Morrissey, Muttley and me

25th June 2010 at 01:00
The delights of shadenfreude

"We hate it when our friends are successful," according to Morrissey. Mind you, he also reckoned it would be a pleasure and privilege to be hit by a double-decker bus, so perhaps we should not take his lyrics as the basis for a system of philosophy.

I am writing this the day after England drew 1-1 with the US in the football World Cup, and I can say with all honesty that there is no feeling of schadenfreude triggered by our neighbours doing less well than they would have wanted to.

I don't think it was schadenfreude that helped sustain me through parts of my career. I never got any pleasure out of the misfortunes of others, but I certainly took solace. At the end of my first teaching practice, which had been less than glorious in ways that I could not have contemplated, a gigantic, tweedy teacher with a Sir John Gielgud voice made a brief appearance in the staffroom. When he left, another teacher told me this man had awful trouble with his classes. They all but swung on his tie.

How reassuring to the young teacher, who had endured boys laughing like seals in his class and girls tormenting him about whether he had a girlfriend or not, to know there was a further level to which he had avoided sinking.

I once got it badly wrong in the early days. There was a strange, glowering Dick Dastardly's dog of a boy in first year. SassenumfrassenumbasserdumMrSteele. He caused havoc around the school, but perhaps slightly less havoc in science because of the release practical work offered. I was talking to his English teacher and tried to sympathise about how it must be much harder to handle him in a non-practical class. I must have done so clumsily, because I later had it relayed back to me that she was going around telling people (and you can guess the tone of voice used) that "Gregor Steele says he has no bother with him". I felt I had broken an unwritten code of conduct.

Many years later I received the most useless piece of information from a colleague concerning a pupil we both taught. The boy had behaved badly and, in relaying this, I suppose I was looking for something along the lines of: "Aye, he's a scunner, that one. I have trouble with him too." Instead, I got: "I just told him at the beginning of the year that I was taking no snash and he's been fine." Wish I'd thought of doing that.

I suspect the English teacher has forgotten about Muttley and me, just as I would have forgotten about the no-snasher had I not thought it worth filing away to dredge up for a TESS article some day. This sort of thing only becomes a problem when it becomes true schadenfreude.

The word freudenschade - a non-German word invented to mean misery at someone else's success - seems to describe better what Morrissey and my younger self experienced. Having said that, you occasionally come across a teacher who totally defines himself in terms of being less rubbish than somebody else. What would happen to their self-esteem, I wonder, should the more-rubbish-than-me icon have the pleasure and privilege of a debilitating encounter with a double-decker bus?

Gregor Steele's best schadenfreude moment was when Rangers signed Mo Johnston, thus upsetting two lots of eejits at once.

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