John Grindrod: Of all our guilty pleasures, there is the ultimate

In the oxymoronic world, the term guilty pleasure has a pretty wide range of usages. On the surface, there may be those out there wondering how a pleasure, a sensation that is on some level enjoyable, can also elicit guilt.

In those olden days, before people could ask Alexa or Siri to spell a word, my go-to hard-back dictionary, and the same one I placed on the metal rack under each student’s desk in Room 16 in St. Marys Memorial, was Merriam-Webster. That edition defines a guilty pleasure as “something pleasurable that induces a usually minor feeling of guilt.” I think the operative word in a definition of a term that saw its first usage in the 1700s is ‘minor,’ so that would eliminate any egregiously bad actions that, say, one has committed that brought with it some degree of perverse joy.

It might be, for example, indulging yourself with that second helping of chocolate chip ice cream because that first bowl was sweet enough to drive to the back corners of the mind those thoughts of the added calories and grams of fat.

Now, as far as our guilty pleasures, they sometimes tend to be those things we enjoy while realizing they have little redeeming social value — for example, paying undue attention to TV shows like The Kardashians or Jersey Shore.

However, I think there’s another guilty pleasure that those who have to do a great deal of highway driving, as I do in my job with Mid-American Cleaning Contractors, will understand quite well. Again, let’s go back to our Merriam-Webster and dig up a definition and some etymological info on the noun schadenfreude. The word is a combination of two German nouns: schaden, meaning “damage” or “harm,” and freude, meaning “joy.” Put together, the word is defined as “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.”

Now, at first glance, one might think it to be quite uncommon, at least to those who see people as mostly kind and gentle souls. However, dig a little deeper, and I think you just might agree that there are those times when we take great pleasure in others’ misfortune.

In the sports world, every Ohio State fan experiences some degree of schadenfreude any time That Team Up North gets beat. I’m pretty sure many of you have seen those bumper stickers saying, “My two favorite teams are Ohio State and whoever plays Michigan.”

As for what this has to do with those who drive a lot of highway miles, please allow me to explain. While covering a territory that includes much of Ohio and a pretty wide swath of Indiana, I see all sorts of drivers. Most, I think, are pretty careful and courteous drivers sharing the road with me. But then there are those occasional others that capriciously change lanes without signaling and treat speed limits as mere inconvenient and to-be-ignored suggestions.

Now, let’s say that occasional driver that blows by me easily doing 90 miles an hour, I later see some ten or so miles down the road pulled over and parked right in front of one of those silver Dodge Chargers with a bank of flashing red and blue lights. Well, you better believe I’m going to be experiencing some schadenfreude as I cruise on by.

While I think most of us recognize the common bond we all share and tend to pull for one another in most instances, I’m pretty sure that whole sensation of schadenfreude we sometimes feel surely isn’t all that uncommon and just may be our guiltiest of pleasures.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]