A World Gone Mad?

Sign of the times, perhaps, but everybody seems to be mad about something – the economy, the stock market, the unemployment rate, the auto industry. Or mad at somebody – Bernie Madoff and the greedy AIG bonus-snatchers, most recently.

Once you start looking for reasons to get bent out of shape, you won’t have much trouble finding them. The trick, I have learned – the hard way, is to figure out what’s worth your ire and what isn’t.

I was pretty peeved at the man who pushed ahead of me in a crowded store at the mall not long ago. He was definitely not the “next customer” as in, “I’ll help the next customer in line.” I was irritated at the cashier, the store’s representative and the person in charge, who should have seen that it was my turn to be helped but failed to do so.

But I took a deep breath and decided not to make a fuss; that was one of those even-if-you’re-right-you’re-wrong situations. Whining about line-jumpers would have served no purpose except to delay everyone else who was waiting. I could have stormed out without making my purchase, but it happened to be something I needed. So I contented myself with a deep sigh and a roll of the eyes that would have done any 12-year-old proud. I’m not holding any grudges.

Besides, who wants to turn a simple shopping errand into a confrontation?

Then a couple of days ago I was mad at the driver of a car that failed to yield on I-85 and almost ran into me; but there was no retaliation option open to me that did not threaten the public safety – my own included. So, since no one was hurt and no harm was done and since I was alone in the car, I ranted out loud about lousy drivers and how lucky it was that at least one of us – me – was paying attention. I was over it by the time I got to the next exit.

If you allowed yourself to stay mad at every Atlanta traffic incident, your head would explode on a daily basis.

But I confess I am one of many who is mad at Madoff. And I’m not letting go of that so easily. I was not personally wronged by him and his Ponzi scheme, but a lot of other people were.

Truthfully, I’m sort of enjoying this mad – it’s not a seething, destructive anger. It feels righteous and is actually kind of cathartic. Madoff is the classic one-dimensional villain we can hiss and boo with abandon.

If there are any shades of gray or moral ambiguities to deal with, I haven’t noticed them. He was scamming friends, associates, charities and pension funds for decades. It’s not like he had a one-time lapse in judgment, or a tragic hero’s fall from grace, so we don’t have to search our own souls and wonder whether we might have done the same thing in his situation. Nor is there any particular reason to feel sorry for his family.

All in all, it’s a pretty satisfying anger with an equally satisfying resolution: Madoff is in jail, where he belongs. I’m sure the individuals who were taken in by him are still hurting, but the rest of us can be reasonably content that justice has been done.

And the AIG executives who got the undeserved super-sized bonuses? That’s a little tougher, because they remain nameless and faceless. I picture them wearing top hats and striped pants like the old robber baron figures on the Monopoly cards. They are ridiculous without being funny.

The collective anger many felt toward them and the whole frustrating oops-we-promised-to-pay-them situation has by now given way to a cynical resignation; but it served a purpose. Whether those folks are actually forced to give the money back – which is what I still hope will happen, I think the point has been made. Future underachievers will not likely be rewarded, via taxpayer funds, for their incompetence.

Underlying all the angers and irritations and frustrations that are floating around out there, large and small, is a palpable sense of powerlessness.

Nobody wants to feel like a chump or a victim. A satisfactory resolution goes a long way toward keeping a righteous indignation from turning into destructive anger.

Take that, Bernie.

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