Now and then I’ve heard friends mention a German word that dares to name what English-speakers have no word to describe (though I don’t doubt that we have all experienced it). That noun, “Shadenfreude,” combines “Shaden,” meaning “adversity,” and “Freude,” meaning joy; according to my old college mate, Stephen Bucher (on Facebook). The combination denotes the experience of joy inspired by the misfortunes of others.
I was discussing this with friends on Facebook, and my dear sister could not fathom such an emotion. Does it mean “Misery loves company?” she commented about “Shadenfreude.”
“No, it’s more like being happy for someone else’s misfortunes. A very nasty kind of thing,” my high school chum, Gaye Spetka had to spell it out again for my incredulous sibling. I’m not sure yet that my sis was receiving the signals.
I love my sister’s innocence. Growing up under the same roof as preacher’s kids, we had been taught the Greek word for “Agape” love, another word for which there is no English parallel. We had learned that that particular kind of love privileges the good of others above your own. This highest kind of love is the opposite of “Shadenfreude,” as it turns out, and it was the standard to follow, according to many a pulpiteer under whom my sisters and I sat.
Not a bad standard, I think, not at all, though I have to admit, “Shadenfreude” comes much more naturally to most of us. Confound our human nature. I am grateful for those nouns that articulate a better way.