in Rob Ford's case, he is dishing).

I have to admit, I enjoy Schadenfreude as much (or perhaps more) than the next person, and I perpetuate it in my social media and private life. But I am starting to wonder about the effects on some of the things I would like to encourage in the world in which I live.

Because the way to avoid being the object of Schadenfreude is to stay low, stay quiet, and stop your striving. It is to avoid leadership, to avoid speaking your truth, to stay a sheep and baa with the crowd.

And yet I believe that important social awareness is built by people who stand up and speak. And when what you say strikes close to the tender sensibilities of others, it is often met with attack.

So, I find myself wondering, what is the opposite of Schadenfreude. Is it compassion? How can I support those who find themselves targets of Schadenfreude? What self-talk would help?

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