My favorite thing about my job (this ‘mentoring heroes’ business) is the front row seat to the lives of heroes. Yet as the hero nears the finish of their quest, as they gear up for that final battle with their arch nemesis, I find myself constantly wrestling with a dark emotion.
Not some external enemy or villain, but an internal twist, a creeping sickness that spreads all too easily, threatening to rob even the greatest of heroes on their day of victory. It’s gone by many names over the ages, but I think it’s name in the German language is most apt: schadenfreude.
Now that’s a mouthful of a word, challenging enough to even pronounce, much less defend against. But it means rejoicing in the downfall of others. To see other people experience those things we all hate the most—losing, failing, falling apart—and feel some kind of pleasure as a result of their failure.
It’s a tempting emotion, because the world is full of real villains who need to be taken down a notch (or three). And villains should be faced, their deeds brought to light, their unjust gains taken away from them. But it’s in that moment of justice that schadenfreude sticks it’s head in, tempting us to not just desire for the world to be made right, but to find real pleasure in watching someone else fail. Even the greatest of heroes can begin their path towards villainy when they begin to engage in the dark emotion of enjoying watching someone’s life fall apart.
The reality is that life is far too random and far too short to fit into as neat categories as fairy tales. Heroes fall into villany, villains can become misunderstood allies, the darkest of dragons can be transformed into something new. These are lessons that echo through all of our favorite stories. To indulge in letting the misery of others bring you joy is to name yourself king and judge, the one who knows for certain the exact nature of those for whom you feel schadenfreude.
Instead, we can take on the opposite: mitfreude. To rejoice in the joys of others. To take pride in the accomplishment of other heroes—not because we helped them, but simply because we are glad things are working out for them. To find joy in seeing other people succeed, even if it’s in an area that we haven’t succeeded yet. And if you can find the courage for it—if you can dig deep enough—to feel joy when even our villains find some unexpected goodness in life.
So today—and always—I feel mitfreude for you, friend. Sincere joy at your success without any need for credit or recognition. Would you do me a favor, and pass it along?
May the road rise up to meet you!