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Tiffany Chang

ENG 4U7-01
Mrs. Kim
3 March 2015
Critical Response: “Schadenfreude: one of life’s guilty pleasures”
In the debate over schadenfreude, Fulford points out that the controversy has been whether it is
an altruistic or “malicious” sense of pleasure. On the one hand, some argue that schadenfreude is
“the work of the devil.” From this perspective, it is “a grave sin” because it’s “derived from the
misfortune of others.” This view numbers among its champions, such as Friedrich Nietzsche,
who believed schadenfreude was dangerous by giving us a false sense of accomplishment. On
the other hand, however, others argue that it is “a corollary of justice.” In the words of Peter Gay,
one of the view’s main proponents, “Schadenfreude can be one of the great joys of life” – after
karma has caught up with somebody’s past wrongdoings. According to this view, it kills two
birds with one stone – it’s both “justified and pleasurable.” In summary then, the issue is whether
schadenfreude does more harm than good or vice versa.
My own view is that the important question is not whether schadenfreude is good or bad. Rather,
what’s more important is that it safeguards our sanity by giving us the sweet taste of victory
against our “enemies” without us having taken any action on our own part that contradicts our
moral code. Recently, I learned that a male friend and I had applied to the same Chemical
Engineering program at the University of Waterloo. He finished Physics with a 90; meanwhile, I
barely came out alive of the same class with an 84. Imagine my pleasant astonishment when I
received acceptance to the program…and he didn’t! Even though he will probably be admitted to
the program by the end of May, I consider this a small victory in the raging battle to establish
gender equality in STEM education.
Don’t get me wrong; schadenfreude does pose certain risks. Although I agree with Nietzsche’s
belief that it can be “dangerous,” I reckon that it’s only harmful if we live under its spell for an
extended duration of time. Would I be hurting myself if I basked in the glory of receiving early
admittance with a mediocre Physics mark for three days? On the contrary, I would probably be
doing myself a favour by improving my mood. However, the same could not be said if I
continued doing this for more than a week instead of focusing on current coursework in order to

retain this sacred offer. After all, sometimes all we need is a placebo to stay motivated, and
oftentimes, we find this placebo in schadenfreude. The only condition is that we need to
remember that it is merely a placebo – taking delight in seeing other people agonizing through
their problems won’t relieve us of our own troubles.
Ultimately, schadenfreude is an etymological embodiment of “bad things happen to bad people;
good people sit back and enjoy the show.” It’s nothing to be ashamed of, seeing as it’s “an
undeniable feeling” that is universally human. Schadenfreude keeps us rooted in our own reality
by permitting us to flirt with the edge of another person’s material world as a source of
entertainment, which reminds us that we shouldn’t take life – especially our own pain and
suffering – too seriously.