19 September 2007

Ay Bendito's Real Meaning

A policeman, with a Complaints Lodged Against record dating back almost 11 years, frequent incidents of explosive rage and a noted tendency to personalize confrontations, shoots and kills his immediate superior. While at work.

And rumors spread that policemen in other precincts cheered.

I wrote about this unseemly, dangerous tolerance that sullies the men in blue and as much as I'd like to say it's their problem, it's obvious that it is, in fact, Our problem.

What We see in the police, with its frequent killings and corruption, is nothing more than an extension of what We are as a society. If by that I'm saying We're violent and corrupt, then so be it: What We tolerate so extensively must be what We are willing to be. And Our primary signal of tolerance is the often-feckless "Ay bendito."

I seldom refer to the ay bendito syndrome, the Puerto Rican "oh well" that slashes Our throats more often than it tightens them, simply because it's been mentioned so often that I feel I have nothing to add.

Except now.

Ay bendito--in ideal form--stems from a deeply-held empathic sense and thus is a shining aspect of Our nature. What has happened in Our history is that this heart-felt empathy has evolved into a more complex, darker set of feelings, one that races away from empathy to embrace schadenfreude, that inimitable German noun for "taking pleasure in another's misfortune."

Ay bendito is just as untranslatable as schadenfreude, but for different reasons. Ay bendito depends greatly on mood and situation for its meaning, from tender concern to frustration to tired acceptance. In that complex range of expression lies its capacity to reveal...and hide. For if it reveals a state of mind or mood, it can also hide a multitude of unseemly feelings, allowing for the secret delight in another's woe.

We live in a society that also espouses the phrase Pena es hermana de "Jódete"--Pity is the sister of "Screw you." We're not entirely blind to Our faults; We just do the normal thing and try to keep them hidden as often as possible.

And why should We be surprised at this attitude? Aren't We convinced that Life is a zero-sum game, where your loss is My gain? When societal politesse clashes with inner celebration, what better way to comply publicly and enjoy privately than a well-expressed Ay bendito?

But sometimes, We forget or don't care to comply with being polite. Instead, We cheer a man's wrongful death...or make up rumors to that effect. We express sympathy for the painful defeats of others while Our guts whoop it up in visceral happiness. We're not evil, not really: We're just...people.

For you see, the ay bendito syndrome is Our version of schadenfreude, which is the German version of "Dancing on the grave." We're not unique, those of Us who live here in the boggy swamp error of zero-sum thinking and secret delight. We just cloak it differently, placing a blanket of pseudo-empathy over what is--and always has been--an ugly joy. The Germans gave it a name: We simply gave it an alias.


The Jenius Has Spoken.

3 comments:

Liliana Laboy said...

Gil c:

Generalmente estoy de acuerdo con tus comentarios. Hoy no. Nuestro Ay bendito no es una forma de alegrarse del mal ajeno. No es tolerancia infinita.es algo bueno que siempre distinguio a nuestra gente y que se ha ido perdiendo, en parte porque hace algunos años se comenzó la moda de criticar y ridiculizar la expresión. el ay bendito es compasión, solidaridad. Todavía existe a pesar de que se ha tratado de erradicar. El ay bendito es lo que nos hace correr en ayuda del vecino, del afectado por desastres o crímenes. También nos hace rechazar la pena de muerte por lo definitivo del castigo que no deja espacio para el arrepentimiento y el crecimiento espiritual.

Viva el Ay bendito puertorriqueño.

Tu prima Liliana laboy

Gil C. Schmidt said...

Liliana, primero, gracias y segundo, por favor hazme llegar tu dirección de e-mail a gil.schmidt@gmail.com. Me encantaría que nos viéramos pronto.

Tercero, desde que escribí esta pieza sabía que rozaría contra nuestros mejores sentimientos. Sí, somos empáticos y eso, en las buenas y las malas, es una de nuestras más grandes fuerzas. Y acepto por sentado que nuestro "Ay bendito" es más honesto que hipócrita.

Pero hay hipocresía en su uso, de la misma manera que un martillo puede construir o destruir. Es esa faceta de disimulación a lo que me refiero, a esos momentos y esas personas que esconden bajo un manto de falsa empatía su oscuro deleite al mal ajeno.

Y señalo que eso no es--¡ni soñarlo!-- un mal solemente de nuestra gente, sino un mal de todas las gentes. La diferencia, en este caso, es que hay una palabra alemana para ello (¿Y qué nos dice eso sobre ellos, bueno y malo?) y entre nosotros, algunas veces, usamos nuestro "ay bendito."

De nuevo, gracias y espero que compartamos muchas más.

Joe said...

Great thoughts, although depressing to acknowledge.