Should You Rejoice in Someone's Misfortune?
Books on Justice
You Feel What You Feel When You Feel It
At the risk of sounding like a complete prick, I’m going to let you in on a little secret – I love it when bad things happen to bad people.
There, I said it.
Now I can go off and join the rest of my ilk, playing ring toss with a halo I no longer use. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have my own private fantasies of being a Bond villain and constructing a deathtrap for these people that only a fully functioning dark knight of Gotham could get out of. I can see it now. There’s an over powered laser next to a group of unnecessarily complex computer machines that beep and flash, firing upon my victim on a stainless steel slab. The other fantasy involves a mechanism that slowly lowers my victim into any of the following: a) a hot tub of boiling oil, b) a piranha tank (the victim being pre-cut, of course), or c) a pit of hungry tigers (the victim would have blood already poured on him).
I need to underline the word “fantasy”. I have no immediate plans for these things. Plus, do you know how hard it is to get a hold of hungry tigers in this day and age? It’s a real headache.
So, in the absence of deathtraps, I have to satisfy myself with what my imagination can churn out and rejoice in whatever bad news befalls any of my enemies. It is a guilty pleasure. In truth, it makes my brain giggle.
But what we really need to know is simply this – “Is it right?”
Do you silently laugh at other people?
The Spiritual Side of Things
Many philosophers contemplate the question, “What is good?”
Is it the act of doing good things? Is it a state of “being good”? Is it both? Is it a question monitoring your own thoughts so that all you really do is think good thoughts?
You should realize this. The emotions you have about any situation are neither good nor bad, they just are. You feel what you feel when you feel it. It is neither right nor wrong; nor is it good or bad. It just is.
It’s not wrong to dislike puppies. It’s not wrong to dislike children. It’s not wrong to dislike asparagus. People have their own preferences of what they like or dislike. It doesn’t make them bad people.
The actual evil comes when they act upon those likes or dislikes. If I like the sight of blood spurting out of a neck, I can watch a horror movie. What I shouldn’t do is go to my next door neighbor’s house with a sharp knife and open his throat.
That would be bad.
I can dislike puppies and children. That’s okay. It’s wrong when I throw them in a chipper shredder.
A person cannot be held responsible for what goes on in the confines of his own imagination.
Some spiritual practices would condemn what goes on in our imaginations. Catholicism teaches that sin is born from grievous offense, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will. You had to desire it. As George Carlin had once said, “If you were to say, ‘I’m going to go to 42nd Street and commit a mortal sin’. Save your carfare, you already did it.” The Catholics would say that it would be a sin to “want to” sin, to “plan to” sin, to “prepare to” sin, to take all the steps to do that sin, and then to actually commit the act.
Many of the spiritual disciplines that are born from “as above, so below” would say it’s wrong, too. This universe is like a giant vertical trampoline. If you throw something against it, it will come back to you. Such are the rules of karma. If you say something bad about someone, it is entirely probable that something bad is being said about you. What comes around goes around.
On the flip side, it works with good deeds as well. Positive karma is a wonderful thing. Many people will do good deeds for the sake of “paying it forward”. It is a philosophy that I subscribe to – if only for the reason that it’s just a nice thing to do.
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Does This Mean I’m a Bad Person?
Catholicism aside, I don’t believe that thinking evil thoughts about people who have wronged you make you a bad person – only a bitter one.
Buddhism and practitioners of transcendental meditation would teach you that regardless of how you feel about anyone, that ultimately you are one with everything else in the universe. The logic behind this is that you shouldn’t have these destructive thoughts about others because it’s like disliking your own hand. This goes against the Christian Judean teachings that if your right hand offends you, you should cut it off and fling it away.
By the way, don’t go cutting off your own hand. That’s bad.
But let’s be real. There will be times in your life when you’re going to loathe someone. It could be your boss. It could be your co-worker. It could even be someone in your family. Given any number of justifications, the average person isn’t that evolved yet. He or she won’t be thinking, “Yes, I know he’s a vile ass, but we are all brothers in humanity.”
We all have emotions. We all have a dark side. We all hope that one day that we can either peacefully reconcile our feelings about our worst enemies or see them bathe in a bathtub full of scorpions.
Also, it is rare that we are able to fight that one instant moment of joy when we hear something terrible has happened to some officious prick who did something, quite in character, to bring about their own downfall.
It’s like hearing about an evil axe murderer who accidentally cuts himself on his own blade and dies from lockjaw. Or how about this? After hearing about a stingy employer who pays his employees in such a way that they live in perpetual uncertainty but keeps money for himself to live in extravagance, gets audited by the IRS and goes to jail. We also might snigger at the obnoxious prom queen who marries the quarterback and gains fifty pounds between graduation and the ten year reunion.
Yes, it’s petty. Yes, it’s trite. And yes, it makes me giggle just a little bit.
It’s not like we did anything to cause their plights. We’re just here to see the universe give some payback.
How bad are you?
Good or Bad?
Not laughing at anyone
Laughing in your head at bad people
Neither... but a little bad
Laughing aloud at everyone
Okay… so… getting back to the big question – Should we rejoice in someone else’s misfortune?
The key word in that question is “should”. Should we rejoice? Ultimately, depending upon our ethics and higher consciousness, only we can be okay with our actions. Whatever your decision is, you need to own it. You need to be okay with the fact that in one split second you went from being a perfectly normal, mild mannered human being to being Nelson Muntz from the Simpsons – and from somewhere inside your head you pointed and laughed, “Ha! Ha!”
Regardless of what I said earlier, I believe the answer is “no”.
It’s okay if you disagree with me. I certainly understand. It’s just that at the end of the day, I think we need to be bigger than our ids. Laughing at some evil butt wipe is really easy to do. In some respects, it’s good therapy and can help you manage your anger and other slimier emotions. You are only human.
I also think it can be a slippery slope. Once you’re okay with laughing at the guys who desperately deserve it, how long will it be until you laugh at the poor unfortunate soul who just did something accidentally stupid? It’s like laughing at the kid who just dropped his ice cream cone in the mud or pointing at the fat girl who just split her pants. When that happens, your first reaction should not be laughter. It should be compassion. Why? Because we all screw up and stupidity is a condition we all slip into.
Laughing at people who are experiencing misfortune isn’t a good thing. When that happens, you’re the asshole and you just made Karma’s “to do” list.
© 2014 Christopher Peruzzi