Why So Angry?

passionate about

The other day, within a span of five minutes, I witnessed two complete strangers act in a manner that suggested they were very angry. I was in the passenger seat of my dad’s car when he nosed out onto a rural highway in order to make a left turn. It was a tricky turn because of a forest obstructing the view of traffic on the little highway, so “nosing out” is really your only option. Trouble is, by the time your nose is out, you are committed. A car was approaching at a safe distance, and pops made the turn. The other driver, upon seeing the “nose out,” sped up rather than slow down, blasting his horn as he swerved around us.

My cousin Brad was following us to our next destination. We passed through a green light at an intersection. Brad drove through the yellow light behind us. A man waiting at the red light shot Brad the bird. The guy was just sitting there. He had zero skin in the game. No animals were injured in the making of. We stopped for gas and Brad asked, “Why are people so angry?”

Why are people so angry?

There are lots of studies and theories floating around as to the reasons people have lost their damn minds:

-Courtesy of reality TV, the haves flaunt their private islands, gold toilet seats and private jets in the living rooms of the have-nots.

-Thanks to mobile devices and Wi-Fi we have instant access to every catastrophe on the globe in real time.

-Stupid people get ahead.

-Nice people get cancer.

-The Green Bay Packers do not win every Super Bowl.


-Text neck.

Some people believe we’re out of control because our water is fluoridated, our food is poisoned and we listen to hip-hop. Others say it’s because we’re godless or religious, pre-menstrual or post-menopausal, low T or over-caffeinated. You know what I think? It’s not in our water, ears, body chemistry or floating in the sky. It’s linguistic.

I’d like to find the person who decided we must be passionate about everything and punch him in the snout. You can’t write a resume, business letter, commencement speech or recipe without telling the world you’re passionate about whatever it is you’re writing, selling, preaching and eating at any given moment.

Passionate, adjective. Showing or caused by strong feelings or a strong belief. Synonyms: intense, vehement, heated, emotional, heartfelt, excited, adrenalized, fervid, frenzied, fiery, consuming, violent.

Believe it or not there is such a thing as a “passionate chef,” a cook who is adrenalized by mollusks, while others get emotional over kale. I saw a listing for a house in Wauwatosa the other day, a “passionate ranch.” I typed “passionate about” into the Google search bar and the first things that cropped up were passionate about work, life, baking and learning. In that order.

Forget for a moment that the most searched “passionate about” term on Google is “passionate about work.” Work! No wonder we’re grumpy. Next up, passionate about life. What does that even mean–you really really want to live? Most people do, which is why they flounder and thrash when they fall into a lake and can’t swim. I could even buy that a person lives life passionately—implying to me, at least, that they regularly touch other humans, their eyes flash when they’re angry v. those of a mannequin and they can dance the tango.

What word did we use to describe our enthusiasm before we all got so damned passionate? I’d say “love,” but you didn’t hear a lot of people saying they loved math, the study of gum disease or animal husbandry, and yet today people are passionate about all three.

Being a writer has always been my goal. I studied writing in school. I work hard at my craft. When I was in college, I didn’t go around telling people I was passionate about journalism. I also didn’t say I loved poetry, because some of it is disturbing, incredibly morbid and painful. You don’t love a kidney transplant, yet the American Kidney Fund has “over 5,100 passionate patients, friends, loved ones and kidney care professionals” in its network. I envision them all sweaty, rolling around on the floor of the clinic, kidneys in a cooler by the door waiting for the passion to subside.

A couple of months ago I very much wanted a gig writing a screenplay adaptation of a memoir. I busted my butt writing the pitch, which enthusiastically put forth my ideas and vision for the project. The rejection email said they were going in another direction, but they thanked me for my passion. I felt like writing back, “What have you heard?” I hardly writhe or perspire at all when I’m writing.

Symphony conductors may be passionate—waving their arms and leaping about. Painters and rockstars, too. “Passionate about art” seems reasonable to me while “passionate about tax returns” just seems wrong, and yet Brett Sellers has a YouTube video about his passion for accounting.

Dr. Lawrence Hurd is passionate about insects. Speaking of toenail fungus, there’s a Dr. Hecker who’s passionate about treating it non-surgically.

This morning I saw a blog about 5 Things You Should be Passionate About Now, none of which had anything to do with sex, love or people. It was about money management, cleaning your closets, drinking more water, how to ask for a raise and flossing.

If you’re a politician and you don’t follow the words, “I am passionate about” with one of the following: America, freedom, children, the flag, veterans or guns, the others will drink your milkshake.

I think all this passion has made people angry. You can’t go around all hopped up about kale and dental floss and not expect to freak out when someone tries to merge onto the freeway. When a person is passionate about shut-eye (there are blogs, supplements and discussion groups dedicated to passionate sleep), then she is bound to go postal when NBC cancels Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris.

People are angry on Facebook, in the grocery store, all over the news and even in churches, temples, banks, bars and other places of worship. Maybe if we really liked a nicely crafted Manhattan as opposed to being passionate about the cocktail (Passionate Bartender Wanted, Craigslist), we wouldn’t give so many fucks when people with whom we do not agree politically speak loudly about their beliefs in a locker room while we are naked and can neither run away nor asphyxiate them with a gym towel.

If we would reserve our passion for things that call for passion, such as sex, rock n’ roll and anything Italian, perhaps we’d be a less angry bunch, and when my pops tries to make a left turn onto Calhoun Road it won’t piss off a passionate buttwipe driving a maroon F-150 with Wisconsin plates and a “Keep honking I’m reloading” bumper sticker.

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