The gift of empathy

Megan McArdle of the Atlantic has a timely reminder of the dangers of schadenfreude:

I saw a fair amount of chortling this morning about this Bloomberg piece on wealthy financial-industry types who are having to cut back because of plummeting bonuses….[W]hen middle class people take out a mortgage that’s perfectly affordable on the income they’ve been enjoying for years, and then lose the house because they suddenly saw that income cut in half, we don’t feel a delicious sense of joy because they finally got what was coming to them.   We recognize that this it is really terrible to be forced out of a home where you’ve built loads of happy memories and dreams–and not incidentally, to possibly be forced to yank your kids out of the aforementioned schools.

Why are people supposed to shrug off the exact same thing because they’re rich?  It’s still really awful to lose your house.  I hardly think it’s whining to worry about this when your income drops and your fixed expenses don’t.
There are plenty of problems in this country and this world.  Rejoicing in the misery of others is just another problem that nobody needs.
The fact is that no matter how much you make, seeing your income fall below the expenses you’ve committed to is difficult.  Obviously, people whose expenses are closer to the minimum deserve more of our sympathy, and our help.  But I’m not sure that this means we’re supposed to be happy when it happens to someone richer than we are.  It’s not very attractive when conservatives rejoice to see union members thrown out of work.  I’m not sure this is much better.

One Response - Add Yours+

  1. Hollandof says:

    Is anyone rejoicing?
    I think the reaction is more astonishment that someone could think they had cause to complain because
    “The family rents a three-bedroom summer house in Connecticut and will go there again this year for one month instead of four.”

    Pity party!!!

    the problem is that these folks, after their “tough times” are still far better off than the majority of people in the U.S.
    they are “falling” to a level that many would aspire to.

    Sorry, I don’t buy it.
    I agree that having expectations uprooted can be tough, but there’s a big damn difference between “My pay wasn’t what I expected, so maybe no full home renovation, or multiple vacations, or Porsche, or elite private schools w/o financial aid
    and
    “My pay wasn’t what I expected, so I am without health insurance, homeless, etc.”

    I’m not “happy” that this happened to anyone, but I don’t feel much sympathy for someone who still has much more than I’ll ever have, but it whining about it.

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