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I know a terrible person. I have crossed paths with him more than once as I have travelled, and I have met many people he has worked with. At this point, I feel pretty comfortable in believing that he’s an awful human being. Too many stories from too many disparate sources, all with common themes, showing a definite modus operandi.

Oh, I am sure his mother loves him. He has probably never drop kicked a kitten, but perhaps this has been a lack of opportunity more than a true affinity for NOT drop-kicking them. He holds a position of some minor power that gives him a large pool of rotating employees and co workers who enter and exit his orbit. He is not closely supervised from above because of the nature of his job. His treatment of people he sees as professionally useful is a suave chin-scraping butt kissery that reads like friendliness and genuine interest, unless you already know better. He turned this charm on me, at a dinner once, and I sat across from him, knowing way more about him than I would ever want to know, marveling at his smoothness and catching only the faintest whiff of the wormwood under.

For anyone he saw as beneath him, not useful to him, or anyone directly supervised by him at work—wow. With subordinate men, he never missed an opportunity to make them feel small, to belittle them and run them down. A favorite trick of his was to give male subordinates less than optimal information. He would let them screw up, then very publicly announce it and fix it in a grandiose manner, looking like a hero to his distant superiors. And with women! Good lord. With women who are unfortunate to work for him he has been disrespectful at best, committed more than one firing offense, and has perhaps been criminal at times. That’s a fuzzy line, you know?

If I were to describe him to Maisy, I would say, This is not a man who has made good choices. That’s what I tell her she has done, after all, when she has been naughty. I assure her I love her, I tell her she is not BAD. She has only made a bad choice. She has only done a bad thing. Then we look for ways to repair the damage together.

I tell Maisy this because it is true. What I do NOT tell her, what she is not mature enough to fully comprehend in a cause-effect-actions-consequences way, is that if you make bad choices often and whole-heartedly enough, you WILL become the sum of these bad choices. You will, on the scale of things, become a thoroughly bad human being, even if you have your good-choice moments when you take in a stray dog or help your boss move his sofa.


I recently heard through the grapevine that something kind of awful has happened to this fellow. Not PANCREATIC CANCER awful. Just a totally humiliating and professional snafu that is HUGELY, PERSONALLY embarrassing and will have DEFINITE repercussions on his career. It’s being kept quiet, but word is out. He may not wield his little powery-powers much longer. And it was THEMATICALLY perfect. Like, Karma chose to go all old school EYE for an EXACT eye, and he was humiliated in the exact most perfectly balanced way. It may have involved his behaviors being brought to light by a clever sort of girl. It may have involved pictures. It may have involved a woefully undersized appendage.

I AM TRYING SO HARD NOT TO ENJOY THIS THAT I MAY BURST A LARGE INTERNAL ORGAN. I just want to roll on the ground and kick my feet and watch back to back episodes of MY NAME IS EARL on TBS so I can reflect on the glorious nature of karma, when it works.

I could put a pious face on it, say this is about JUSTICE. Everyone likes JUSTICE, after all. Justice is satisfying and when it happens, we nod, satisfied, and say, “That was fair and right.”

What is happening to him may well be justice, but a sense of justice is not causing my reaction. Justice, after all, doesn’t make me want to laugh until tears run down my face and call all my friends and choke out the whole story between streaming bouts of cheery guffaws.

I could try to justify it and say it’s okay to enjoy his misfortunes because, MY LORD, he is SUCH a complete nozzle. But it isn’t okay. You know why? Because HE always enjoyed the misfortunes of others, whether they were deserved, or undeserved, or specifically engineered by him. I don’t want to be like him. In ANY way.

But it is hard today.

I called Karen and said, “What if, instead of enjoying it, I try to hope it teaches him a VALUABLE LESSON and he will somehow come out of this a changed man with a new sense of RIGHTNESS and be better to other people in the future and maybe even get therapy because, LORD, he needs therapy. I could just pray for this to help him change. Maybe we should do that.”

“Yes,” she said solemnly, “Perhaps it WILL teach him a valuable lesson.” There was a long, MANFULLY trying-to-rise-above pause.

Then ONE OF US may have accidentally said, “Perhaps the lesson will be about technology and how you can hide those little cameras just about ANYWHERE.” I can neither confirm nor deny that this remark was punctuated by a burst of raucous cackling.

I am not a bad person. I hope. I try not to be. And I don’t want to make the bad choice to REVEL in his misery. It’s bad door to crack. Ahhhhhh delicious Schadenfreude! It’s like Lay’s potato chips. Even a taste makes it easier and easier to indulge again. I don’t want to use someone else’s misfortune to feel better about the crap in my own life. If I give in and enjoy his situation, then next time, I may let myself take a small delicious sip of the sorrow of some decent person I don’t happen to particularly care for, or an ex-friend who hurt me but is, sum of their choices-wise, a good person, or just some chick who said the wrong thing and offended me at a party once.

