Monday, February 11, 2013

The opposite of schadenfreude

Humiliation: the degradation of one's position in the eyes of others or one's self. It's a terrible thing to experience, certainly. But it is also terrible to witness it happening to someone else.

Don't get me wrong. There is a delectable schadenfreude in watching the demise of a high-profile villain like Karl Rove. But Rove is a public figure about whom most of us know nothing beyond his unethical public persona. I don't know Karl Rove from Adam, and that makes it easy to hate him.

It's a different story when the humiliated is a person in your own life --even if the humiliated person is not particularly likeable; even if you feel the humiliation is deserved.

Well, humiliation came crashing down on a person in my life recently; a person with whom I have very little in common; a person whom, were we not compelled by our jobs to interact, I would gladly exclude from my life. My relationship with this person has been grudging and vaguely antagonistic. I don't much like him, and I'm sure he doesn't care for me, either.

Nonetheless, it pained me to see him humbled. As events have unfolded, I've seen him transform from brash and callous to modest. He's considerate. He's diffident. He speaks in an abashed tone. It's as if he has called into question his own value as a person.

Over the years, this person and I have each made efforts to improve our relationship. (We have to work together, after all.) But try as we might, we never have much success. Put it down to widely divergent world-views.

But now that he's had his comeuppance, I'm experiencing more sympathy toward him than ever before. It has evoked a compassion in me that is the opposite of schadenfreude. I've been where he is right now and I know it to be a very lonely place.

The whole thing has taught me a valuable lesson: it hurts to see a person you know be humiliated. And that's because humiliation is something we all know through painful experience. No one gets through life without being humiliated.  

And knowing that makes it impossible to feel any triumph or smugness in my coworkers abasement.

As they say in France, "Mais par la grâce de Dieu j'y vais."

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