Back in May I was in Tokyo, jogging.
AS ONE DOES.
I jogged by a school that had a bunch of German flashcard-type stickers pasted to the side of the cement school building. Because… Japan? I don’t know why. Anyway, this was one of those flashcards.
Schadenfreude. Not my first brush with the word. I first learned it when I was reading Gawker back in the mid 2000s.
Gawker was wickedly funny, and full of schadenfreude, which basically means, “feeling glee when someone who seems perfect/better off than you messes up publicly.”
Back then, I refreshed Gawker HOURLY. They were skewering powerful media people. People I stood next to in the elevator on the way to the cafeteria as a lowly fact-checker in Midtown Manhattan. People who had no idea I existed, and I thought, never would.
And Gawker was cutting them down to size! It was speaking truth to power. “The world needs more of that!” I thought.
And sure, maybe the world does need a touch of schadenfreude now and then. Sometimes it feels good to read a tidbit of gossip that proves that Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t always perfect. (Just almost always.)
But 15 years and a bunch of experiences since then have made it clear to me that our German Schatz schadenfreude is poisonous.
Why waste time skewering people when they screw up? Because we’re envious? What a waste of energy! What a lame-o, tomato-throwing response from the peanut gallery.
Read some Brene Brown and move on!
That’s the obvious (and moralizing) reason why schadenfreude is nicht gut.
??? But I was thinking this week about another, hidden poison that schadenfreude brings about. ???
(And I wish I had realized it a decade ago back in that sleek elevator in Midtown.)
These days I’m working with some fearsomely intelligent moms who are entrepreneurs. They’ve built businesses, they make money as consultants, coaches, and online business owners.
They’re proud of what they’ve built.
But they know they have something else to contribute.
They have something to say publicly. They’ve been ready to say it for years. It’s that thing that no one in their industry is saying. That dumb way of doing things that has to end. Or that awesome way their industry tackles a problem that no one else seems to be talking about.
They want to write about it. They are ready to write about it!
But they don’t write about it.
Because they might screw up.
I can tell them all day long, “OF COURSE you’re going to screw up. Screwing up is part of putting yourself ‘out there.’ It never goes away.”
But. Schadenfreude. They know people will laugh at their mistakes because they’ve seen people laugh at other people’s mistakes. They’ve even laughed themselves.
They’ve felt that glee when someone whom they envied tripped up.
They don’t want someone else to feel that about them.
And you know what? I can’t stop that. No one can stop other people from throwing tomatoes.
But, we can stop engaging in schadenfreude ourselves. Not just because it’s lame. But because less schadenfreude makes the world a teeny bit safer for all creators.
I’m working on curing my schadenfreude-istic impulses. Sometimes, deep in the bowels of Frank-Hsu HQ (i.e. at 8:30 pm when I’m planted on my couch watching Midsomer Murders) I scroll Instagram for, like, an obscenely long time. And often, posts will pop up that cause me to have a visceral “who-does-she-think-she-is” reaction.
I’m not proud of it.
But I notice it. So now every time I see a post on Instagram that I feel envious of, a post that makes me want to mock the poster, a la Gawker… I ❤ the post instead. Often I also comment something like “this is so cool!” (when it is cool). I don’t try to force myself to stop wishing she’d slip on a banana peel.
But despite that impulse, I wish the poster well. It’s not her fault that her post is engaging my insecurity. It’s not really anybody’s fault. It’s just something to notice.
I would just rather support other women who are putting shit out there because I want the world to be full of women who support other women who put shit out there.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, I was a guest on #HAMYAW last week, and we dug into why women feel afraid to put themselves out there.
Let’s work on re-socializing ourselves. Simple, right? ?