I was not alive in the 1950’s or 60’s when, let the elders tell it, everybody loved one another, looked after the neighbor’s kids and said “Good morning” to anyone who passed them by. However, I do suspect that we- as part of the larger American society and as a people – have gotten worse than ever at participating in, delighting at and finding pleasure in the pain of others. While not all situations may be compelling enough to make one want to ‘help a sista out’, why do so many folks find it necessary to kick someone when she’s down?

Look at Ted Williams, the Ohio fella with the ‘golden voice’ who became an overnight celebrity via viral video. This man has a long history of substance abuse issues, has been homeless for years…it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to anyone that instant fame and fortune would find him tempted to dance with his demons again. When Williams agreed to enter rehab after a bizarre appearance on pain pimp Dr. Phil’s daytime talk show, the papers and blogs were abuzz with folks lamenting his rise and ‘fall’. A just-finished-being-homeless man is discovered for his talent and now has the resources to get much needed professional help AND has a chance at having a career waiting for him on the other side? Where’s the fall? Why is the immediate reaction of the public to look down on this man instead of hoping for he best?

Celebrities (the traditional ones who sing, dance or act) have long since had to contend with the public’s dual obsession with making them huge and watching them screw up, but the internet and the rise of reality TV have given ‘regular’ people the opportunity to experience the same love/hate. Its disheartening to see how much joy people get from watching a reality star- even an obnoxious one- lose her home, or by watching an actress kill herself with drugs. If someone else’s pain is your pleasure…you might want to consider a new high.

I had an experience myself last week that made me wonder, ‘where is the love?’ I made a major error in my work; it wasn’t so much a bad judgement call as it was a rookie mistake made in ignorance. It could have very easily been an ‘all hell breaks loose’ situation; lucky for me, my supervisor is a kind spirit who trusts me and my intentions. However, a group of slightly older and better trained professionals in my field (one of whom who shares my alma mater and another, a friend of friends) mocked me on the Internet for what I had done. It was embarrassing and disheartening. It seemed that they took actual pleasure in watching a sister f*ck up. What I did wrong was no one’s fault but my own, regardless of the reasons, but for that to be fodder for a public giggle fest just seemed mean-spirited.

Mean-spirited…that’s a good word. A lot of straight up mean-spirited-ness in the world these days. It’s one thing to enjoy the downfall of the wicked, the nasty and the despicable (Dear Sarah Palin: To paraphrase New Jack City, “your soul is required in Hell” and I will gladly watch you fall until that time comes). It’s understandable to root for the failure of those who may have hurt you or caused you grief. But to simply take pleasure in the problems of others simply because you can is just awful, ‘least as far as I see.

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  • cancergirl08

    I’m so sorry this happened to you Jamilah. We ALL make mistakes and people who think their ish doesn’t stink will have their chance! There are a lot of bitter, mean-spirited folks out there who love to delight in someone else’s pain. I believe in karma though…..so even when I’ve had the same happen to me, I don’t return it. That’s the hard part. You can’t let a bad person turn you into one. I believe that’s how people some people became bitter in the first place. Even for people who have hurt me, I forgive (but don’t forget) and move on. I don’t wish them ill will because its unnecessary. The universe takes care of those kinds of people in due time. :)

    • ita

      I agree 100% with cancergirl08’s post. I would also add that while it may be understandable to literally root for the failure of someone who may have hurt us or caused us grief…it’s no less toxic than celebrating failures without justification. To root for such a thing is spiteful; does spite allow us to find the lesson from the harmful past events and move on, or does it keep us focused on the past, holding on to an anger (justified or not) that eventually molders into resentment? I’m not saying anger is bad. It can be healthy. Spite isn’t anger, it’s resentment, and it’s inherently unhealthy. It takes up energy that could otherwise be devoted to positive pursuits that will lead to a better sense of well-being.

      It is not uncommon for people to feel vindicated when those they dislike – whether for valid reasons or not – “get what they deserve,” but truthfully, everyone has at some point in their lives hurt or offended someone else, inadvertently or intentionally. So if we root for failure on that basis, that means all of us “deserve” our turn. Seems like a losing proposition. Forgoing spitefulness and resentment frees us from dwelling on those who do not deserve a millisecond more of our consideration or time.

      tl;dr: You have a lot going for you and I’m sorry others reveled in your mistake. Exulting in others’ misery never comes from a healthy place. They can keep hating – and sooner or later suffer the consequences of such negativity – but they can’t keep you from continuing to rise.

  • hc

    Thank you for saying this!

    I know he didn’t start it but from Simon Cowell, to that former supermodel who used to be on Tyra’s show – wow is the collective inner sadist having a field day!

    I guess it’s really nothing new – traffic will come to a standstill for accidents – on the other side of the freeway!
    Romans got plenty of use out of gladiators vs. wild animals, and kids and adults all egg on a fight and are disappointed the milder the blows are.

  • wow….i’ve been feeling this
    way for a long timme now…it is
    sad that many would rather see
    one fall than rise