As I sit in my cosy and sumptuous study typing this, I look out on the snow covered street… Yes indeed, it even snowed here at the seaside which is a rare thing and I feel for my new cherry tree planted in the fruit section of my garden…
Anyway, as I looked out at one of the neighbours who parks his huge, top of the range Bentley car across many other peoples driveways when he has a substantial one of his own, he grunts and frowns often and I know little else of him… As he strolled along his garden pathway in his slip-on shoes this morning, acorss the snow… He slipped… Adn then he rolled a little bit and slipped again as he got up on his feet…
I roared with laughter. Not a polite titter to myself, I laughed properly, loudly with my head thrown back… I really laughed.
Then I got a pang of guilt.
Then I roared with guilty laughter again as he wiped off the layers of matted snow from his jacket and got into his car…
Then I finally got some proper guilt and looked inward of myself… maybe I thought of Karma, maybe I realise the unkindness of such a laugh or maybe there was something else going on… I want to discuss that today…
It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.
Hmmmm… This sits a little uncomfortably with me… Well more than a little… A lot… Oh come on, it is hugely uncomfortable and i dislike that quote immensely.
It reminds me of when I had parked my new sports car on the street and ran into a shop on a high street in a village that is on the perphery of Bournemouth… I came out to see that someone has spat something disgusting and not uncolourful onto the centre of my windscreen… I had not been here long enough to offend anyone and had not spoken a word…
A voice came out of one of the windows from a flat above the shops…
“Hahahaha… That’s what ahppens when you have a flash motor with a personalised number plate…” I am not going to swear unnecessarily on this blog, depsite last weeks entries, so I’ll exclude the fact that I was also called a W-word at the same time.
I giggled insincerely and went about my day.
Someone had simply taken a dislike to my car, perhaps in light of their own circumstances and someone else had laughed at it. I just don’t get that.
The emotion of pleasure-in-others’-misfortune is generally regarded as morally evil. It is often considered to be less acceptable than envy, which is regarded as a deadly sin.
It would appear to be morally more perverse to be pleased with another person’s misfortune than to be displeased with another person’s good fortune.
Indeed Arthur Schopenhauer argues that to feel envy is human, but to enjoy other people’s misfortune is diabolical. For Schopenhauer, pleasure-in-others’-misfortune is the worst trait in human nature since it is closely related to cruelty.
The fact that pleasure in anothers misfortune exists, maybe describes a significant conflict between our positive evaluation of the situation and the negative evaluation of the other person, doesn’t it?
Perhaps that conflict shows the presence of a comparative, and sometimes even, a competitive, concern. A major reason for being pleased with the misfortune of another person is that this person’s misfortune may somehow benefit us; it may, for example, indicate some sense of superiority.
Maybe for some, a central feature of pleasure-in-others’-misfortune is the belief that the other person deserves the misfortune for whatever reason.
For example, when stuck in a traffic jam, where two lanes move into one, when a driver whizzes past us on our right attempting to skip waiting in the queue, our initial frustration might be replaced by pleasure when we see the guy stuck while no-one lets him in and we pass them on the inside… I know that you’ve felt that before, haven’t you? 😉
The belief that the other person deserves the misfortune expresses our assumption that justice has been done and enables us to be pleased in a situation where we seem required to be sad.
Moreover, this belief presents us as moral people who do not want to hurt other people. The more deserved the misfortune is, the more justified is the pleasure.
Norman Feather shows in a study of people’s attitude toward the downfall of those in high positions that the fall was greeted with positive approval when the fall was seen to be deserved, but reactions were negative when the fall was seen to be undeserved… When you see here in the UK, the fall from grace of someone like Lord Jeffrey Archer… No-one seems to sympathise with him… Thus, it is easier to justify getting some pleasure from his mis-fortune.
Secondly, pleasure-in-others’-misfortune might also be related to notable small differences… So for example, when the misfortune is severe, pleasure-in-others’-misfortune often turns into pity. So should our seemingly unfriendly, inconsiderate and neighbour fall in the snow, we may feel some pleasure (I am sorry, but I felt the pleasure); however, if his son was to become ill, I would undoubtedly feel compassion, empathy or pity.
We can admit that in some circumstances the other’s misfortune may be grave, but it is still not significantly graver than that caused by this person to other people-especially ourselves and those related to us. Some may be pleased when a brutal dictator is murdered, as many people obviously were when Saddam Hussein was hanged, because such an ending may well seem somewhat deserved given some things that Saddam Hussein did to his people.
