Some people enjoy bad news about others. They enjoy bits of gossip and slander. You might want to keep your distance from people like this.
These are people who give you a feeling that they wouldn’t mind hearing a little bad news about you. They are social cannibals.
The analogy with cannibals works because they’re the kind of people who feed on weaknesses in others to feel good about themselves.
Like hungry cannibals savoring the flesh of other person, social cannibals take pleasure in the problems, difficulties and failures of others. It’s dangerous being in their company because you might end up in their pot.
This tendency starts early in life as siblings tattle on each other and find pleasure in seeing a brother or sister get in trouble. But don’t think that the behavior is left with childhood. Many adults are just as guilty — albeit in more refined and disguised ways.
Social cannibalism is a predatory form of behavior that can be found in every culture and class of people. It’s often more prevalent among refined and ostensibly religious people. The Germans call the behavior schadenfreude. The word refers to a twisted and sadistic pleasure in the misfortune of others. It threatens good relationships and destroys community.
Schadenfreude: (shäd’n-froi’də) a compound German word (lit. “damage-joy). It refers to malicious joy in the misfortunes of others. From “schaden”– damage, harm, injury + “freude”–joy.
When bad things happen to people (or they suffer the consequences of the bad things they do), there’s no shortage of those willing to gloat over them. If your life is public and you enjoy some measure of success, expect people to want to see bad things happen to you. Sometimes they’ll spread slanderous rumors to feed their desire to see you fall.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we all have to battle this tendency to one extent or another. But why? Why would we find satisfaction in the misfortune of others? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Are we really that insecure? Or, Is our goal to redirect the light from our own sins on to others?
Here is one of the deepest evidences of evil and it’s more universal than most admit. Some hide their schadenfreude behind hypocritical veneers of concern.
Openly gloating is bad, but it’s even more detestable to appear publically sympathetic while privately gloating. Some speak of the failures of others with sneering smugness; others act publically concerned while privately feeding a sense of moral superiority and malicious delight. Both responses come from deeply depraved hearts—no matter how much one feigns religious or spiritual concern.
Have you ever been transparent about a personal misfortune only to feel that someone found a bit of pleasure in your circumstances? Sometimes it comes out in a little chuckle of laughter and you’re not sure if indicates a strange enjoyment in what you shared. This is what the Germans call schadenfreude (i. e. enjoyment obtained from the trouble of others).
Envy is a close cousin and another character trait found in social cannibals. People who find pleasure in the misfortune of others also tend to be displeased by the good fortune of others (envious). Here are two evils feeding off each other: schadenfreude and envy.
These behaviors reflect the depths of human antagonism and destroy true love.
“Wherever we find envy, we find the wreckage of human and Christian community. Envious people backbite. They deliver congratulations with a smile that, in another light, might be taken for a sneer.”
“The envier gossips. He saves up bad news about others and passes it around like an appetizer at happy hour. The envier grumbles. He murmurs. He complains that all the wrong people are getting ahead. Spite, bitterness, discord which undoes all friendships, accusation, malignity—all these things flow from envy and together turn friendship and good fellowship into a rancorous shambles” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).
“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” (Proverbs 24:17). “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).
Love “…does not delight in evil” (I Corinthians 13:5-6). People who practice the evils of schadenfreude and envy are dangerous. They’re social cannibals.
Jesus taught his followers to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). This is not easy to obey but it helps to remember how God loved us when we were his enemies. “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8,10).
When our hearts are filled with God’s love, we can fight off the cannibalistic behaviors of schadenfreude and envy.