I heard a word the other day that was new to me; it was: “schadenfreude.” The word itself is delicious. Try saying it over and over. Now, try to stop saying it. It’s really addictive.
Schadenfruede was in an email story written to me by my dear friend, Bernie, who lives in Vancouver. She used it in the context of trying to thwart a squirrel from purloining seeds at the bird feeder. It was a very funny story and she agreed to let me share it with you. It follows at the end of this blog post.
Because I had never before heard the term schadenfreude, I looked it up online. Wikipedia defines it as a “loan word” borrowed into English usage from German and it means taking pleasure at the misfortune of others. I know what you’re thinking, “That’s not very nice.” That’s what I thought, too. But I also know that I would feel every little ounce of the same satisfaction as Bernie in winning a battle against a squirrel. So, that made me wonder, are there degrees of schadenfreude?
This philosophical question is somewhat akin to, “Is it ever O.K. to tell a lie?” That old chestnut has been discussed to death, of course, and everyone knows that the usual answer is, “No," except if it’s a tiny white lie, such as a small fib to spare your best friend’s feelings when, yes, those pants really do make her butt look big. In this spirit, I pondered, are there times when schadenfreude is O.K.? Can we find the good in schadenfreude?
My thoughts immediately went to Wile E. Coyote. As a kid, I didn’t just take pleasure at seeing this canis cartoonibus fall from mile-high mesa ledges with a dusty thud on the desert floor. I fell on the floor in hysterics. Growing up, my brother and I watched Saturday cartoons together and howled with laughter every time. Maybe it was a slippery slope; I’ve loved physical comedy ever since.
I mean, would we find Lucy and Ethel stuffing their faces with chocolates funny without schadenfreude? I think not.
Would TV shows like “America’s Funniest Videos” even exist? O.K. bad example – it would surely be better for mankind if they didn’t.
Practical jokes depend on schandenfreude. Seeing a pompous ass taken down a peg or two is also always satisfying. Celebrity magazines depend on our worst schadenfreudian tendencies for their success. O.K. – again a bad example.
So, from here we get into some murky, grey territory where schadenfreude is concerned. None of it is pretty, but let’s acknowledge our human failings and admit we’ve all had these less than noble moments:
· Smacking the heck out of a house fly exclaiming, “Got’ya, you little bugger!”
· Not with glee, but at least with a sense of relief, thinking, “I’m glad it’s not me!” when we see TV news images of folks stuck in O’Hare airport for three days due to a snow storm.
· When your team wins, and the other team LOSES!!!! Boo-ya!
· Being the person to snag the last giant shrimp at the buffet. BOOM!
· And my personal favorite, hiding the only garment in your size on the store rack so nobody else can find it while you decide if you are going to buy it or not. Schadenfreude.
So maybe you have other examples when schadenfreude seemed like a good idea. Please share. Maybe you’ve got a squirrel stealing bird seed in your backyard.
Here’s Bernie’s story. For those of you that don’t speak Canadian, please refer to the footnotes.
I put up a squirrel proof bird feeder this morning. This after several years of NOT feeding the birds and only affording them bathing facilities in the spring and summer months. I run hot and cold on the idea of bird feeding. The cold part includes attracting rats and having the ground under the feeder mushy with sprouts in the spring. I also think that my personal birds don't want the whole neighbourhood¹ over here. I have a darling Swainson's or Hermit Thrush that I just adore. The chickadees are cute but they are like the “neighbours kids,” cute for a while but then I wish they'd go home. The sparrows are hard to like but I keep trying. They always munch on my sprouted peas and beans in the spring…sometimes ruining the whole crop. They are pushy, too. Basically, Cockneys. Unlike Juncos, who are the Progressive Conservatives² of the yard. They’ll move when asked but feel they have a natural right to be here. I‘d like for them all to coexist on what remains of flower seeds and the plentiful insects on and around the cherry tree. I feel the diet is a healthy one. No one is overeating and the population is kept in check. So, why have I decided to put up a bird feeder again? The answer has to be schadenfreude. Quite simply I am looking forward to watching the squirrels thwarted. Especially the little black one that caused me to fall on my face three years ago. (I was chasing it with a broom.) Every time I see that squirrel I do a slow burn. Sometimes I gesture wildly at it and make as if I am going to give chase. It really doesn't care; makes my lawn lumpy with nuts every year. I need to be here the day, the hour and the minute that this squirrel tries to access the feeder. It was the YouTube video of a squirrel 'out of luck' on this feeder that had me in the car and driving directly to “Wild Birds Unlimited” last Sunday afternoon. Once I put the feeder up the word got out very quickly. They all showed up, plus the relatives!!! One adorable Red Breasted Nuthatch made me squeal. Still, they ate a lot. I'm starting them off with the uber deluxe mix. This will be the only time I ever purchase that. NO shells! So no mushy sprouts in the spring. But …I won't be affording them this luxury (or me!) much longer. They must think they are in Kitsilano!³ I expect even more will be here tomorrow. But you know who I am waiting for.
1. Canadian spelling of “neighbors” following proper English (as in England) language.
2. The Progressive Conservatives are the political party currently in power in Canada. They’ve been in for a long old while, hence their smug sense of entitlement.
3. Kitsilano is a trendy, upscale, former-hippie/doper neighbourhood on the shores of English Bay in Vancouver. You can bet that birds in this neighbourhood get top grade seed, dude.