I suppose some people identify pleasure-in-others’-misfortune with sadism, I laugh out loud at the comedy of Rik mayall and Ade Edmundson, especially when bashing each other over the head with frying pans… It is sadistically funny…
I read an article in the Sunday papers about a wife who discovered her husband having a virtual flirt with a much younger woman on facebook… Then she delighted when her husband was publicly embarassed and humiliated by the entire affair…
At the extreme end of the spectrum, sometimes the profound pain of losing a lover may generate pathological attitude which is even worse than pleasure-in-others’-misfortune. A real example like this would be that of a man whose wife had an actual physical affair, and as a result, they divorced. The wife married her lover, and shortly afterwards, gave birth to a child. A few years later when the child developed an illness, the man expressed pleasure that his ex-wife had been punished. This is a pathological case since not only is the wife’s misfortune far too severe but the misfortune is shared by an innocent child.
I think there is a little element of this that is perhaps funny… I mean, TV comedy character Frank Spencer was laughed at almost exclusively because of his misfortune… Perhaps that is just me defending the fact that I laughed at a man slipping over in the snow today…
At least I know it made me look deeper inside…
Is there an element of this in everyone?
My faith has the principle of “threefold return”: that which we wish upon others shall return to us three times worse. I didn’t have the best of weeks last week. Thanks to a viral build up in my ears, I lost my balance for three days so I do have a lot of sympathy for people who slip or fall over- whatever the cause.
Indeed, let’s put things to the test. I’m going to tell your readers a story:
I co-founded Bangor English Dramatics Society (www.undeb.bangor.ac.uk/beds) and was co-founding President of the society. We put on a play in the depths of winter in North Wales. Outside, the wind and winter weather raged but inside, the audience watched the play. The changing rooms for the actors were downstairs in the building and you could only reach them (without going on stage) by going outside and going round the back of the building. If we left the changing rooms unlooked and stuff was stolen, Estates would have our blood. So I went out into the freezing weather to check they were locked.
I trudged along a small, muddy footpath. To my left was a large grassy mound with quite a big drop. If you fell, it’d be a while till you reached level ground. The wind was howling and it was terribly cold. But I reached the changing rooms unscathed.
They were unlocked. I went inside and checked around. All clear. I went back outside and locked the changing rooms. I took a few steps and…
I fell. Well, when I say “I fell” I actually rolled at very high speed down the grassy mound, becoming caked in deep, thick mud as I rolled. Any skin that wasn’t covered with winter clothes was grazed and my mobile phone (which was in my pocket) pressed so deeply into my body that- when I checked later on- I found it had left an imprint on my skin.
I clawed my way back up the hill- only to notice a perfectly good footpath up the hill that I could have just walked along to get back up much more quickly. I was more than a bit annoyed. I went back inside the performance area and informed my co-director that I was off home to change but would rush back. My co-director didn’t like this idea and said it might look unprofessional. I told her I didn’t care. The audience consisted of complete strangers, friends and two ex girlfriends. I wasn’t looking a twit in front of them. I stormed out and headed home.
The halls of residence were a long way away and, by this time, it had started to snow. By the time I got back to my room, I looked like a walking snowman.
I tell that story to people who are feeling down or have had bad days in order to try to cheer them up. It usually does cheer people up and I don’t mind people laughing at things that happen to me. I hope readers of this blog have found this story funny. But just imagine for one minute that, on the way down that grassy mound, I had hit my head on a very hard rock or hard edge. Would the story be funny then? Readers of this story have no perception of what happened other than the one I gave them through this story. They weren’t there. They don’t know if I felt pain or not. Indeed, they only have their trust in me to help them judge whether any of what I’ve said actually happened. We can look at the misfortunes of others and, sometimes, laugh. But there, but for the grace of the Goddess, go us all.
Hi there. A friend linked me to a video where a female contestant on The Amazing Race was hit in the face by a watermelon (hard). Majority of the comments on Youtube were of people laughing and making rude suggestions and saying how funny the situation was. I didn’t find it funny at all. In fact, I found it abhorrent that people can have so much pleasure in someone else’s pain. When I expressed my view, they called me uptight. So I googled a bit hoping to find a site that explains *why* certain people behave the way they do, and your post was the only semi decent one I found. 🙂
when buying winter clothes, i always chose wool because i love the feel of it;“