I got called out this week for what was perceived as an over-reaction to a recurring problem in our neighborhood. Point taken. There’s probably some validity to the comments. And yet, for those of us who keep trying to put up, shut up, and allow for what is flat-out unacceptable because of this or that extenuating circumstance—we’re reaching our limit. A constant grind of recent annoyances made we want to go all Ruth Langmore from Ozark and spew obscenities at the top of my lungs. Ruth’s character is feisty white trash with a heart of gold and barrels through life with an arsenal of spectacular profanity. Most of the people on the receiving end of Ruth’s F-word-laced tirades deserve them.
I don’t know—maybe it’s the heat or the constant barrage of depressing news or simply being officially old, but I keep looking out at the world and wondering how we managed to reach this point. (This interminable virus doesn’t help matters, either.) Has the lack of responsibility, the rudeness, and the entitlement always been here but social media makes it more obvious? Why is it so hard to say I was wrong and accept that there are going to be consequences for our words and behavior? We don’t accept consequences anymore. Instead, we make excuses, lie, and file lawsuits.
Ok, Boomer alert, but I didn’t grow up this way. If I did something wrong, I was punished. Period. No one looked at me and said, “Let’s talk about your choices.” I learned to apologize when I said or did something to hurt another person, and woe unto me if I said or did anything disrespectful to an adult. I was fortunate to have good parents and a stable home life, and sadly, I know that’s no longer the case for a significant number of young people. But the guardrails of common sense, respect, and decency that most of us managed to stay within, have all but disappeared, and that’s scary. People who work in jobs that involve dealing with the public are at their absolute breaking point.
Most times, I suck it up and keep my mouth shut. You can only wander into the weeds in so many places. But constantly trying to take the high road is hard, and holding back too many times can have a toxic cumulative effect resulting in potential Ruth Langmore-like implosions. Sooner or later, those of us who try not to over-react eventually do, and that just adds to the chaos. My former teaching colleague used to say to particularly annoying students, “You have just plucked my last nerve,” and that’s where I find myself right now.
I wish I had answers. I’ve found that singing helps. So do long lunches with old friends and swimming laps in the pool. For me, simply putting my frustration and anger into words is cathartic. I try to find ways to send a little something positive back into the world, whether it’s texting a friend who needs some support or letting a car go ahead of me in a stopped line of traffic. I’ve always followed the simple advice given in a long-ago teaching seminar about discipline. In a bad situation, you’ve got two choices. You can make it better or make it worse. But these days it’s getting harder to figure out how to make it better.