Friday, September 11, 2015

What Is the Antidote to or Antonym for Schadenfreude?

Everyone is always talking about Schadenfreude, the pleasure of other people’s suffering. So many people apparently delight in their fellows experiencing pain that a term, lifted from the German (Schaden means damage and Freude, joy), and employed regularly by psychoanalysts, has become almost a colloquialism. Schadenfreude is as ubiquitous as cocksucker or fuck you. But what is the opposite of Schadenfreude asks our friend the East Village poet, Elinor Nauen? Is there a word for it? Googling antonyms one comes up with an internet exchange in which “Mitgefuhl,” the German word for compassion is suggested. Fat chance you’re going to come across many mitgefuhlians at New York literary cocktail parties where a veneer of humanism camouflages a cannibalistic dog eat dog subculture. And it really doesn’t hit the nail on the head. If Schadenfreude is like a sigh of relief when one realizes someone is worse off rather than better off than you, then the opposite would be a full fledged enjoyment of say a rival snagging the boy you wanted to marry or publishing that Great American novel you had spent years writing and for which all you have to show are a batch of form rejection letters. The opposite of Schadenfreude is enjoying it when someone has money and a wonderfully satisfying love life when your sexual dysfunctionality is only exceeded by the wretchedness of your financial state; it’s enjoying relinquishing the yellow shirt in the Tour de France, when another rider has put up the good fight. But what's a word which encompasses this sloppy, generous kiss to human existence, this Buddha like drool of altruism that only a baby oceanic ally connected to its mother’s womb experiences? If you are looking for German words there is Vergangenheitsbewaltegung which means dealing with the burden of the past and Gesellschaftsgeschichte, which is the history of society, but these are not antidotes for those who feel at home in the Salem Witch Hunts or with sinners being being tortured by the likes of Tomas de Torquemada. It turns out that trying to find a compound word that is the opposite of Schadenfreude is like finding a needle in a haystack. Mitgefuhl? Nein.

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