Monday, November 27, 2006

Am I Being Petty, Immature, and Nasty Here?

Had my 20 year high school reunion last weekend. I was incredibly fortunate to grow up with wonderful, smart, spirited people. Catching up brought a flood of emotions. For the most part, people I had lost touch with, but thought about often, ended up on paths no one could have predicted, living interesting fulfilling lives.

Of course, then there was Narcissus. He was a star athlete, extremely popular, you know the type. Used his social power to make sure that others, hypothetically, let's say the more nerdy set, knew they were below him. Arrogant jerk does not even begin to describe him. It turns out that his "adult" life is...well, mundane would be kind. While those of us who were taunted came back to compare lives of enrichment with interesting jobs and wonderful families, his glory days were half his lifetime ago. In the room, the old lines delineating the various cliques were still there, but the old power structure among them was no longer in effect. Looking at Narcissus across the room, a very deep sense of schadenfreude came over me -- even more so when I realized I could tell him that to his face and he would remain powerless (mostly because he couldn't pronounce "schadenfreude").

Ever since, I've been feeling a bit guilty about it and it's given rise to three questions:

(1) Is the feeling of schadenfreude a positive emotion in that it celebrates a sense of retributive justice or is it a negative emotion in that it is immature, petty, and vindictive? Should I feel bad for feeling superior and wanting to dance about singing "nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah"?

(2) Does it even make sense to judge emotions in the same way we judge the morality of actions since I didn't choose to feel this way? Emotions just happen. Can't we only judge that which is freely chosen? Is this a category mistake?

(3) When I go into the restaurant that he manages, should I make him call me Doctor Gimbel or Professor Gimbel?