I don’t want, under ANY circumstances, to court pettiness until it gives in and agrees to move in with me.

But today? Today, oh best beloveds, it is VERY hard.

13 comments to Schadenfreude

  • Melody

    Joshilyn! You are killing me!! I want to know who he is so that I can be sure and not care either 🙂

  • Beth R

    This is a hard one, isn’t it? I believe that it’s only human to enjoy a bit of a giggle at someone who is hoist on their own petard. Does it make you a bad person? No. You’re not calling him and laughing at him. You’re not trumpeting it to the world with all details intact so everyone can laugh directly at him.

    I guess a shorter way to say what I’m thinking is: if you can still feel a little sorry for the person, you’re good. Frankly, if you’re worried about becoming that type of person, you’re fine. When that thought doesn’t occur to you, you’re toast.

  • Hee! You said “undersized appendage” and “hard” in the same post! (What? *I* never claimed to be a good person. A juvenile and easily amused person, yes, but not necessarily GOOD.)

    But OH! I once knew someone whom karma bit in just that way, and it was every bit as deserved, and I absolutely called everyone I knew and told them and then chortled for YEARS in absolute evil glee about it. So if anything really bad ever happens to ME, that will no doubt be why.

  • jeanette

    An undersized appendage is one thing, but a WOEFULLY undersized appendage is a whole different situation. Having come face to face…………no, that doesn’t sound right…….eye to eye? NO. Faced combat with? No, it wasn’t that exciting…………WELL, let me just say that having been closely acquainted with a WOEFULLY undersized appendage long ago, there is NO shame more punishing to such a man than to have aforementioned appendage exposed. He would rather be caught wearing his mother’s underpants than to have what’s in them exposed!! The only thing I wondered at the time: Was he born that way, or as an act of cosmic karma, was it somehow shrunken a little more each time he behaved like as ass to a woman. Reverse Pinnochio Penis. HA!

  • Jeanette, I love how you think!

  • You’re a wonderful human being, and part of being a being that is human is a certain amount of warm happiness when a deserving soul gets their just desserts. You are not evil or you’d have told us ALL the dirty details without protecting his basic dignity.

    But sometimes you’ve just gotta share the joy when a dinglebat is hoist upon his none-too-impressive dingle. And we thank you!

  • the celt (jessica)

    I always feel bad for feeling good when someone gets their comeuppance, too. The good thing is that being good or bad, as you explained to Maisy, depends on the whole of our acts and not our initial reaction to them. If we were always judged on our initial reaction, I’d already be roasting in hell. The fact that you feel bad for feeling good for someone else’s feeling bad for getting what he deserved means that you are an awesome person who is feeling appropriately for seeing just deserts (was going to purposely misspell that, but my poor little grammarian heart wouldn’t let me…) meted out — even if you personally feel that it’s being served cold. ;~)

    I hope any bit of that makes sense. Oh, and — poor little man… *ahem*

  • the celt (jessica)

    (I’ve never looked at my little monster guy before. He’s adorable! I think, if I’m seeing correctly, that he has a halo and everything. See how angelic I am after my first reaction to someone else’s misfortune? ;~) If that’s not a halo, please don’t spoil my belief. I also appear to be dancing to “Walk Like an Egyptian”…)

  • Brigitte

    Well, if he totally DESERVED it, I think it is fine to think it’s incredibly amusing and tell everyone and chortle madly.

    Whereas if he were just some unfortunate schmuck who wasn’t a particularly bad person, then it would be very mean to allow more than a petite, ladylike giggle.


  • Aimee

    I don’t even know him, and I’m having a hard time not chortling. What I think is that ultimately, what you put out into the world comes back to you. He *made* this situation as a result of his poor choices. That’s poetry.

  • LaurieB

    It’s the little things that matter…heh.

  • laura

    When one’s behaviour is slapped back into one’s face, we call that a GODSMACK….I have always been a little afraid to get too much enjoyment out of it.

  • I shall vicariously enjoy your schadenfreude, if that’s okay, as I am in a foot-stamping snit this morning about less-than-professional behavior from people at a job I used to work at who are willfully screwing up the well-oiled machine I left them and then BAD-MOUTHING ME BEHIND MY BACK. They are making it VERY hard not to give in to pettiness.


    [In my defense, I stayed up past my bedtime finishing BACKSEAT SAINTS (thank you!), so I’m a little susceptible to foot-stamping today…]