I have previously extolled the virtues of the German language, including its usage of highly accurate words that describe states of mind. Many speakers of English have adopted such words as Schadenfruede that deliciously describe what we sometimes feel.
There’s another perfect German noun that might find more popularity if the trend of current events continues much longer. The word is Weltschmerz. It is properly pronounced with the native German W that sounds like the English V and the German Z that sounds like “ts”. Say “VELT-shmairts”.
It is the blend of the German word for world–Welt and the German word for pain–Schmerz. Weltschmerz literally means world pain. It is the profound sadness that idealists can feel regarding the state of reality of the human condition. Weltschmerz dawns in the mind when we compare the beautiful potential for good that our species can do with the actual terrible words and actions we actually do.
Here we are in 2017, shouldn’t we all get along better than this? This goes far beyond the expectation of us owning flying cars by now. Weltschmerz is more profound than ennui, the word we borrowed from the French for feeling down with boredom. However, ennui is a close synonym of Weltschmerz.
Weltschmerz is also more specific than the German word for fear–Angst. Angst isn’t exactly an acute fear; it’s more of an existential feeling of dread or anxiety that we might feel in general. Angst is the anguish we feel about nothing in particular.
As I sat on the porch stoop of my late father’s house yesterday, I came down with a strong case of Weltschmerz. The weather was nearly perfect for this time of year–warm, not overly hot with a light breeze. There I was, in the apparent serenity of rural Wayne County, Nebraska gazing upon a corn field and two farmsteads in the distance.
The feeling faded in. At first, I mistook it for the cloudy emotion of ennui because there was that listless feeling of boredom that I shouldn’t have been feeling, especially because the weather and view were so nice. I tried to shake off the feelings by concentrating on a grove of trees about a mile away.
That’s when an overarching sense of yearning swept over me. I recognized the Weltschmerz as it covered me like a thick blanket. I felt like Atlas, who carries the weight of the World on his shoulders. This was more than feeling bummed out about the garbage going on in Washington, DC these days. It was a full-blown episode of Weltschmerz. Because I’m basically an optimist, any wash of this negative emotion is alarming.
There was the realization that all the innuendos and hate mongering taking place is causing a real increase in discrimination and violence. There is a wholesale rollback of civil rights gains happening these days. It seems like the deadness of fascism is closing its iron grasp on the nation and the world at large.
Weltschmerz feels like our age of enlightenment is coming to a close. The cool, objective philosophical analysis of the state of the world is bound to give any emotionally honest person a case of world weariness. Humanity has all the tools and wisdom to create a beautiful world for everyone, but those tools are too frequently being used by unwise people for destructive ends.
I closed my eyes because of the Weltschmerz. An involuntary image of a neo-Nazi waving his flag appeared in my mind. Then, a voice, in French, said to me, “La Résistance”. I mentally grabbed onto the name. Then I spoke it out loud. “La Résistance”. I felt good again. Because I was alone in the countryside, there was no inhibition about shouting. So I yelled out, “La Résistance!”
It was as if the ghosts of those brave freedom fighters of the French Underground had been summoned in a daylight seance. The fascists and Nazis could never silence the spirit of La Résistance because freedom is what we all instinctively crave.
Thankfully, that nasty bout of Weltschmerz has disappeared, for now.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author Em L. Smith. “Weltschmerz, basically, is the depression we feel when bamboozlers, fanatics, manipulators, trolls, bigots, demagogues, fear-mongers, liars and prigs threaten to take over the world, and there’s nothing, we think, we can do about it.”