Does Someone Else’s Misery Make You Happy?

Maybe you’ve heard by now that Josh Duggar is one of the people whose Ashley Madison account has been exposed by the data hack of the Ashley Madison website, which is a website married people can sign up on to instigate an extramarital affair. Maybe you had already heard that Duggar had been exposed recently as someone who had sexually molested some of his sisters while he was a teen. Maybe you don’t care. I’ve never been interested in the Duggars, but I read something today that got me to thinking.

I suppose the public response is no different than the one that occurs whenever someone who proclaims to be moral falls from grace. Jim Bakker and several others were shown to be hypocritical. When I saw the gleeful reaction today, though, it sent me to Google to look up “joy in another’s misfortune.” Apparently, this is extremely common, and explains why I never understood why people would laugh at someone who tripped and fell, or dropped their drink in the theater.

I’ve always thought it was mean to laugh at someone who does something embarrassing. Does that mean I take life too seriously? Would I be lighter overall if I laughed when people fell from places low and high?

Yep, Josh Duggar is in a world of hurt. Standing in a place of leadership about traditional family values and yet having the molestation in his past and the infidelity in his present. But I still feel sorry for the guy. He has been living a duplicitous life and that’s not easy to live with. Seems like anyone with a conscience would be wondering if any minute they were going to get found out. And the longer the hypocrisy goes on, the worse it is to get out of.

Let’s think about what he might have done instead. I don’t know the ins and outs of when he got married, became a father, became the head of whatever organization it is. But, all along he’s apparently been dealing with desires and urges that are decidedly incompatible with his upbringing and his brand of faith. From what I understand about the more fundamentalist brand, sexual urges are pretty much taboo. A man can have sex with his wife, maybe only in the missionary position (not sure about this), and that’s it. No masturbation. No pornography. No racy movies. No erotic literature. No affairs.

Although I don’t think all of those things are universally detrimental, I do not see how affairs could ever be healthy, even though there are people out there practicing polyamory, and some of them make it work. My belief is that monogamy is the best choice for a married couple. But masturbation, pornography, racy movies, erotic literature? Individual choice. I can’t psychoanalyze the man, and I can’t explain why he’s done what he’s done, but I still feel like it must be incredibly agonizing to be found out. To be such a public voice against the very things he has been indulging in.

So, it doesn’t make me happy to see him fall, except in the sense that perhaps this will be a step towards healing and wholeness. Maybe my deep and abiding experiences with shame in my life have made me a little more compassionate toward anyone who experiences it, I don’t know.

Sad indeed.

5 thoughts on “Does Someone Else’s Misery Make You Happy?

  1. So so true to the human (and humane) experience. Would any of us submit to having all our thoughts and/or acts broadcast and available publicly? Nah. Compassion. Acceptance. Help. People need it. Some even want it.

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  2. The word for reveling in another’s disgrace is schadenfreude, and no, it’s not especially edifying. When John Edwards was going through his public shaming for carrying on an affair while his wife was dying of cancer, the pastor of our parish went so far as to call gossiping about it a sin, and did so from the altar at the beginning of Mass. And he was right, it’s not our job to judge or to engage in gossip about it. It’s not even any of our business…

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  3. Susan I’ve been thinking about this blog quite a bit since reading it last week (I think). On the specifics I’m not close enough to be confident but overall I get the impression that this isn’t a one off slip up. He appears to be someone who has put himself forward as a morality preacher promoting a world view which clearly was not working in his own case and in my view fails many very badly.

    I got the impression that he could have used the exposure of past sexual misdoings which happened earlier in the year to either address the current issues or at least step away from any public role and I’m not aware of him having done either.

    I think some of the reaction is related to people wanting a healthier dialogue about sexuality and morality than the one that Josh and those like him have been determined to push. Some is a general sense that there is sometimes Karma and the wrong doers don’t always prosper. Probably an element around of people just liking to see others hurting but I hope that’s not a majority view.

    Thinking about John’s comment re it not being our business. I tend to disagree when it’s someone who has made the morality of others their business. I don’t know enough about John Edwards (I heard of the issue but being outside the US I’ve not followed his political views). If peoples private actions stand in direct contrast to their public proclamations about how others should act then I think it becomes our business. That boundary between public and private is a difficult one and all to often crossed in the wrong way for many and I don’t see it as a simple issue though.


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    1. I see what you mean Bob about it becoming a public issue when a prominent person does not practice what they preach. Especially in this area, there is such strong convictions on both sides. “No sex outside these narrowly defined terms!” “No terms will be accepted to define sex!” So, it’s an incendiary topic. I guess I can accept that a person who has made it their business to be a public voice against something will be in a world of hurt when the hypocrisy is revealed. And I think compassion is compatible with accountability and the speaking of truth. I think the nature of the viewpoint which is so narrow makes it almost impossible for people to admit the failures and struggles that such morality brings up. The shame is so deep. The whole worldview seems to preclude actually saying “I’m struggling. I’m human. I’m falling.”


      1. “The whole worldview seems to preclude actually saying “I’m struggling. I’m human. I’m falling.” – spot on.


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