Post No.: 0425
Lots of things that people get bullied for aren’t things that the victims of the bullying feel are problems until or unless they get bullied for it e.g. having ginger hair, being of a foreign ethnicity, being very short or very tall, being disabled or having quirky fashion tastes or interests. The problem is therefore 100% the bullies and the bullying. This is basically what puppy also said in Post No.: 0352.
There’s also a pattern that bullies tend to be far inferior to those they attempt to bully e.g. they don’t tend to be the most intelligent in class, successful or physically beautiful. They don’t even tend to be the physically strongest – most elite, world strength athletes are actually pretty nice people! The best don’t need to feel insecure; although a few still will because whatever level of adoration or whatever they receive, they still don’t feel like they get the amount they personally crave – which indicates that insecurity isn’t really about how much you have in objective terms but about how much you perceive you lack. The best don’t need to put others down to feel good about themselves.
A fellow pupil who is academically talented or does good things might be called a ‘swot’ or ‘goody two shoes’ because they make a bully seem bad, but of course the bully being bad is what really makes the bully seem bad. Such bullies try to rationalise to themselves that performing academically well is somehow an undesirable thing but it’s really because they cannot raise their own game to be great themselves.
This doesn’t therefore mean becoming arrogant about it if one is academically strong. Bullies have low self-esteem and that’s unfortunate for them – maybe they should therefore receive our empathy? Yet it doesn’t excuse how they treat others.
‘Schadenfreude’ is the experience of pleasure or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the failures, troubles or humiliations of others. It’s feeling a lift from other people’s misery. Instead of empathy, which would be to feel happy if someone else feels happy, or to feel sad if someone else feels sad – one feels pleasure if someone else feels dejected, or feels jealous if someone else feels joy.
We more readily experience schadenfreude from seeing those whom we perceive as above us fail, not those we perceive as below us fail e.g. no adult takes pleasure from seeing a child or disabled person fail, unless the adult has incredibly low self-esteem(!) If a top sports team beats a lower sports team then there’s not much bragging about it, but if this lower team beats that top team then they’re more likely to brag about it all week, with the amount of gloating proportional to the difference in expected purrformance between them. Only those we consider are in high enough positions can fall in relative status.
So you might feel that beating a particular opponent would be a big deal, but this opponent might not feel the same way if they beat you because they don’t consider you as their main competition. Most people won’t feel smug about themselves after seeing a novice make a mistake but they might with someone whom they expected to be better. Most supporters of top teams won’t derive any pleasure from seeing an expected lower team get relegated – here, they might feel empathy for them instead. So to laugh at a person’s errors, problems or losses will only reveal that we expected them to be, or they normally are, better than us, or they’ve become better than us. People who laugh, smile or smirk at other people’s misfortunes in a self-satisfactory manner are really projecting their own insecurities hence their schadenfreude or put-downs only speak of themselves – of what position they think they occupy relative to whom they’re mocking in this self-satisfactory manner.
Although we might try to consciously convince ourselves that we’re clearly superior to someone else, we reveal whom we subconsciously consider is possibly superior to us, and see as a rival to us, by virtue of the amount of pleasure we derive or would derive from seeing them fall. One might take pleasure from seeing that someone isn’t as good as one thought they’d be – but that logically means that one must’ve rated them highly to have expected them to be that good. Or, for believing that someone else is a direct competitor of ours, perhaps we’ve over-estimated what league we think we belong in and that we belong in the same league as them? And perhaps we’ll reveal that we don’t treat them as allies as much as rivals too because we should hate to see our friends fall.
Schadenfreude therefore reveals so much about ourselves and our relationships with others – from our own subconscious (or conscious) perspective. If we weren’t jealous of or feeling threatened by them then their loss, pain or shame wouldn’t make a notable difference to our own perceived relative status with them in a ‘haha, now I think I’m better than you/you’re not as far ahead as I thought’ way. The amount of schadenfreude we tend to feel is negatively correlated with our level of self-esteem.
If people have low self-esteem or a low personal capability then they can try to take their joys from seeing those above or near them being brought down because they cannot lift themselves up. So to feel schadenfreude is admitting that one is the underdog rather than the top cat. For someone to derive a notable feeling of pleasure from discovering some, even minor, shortcoming or failing of yours could thus be regarded as a backhanded compliment.
Of course, from the other side, we shouldn’t take joy from seeing underdogs suffer because that’s even more low – it’s even worse to try to kick people when we think they’re already down! (I generally root for the underdog.) ‘Compersion’ could be said to be loosely the opposite of jealousy and schadenfreude – it’s taking pleasure in seeing other people being happy. And we can feel jubilant about our own successes without rubbing it in other people’s faces. We can be sporting and show sportsmanship. Meow.
Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that all schadenfreude is because we’re jealous of others. Schadenfreude is more acceptable when it’s about seeing an immoral and/or arrogant/smug person getting punished or fall – the pleasure here is about seeing justice being served. Some famous people accused of wrongdoing have tried to use the defence of ‘you’re only jealous of me’ when that’s not the case. These people should rightly be taken down a notch or two if found guilty of wrongdoing. The context of a putdown matters too e.g. is it a roast or best man speech?
We can laugh at an event such as a goofy mistake but not really at another person for making that mistake, at least in a self-satisfactory way. We may be venturing into ‘political correctness’ territory here but this is the psychology behind the matter. Yet at the same time we cannot deny that jokes do work better when the person being mocked and laughed at has a high status rather than a low one – the higher a person’s status, the harder they potentially fall, hence top politicians are frequent targets of satire. Laughing at another person’s failures can provide feedback to them to do better next time. And schadenfreude can make us feel happy when we didn’t necessarily cause whom we’re laughing at to suffer. Yet there are more constructive ways to provide feedback, and should anyone’s happiness come at another person’s expense?
Schadenfreude can relate to either our individual status or group identity status. It can be about expressing jealousy in an ‘us versus them’ dynamic. People can become quite aggressive against those groups that beat them, especially at their own game and on their own turf, such as immigrants who come and do a better job and/or at a lower price than them as locals. Aggression towards outgroups is seen as more legitimate and is thus expressed more if people also feel that they have the numbers on their side, such as when they perceive that most of the country shares the same anti-immigrant feelings. This is similar to school playground bullies, who often cowardly hang around in groups to pick on their victims in order to feel stronger. People may look at ethnic minority members and wonder why they don’t stand up for themselves – not understanding that the bullies typically outnumber their targets. Bullies seldom choose to pick on groups that they perceive to be larger than them (at least when they’re right in front of them!) Bullies like to feel like they’re in power, such as being in the majority rather than in the minority, which might also help them to rationalise that their behaviour is ‘normal’ and acceptable – is ‘banter’ rather than bullying – because lots of other people are apparently thinking and saying the same prejudicial or discriminatory things they’re thinking and saying too.
Self-esteem is essentially linked with our relationships with others, of the acceptances and rejections we receive, and of our perceived status too – hence why people love to win arguments, even pointless and petty ones! People feel threatened when faced with someone who challenges their status, or when about to receive feedback or critique.
Because of status, most people don’t tend to like it when others try to make them look bad or useless, such as through frequent patronising remarks or by constantly correcting their knowledge and thereby questioning their intelligence.
People with higher status have more opportunities in life partly because they receive more attention and support from others to make things happen, thus this creates a positive cycle towards even higher self-esteem for them; and vice-versa for those with low self-esteem. This means that people with low self-esteem may be unfortunate victims of their circumstances. Bullies are frequently victims of something themselves, hence their low self-esteem and insecurities, and we must take this into account rather than seek revenge.
The key to elevating your own status is finding a way to be better than other people at just about anything at all, such as by being smarter, fitter, funnier, more artistic or better at a certain game than others. Failing that, one may attempt to drag other people down. This is because status is always relative e.g. you could be a queen/king who commands a country, but that’s little compared to an empress/emperor who commands an empire. Conflicts for higher status can waste a group’s time and efforts though – it can result in infighting.
You can try to boost another person’s self-esteem by putting yourself down a bit and/or by praising that person if you feel that person needs or will appreciate it. People who are self-deprecating (to a degree) therefore tend to be more popular, all else being equal. And you can and should boost your own self-esteem by trying to better your own former self, such as improving on your own last score. Don’t concern yourself with how others are doing – concentrate on your own fluffy game. You can waste your own time and efforts infighting trying to put your immediate peers down but you cannot put everyone in the world down, hence you’ll still fall behind to those people across the world if you don’t try to lift your own game.
In summary, any schadenfreude aimed towards you should, unless it’s about justice, be taken as a compliment – it’s primarily aimed at individuals or teams who are considered competition and a real threat, or people or groups who are high enough up, where any fall is more noteworthy. And therefore reactions such as our schadenfreude towards others will speak much more about ourselves than about whom we’re trying to judge.
Meow. So overall, it’s best to just be kind, and to take pleasures from our own wins rather than other people’s losses.