The German’s have a word for it and we do not—schadenfreude—that small, private rush of glee in response to someone else’s misfortune, not limited to an individual and can thus spread through even a large group, according to a recent report in “Scientific American Mind” magazine.
Studies of three recent elections indicate that those identified as Republican and Democrat have shared in this experience. When the economy was looking stormy under Republican leadership, many Democrats smiled (at least secretly) believing that Republican misfortunes would open the way for the Democrats to win. With the economy still stormy under the Democratic leadership, many Republicans smiled (at least secretly) perceiving that the Democrats misfortune of not turning the economy around like a sports car in a year and a half would open the way for the Republicans to win.
Studies indicate that shadenfreude is shared rather commonly across humanity and people can identify so strongly with their group in a deaf and blind way that they can unknowingly contribute to their own losses, as in secretly finding joy in a recession because it will open the way for political gains for their group but also opening the way to subtle influences to further undermine the economy.
What worries me is that the inner need to win over others, even at their loss, too often makes us turn onto detours and even dead-end streets—loser behavior--when we need to all work together to solve the problematic challenges facing us a nation and as a world—winner behavior.
This last election leaves me thinking that on the way to winning, we have slipped way off the road, leaving us with no real leadership drawing people together to get the car of our economy out of the ditch.
One time I stuck my car in the mud. One person said, “Put some gravel under the drive wheels”. Another said, “Put a plank of wood under each drive wheel.” Another said, “Rock the car back and forth to get it moving with enough momentum to drive out of the mud hole.” Another said, “Give it lots of gas.” Another said, “Try not to spin your wheels because sliding friction is less than static friction.”
Of course, when we put all of our ideas together—gravel under the wheels to get some traction, rocking back and forth without spinning the wheels to dig deeper to gently get the wheels onto the planks and drive out of the mud to solid ground is what worked. National and world economies are so complex, it is bound to require multifaceted, combined, complex efforts to change them, so we can all win. Freeing our minds for creative and productive solutions probably means diminishing our identifying so strongly with sub-national groups such as Republican or Democrat or whatever, after all we are past the time of tribes.
But who wants to pass up any opportunity to win over others because of their misfortunes?