You’ve doubtless seen the symptomology all around you this week. Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself: Eyes glazed over. Fingers trembling. Uncontrolled twitching of facial muscles and limbs. Occasional panic attacks followed by outbursts of joy and/or rage.
It's March Madness, a 64-tiered malady from which there appears to be no recovery until the last bacon-wrapped chicken wing has been consumed and the last strains of “One Shining Moment” have been sung.
Whichever comes first.
The annual NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament, which begins with 68 college teams and is eventually whittled down to a Sweet Sixteen, an Elite Eight, a Final Four and ultimately a national champion, has become a national obsession. According to an MSN survey, some 50 million Americans are participating in various bracketing pools this year. All of the time spent researching and preparing brackets and then streaming games played during the work day cost employers billions of dollars in unproductive work hours every year.
When I shared those statistics with my boss, she seemed unimpressed.
“If March was the only month my employees were unproductive I’d be ecstatic,” she said, looking at me over the top of her glasses in a manner that suggested I had touched a nerve. “Let me tell you about June Madness, when everyone is planning and preparing for vacations. And October Madness, with football season, the hunting season and a full day lost to Halloween costumes and the office pot luck. And don’t even get me started on December Madness.”
Evidently the whole “madness” thing is definitionally different if you’re a boss.
The thing is, even March Madness wasn’t, you know, March Madness until the early 1980s. Prior to that, the term was primarily applied to high school basketball championship tournaments in the Midwestern United States. And before that it had to do with hares. You know — genus Lepus. Famous for having a jointed skull, a fondness for carrots and losing races to turtles (not unlike a No. 1 seed losing to a 16-seed, but I digress).
It seems that European hares have a tendency to go a little crazy during the month of March, which is right smack dab in the middle of their breeding season. They box each other, they suddenly start jumping around for no reason and they lay multi-colored eggs (OK, I just made that last one up — but that would totally explain the Easter Bunny, wouldn’t it?).
This unusual behavior during the month of March is the basis for the idiomatic English expression, “mad as a March hare.” It is also why the March Hare character in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” is so, well, mad. As Alice herself said, “The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won’t be raving mad — at least, not so mad as it was in March.”
Ergo, the original March madness.
Or is it?
There are those in the European biological community who believe the unusual behavior of hares during March is actually logical and understandable. Those boxing bouts may simply be females fending off the unwanted advances of undesirable males. And all that jumping around may just be hares doing what hares do — especially with the vibrancy of impending spring.
Like my boss suggested: Who is to say that March’s particular brand of madness is any crazier than June’s, October’s or December’s? In the words of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical may be madness; to surrender dreams, this may be madness; to seek treasures where there is only trash; too much sanity may be madness. But maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.”
Especially if you’re seeing it through glazed-over eyes.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr