Instruction Against Schadenfreude*
By Phillip Garside
“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and when they stumble, do not let your heart exult, Lest the Lord see it, be displeased with you” – Proverbs 24:17-18a.
When one child has behaviorally missed the mark and another is taking joy in their fall, the parent is now forced to fight a two-front correction. First, there is the initial misbehavior, then there is the gloating child who also needs instruction against the schadenfreude of envy.
This is a delicate situation because it is easy to ignore the gloater or worse, start laying into the gloater forgetting the initial catalyst of correction. Also, since the gloater’s correction isn’t specific, our efforts to instill humility may simply become a cataloging of all the errors of the child’s past in order to make them feel bad about themselves. If it happens to be that the gloater gloats because they perceive their sibling as morally superior, the parent has instigated further loss of hope.
My advice is to use geography in your favor, if possible. Exile the gloating child from the arena of gloating and deal with the immediate misbehavior at hand. This takes consciousness, because parents’ required adaptability tends to make us immediately reactionary. The tactic of cataloging errors is a short-term emotive correction and, though, it does seek to change the illicit glee of envy, it does not exercise the compassion of Christ. It does not develop virtue as Christ does when we give ourselves over to his correction.
Better to let that glee die by affixation. Then, when there is no emotion involved, pedagogy (teaching) can begin.
When you are alone together, “Hey, remember when sibling did “X,” and I had to send you out of the room? Why do you think I did that?” Let them make their case. Listen to their thoughts. Then use their own provided material to teach that there is no joy to be had in punishment. The joy comes in reform.
Through this lesson, you will raise children who will work for a better society but also better understand that the joy of the prodigal son comes in the reform not in observing punishment.
(*Schadenfreude is joy derived from someone else’s misfortune)