Many of us used to relish Donald Trump firing dumbstruck contestants on the Apprentice. Or Simon eviscerating some hapless warbler on American Idol. We take delight in watching the Simpson’s Montgomery Burns humiliate and then extricate his subordinates, often down a secret hole in front of his desk. Nelson, the “Ha-Ha!” bully is another Simpsonian example. There is brutal comedy in the misfortune of others. The Germans have a word for it: Schadenfreude. (To be precise, substitute the word “pleasure” for “comedy.”) Either way, it’s an unfortunate, even barbaric, part of our humanity.
And it often flourishes like mold in the hallways of Adland. If/when one agency hears of another’s misfortune we cheer. In bigger agencies, creative groups on one floor often compete and root against creative groups from another. Internet trolls constantly throw stones at wounded agencies and their people. While most aim at management, the torpedoes invariably end up hurting massive portions of the ship, not just the bridge.
I’ve written about this before. But that was before the recession. With few agencies exempt from its grave fallout, I doubt anyone is gleeful over much of anything right now, let alone another’s misfortune. That tipping point came and went. With people –good people- disappearing from our ranks it is as if a plague were let loose in adland…the whole damn country! Whereas we once morbidly watched as our comrades were marched out the door, thinking “not me, never me” now we cannot help but see ourselves in their shoes.
And yet pain like this can provide our most teachable moments. There is a silver lining. To coin another phrase: the show must go on.
Therefore, those of us who remain pick up our games. If we are good we become great. Considering the alternative, we must. We also count our blessings. We learn humility. We let go our resentments because they feel especially vulgar right now. While veins of meanness run deep on the Internet, not so much in the hallways of Adland. There is less complaining about partners and bosses. Fewer requests for money and titles. Less Me. More We. What we have (peers, clients, job) is far more important than what we don’t.
Guess what folks? It always was! But we forget. Until the pain of others reminds us. Humility. Gratitude. Fortitude. If we acquire even a little grace during these difficult times, something good has come from it.