Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fremdschämen and The Very Human Nature of Our Political Leaders

Fremdschämen This German word refers to that feeling of embarrassment we experience on behalf of another person … who is clueless that he has just embarrassed himself.

Germans experience fremdschämen when I use a German word, thinking I have pronounced it flawlessly.

Fremdschämen is what we feel for the drunken best man who stands to toast the bride and groom and then proceeds to regale us with stories of when he had been dating the bride.  

I remember when I heard the word over twenty years ago, while on one of my first business trips to Germany. I immediately fell in love with it because it not only describes an experience common to us all but as with most German words it also sounds like a curse word: a common practice when experiencing fremdschämen.

I frequently think of this word when someone, in effect, says, “The average human is weak, interested only in his own welfare, and, therefore, prone to making foolish, shortsighted decisions. This is why we need political leaders, legislatures, and their representatives to guide society toward what is best for all of us.” (This, of course, would be those politicians “we” voted for and not those for whom “you” voted.)

Aaaand Monte comes down with a frothy case of fremdschämen.

So. Our political leaders aren’t human? They are made from the dust of stars, while the rest of us are fashioned from mud? Politicians are altruistic, while the average citizen is a skin-bag full of self-centered and shortsighted desires? Exactly what is it that happens to human nature when an individual is elected to a political office that transforms him or her into a higher form of being? Even with only the most rudimentary understanding of logic, human nature, and political history, sane people experience fremdschämen and cry out, “Bovine excrement!” or, if you really want to mess with ‘em, “Fremdschämen!”

Why, pray tell, do you think our nation’s Founders created three branches of government—legislative, judicial, and executive: because politicians are humans, who have the same weaknesses, foibles, and mixed motives, as the rest of us. Without a vigorous and TURF-ORIENTED political system of checks and balances, “What is there to restrain them from making tyrannical laws, in order to execute them in a tyrannical manner?”  (John Adams)

Schadenfreude is another gem of a German word (thank you, Boston Legal) describing a common experience many people are having, as they watch those who believed their political leaders knew better than the hoi polloi and are now suffering the consequences of their assumptions. Schadenfreude describes, “The feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.” For example: “You can’t afford your insurance premium and it doesn’t cover what you need? You actually believed those political leaders who rammed this through Congress while saying that Healthcare Reform was going to provide us with health insurance that was comprehensive and affordable? O my. Hehe.” As a Christian, I do my all to resist post-fremdschämen cases of schadenfreude but, in times such as these, it is O. So. Very. Difficult. On the other hand, I don’t pretend to be a higher form of being.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

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