Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Joy of Being Grumpy

Peevish, irritable, surly, ill-tempered. This is how we usually define grumpy, but to me it seems a more specific condition: a loss, usually temporary, of humor and sympathy. Such senses bind us to the world and its people, humor to the light foibles which ask charity, and sympathy to the serious seeking compassion. They also bid us be generous and forgiving to others while aware of our own imperfections.

Meanwhile, the grumpy are not aware of their own flaws, only the foolishness of others. All of the grumpy man's own flaws fade away under a bombardment of irritants. In fact, when you're grumpy you don't recognize the good in anything save the perfect. The world is never more black and white than when you're grumpy. The annoying girl is now a shrew, the slow cashier an imbecile, and the chatty neighbor a pest. Formal becomes stuffy, casual vulgar. People with questionable taste become full-fledged philistines, the frugal folks outright cheapskates.

In fact, apart from the dulling passage of time, only the most incorruptible excellence may snap you out of the grumpy funk. But why spoil a grumpy groove? Rather than trying to pacify oneself with some therapeutic excellence, it's far more satisfying to let the grumpiness boil over into a full-blown rant. A good rant is invigorating and cathartic. What liberation from gentlemanly confines, what control one seems to exercise over the life's ills when one rants and raves.

Unfortunately, it's hard to get a good rant going by yourself and an unfulfilled or half-started rant is quite an unsatisfying experience. What you need is a good friend to stoke the fires of disgust, someone who knows and shares just what ticks you off and who sympathizes with your frustration.

It's curious, though, that sympathy should be both the beginning and end of grumpiness. Perhaps it's because we grow grumpy by disconnecting from the intolerable vices of others, and thus the sympathy of friends returns us to a group to which we can happily belong. Ah, friendship.

Quid dulcius quam habere quicum omnia audeas sic loqui ut tecum? - Cicero, Laelius de Amicitia

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