Don't Be Petty and Don't Delight in Other's Misery
Updated: Aug 7
Petty is an interesting word. The Collins Online Dictionary defines it as:
mean or ungenerous in small or trifling things
a petty person
"If you describe someone's behavior as petty, you mean that they care too much about small, unimportant things and perhaps that they are unnecessarily unkind." (collinsdictionary.com)
Schadenfreude — Taking Joy or Finding Pleasure in Other People’s Misfortune
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "schadenfreude" is the emotional experience of pleasure in response to another's misfortune. Schadenfreude is a German word that combines Schaden, which means “damage,” and Freude, which means “joy” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2023).
One of the clearest examples of this is when people clap and cheer when a waitress or waiter drops and breaks plates. It's shockingly sad and disturbing that someone would actually clap when another person is experiencing misfortune. If you've ever been in a food service profession—like being a waiter (my wife and I were both waiters [me and my wife] & waitstaff supervisor [my wife])—and you've spilled food on people and dropped & broken plates in the middle of a crowded restaurant, it is a horrible feeling.
In the workplace, I've seen several examples of schadenfreude (when someone takes joy or delight in the misfortunes of others). What's more sinister is that, on a few occasions, vindictive individuals will go out of their way to create or bring about schadenfreude. In some organizations, leaders in one function will strategically and intentionally be so petty and go out of their way to ensure that they get another leader in trouble, and then will sit back and derive satisfaction out of that situation.
Freudenfreude — Taking Joy or Finding Pleasure in Other People’s Success
‘Freudenfreude’ Is the Joyful Opposite of ‘Schadenfreude.’ Freudenfreude is taking joy or finding pleasure in other people’s successes (Camacho, 2022; Fraga, 2022). "Freudenfreude functions kind of like vicariously living through someone else’s wins—like when they get a new job, find their lifelong partner, or even simply finish a task on their to-do list." (Camacho, 2022)
In LEAD NOW (2nd ed.; 2021), a coaching guide by Stewart Leadership, one of the leadership dimensions is Valuing Others. It asks:
Do I treat others with dignity?
Do I understand their needs and concerns?
Do I recognize and celebrate successes?
It's easy and cliché to talk about respect and values. But in everyday life, if we're not careful, we can easily succumb to the temptations of being petty, vindictive, and even deriving delight out of other people's misfortunes. Instead of schadenfreude, let's engage in and practice freudenfreude!
If you call yourself a leader, I urge you to take an honest look at yourself and your actions, and ask yourself these questions. Once you've done that, the real work begins, because you'll need to make sure that (1) You treat other with dignity, (2) You understand their needs and concerns, and (3) You recognize and celebrate their successes!
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Camacho, N. A. (2022, April 18). ‘Freudenfreude’ Is the Joyful Opposite of ‘Schadenfreude’ That Can Level Up All Your Relationships. https://www.wellandgood.com/what-is-freudenfreude/
Collins Dictionary. Petty. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/petty
Encyclopædia Britannica. (2023). Schadenfreude. https://www.britannica.com/topic/schadenfreude
Fraga, J. (2022, November 25/28). The Opposite of Schadenfreude Is Freudenfreude. Here’s How to Cultivate It. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/25/well/mind/schadenfreude-freudenfreude.html
Stewart, J. P., & Stewart, D. J. (2021). LEAD NOW!: A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.). Page Two Press.