RUN AMOK : to go awry, to steer away from the planned course


There’s really no mystery as to the meaning of the common term  to run amok.  We use the words all the time to reference a plan that has gone berserk, running in all directions rather than according to plan.

Just ask any nursery school teacher about the word and you’ll get a knowing smile.  Put thirty toddlers in a room and watch what happens.  It might be related to the term we all love, “It’s like herding cats.”

But it’s not just children who run amok.  The best laid plans for an adult activity can run amok also.  I can remember being at events that were well planned, adequately supervised, and even scripted which, for one reason or another, ran amok.   Sometimes it was an intruder who brought a new agenda into the setting, upsetting the apple cart and steering things off onto a substitute agenda.  Or a crisis of one kind or another occurs which makes the plan impossible to follow.

I attended a meeting once which was so well scripted by the designer that if any one thing went awry the whole plan would collapse.  It did.  The plan called for the use of a Power Point to set the agenda and guide the assembled “experts” through the day.   The setting was a lovely, comfortable, modern retreat center on a lake.  What the plan had not foreseen was the fact that one whole wall was windows, which, in the morning hours, faced the sun.   The visuals were virtually impossible to see, and the meeting began unraveling almost immediately.  By noon it was clear that the attendees should have lunch together and then go back to their offices.   The day’s plan was destroyed.  The attention span of those attending had been diverted to personal conversations and anything except the topic of the day.   The plan had run amok.

Big plans run amok also.  It would not be hard to describe the roll-out of the Affordable Care Plan this past couple of weeks as having run amok.  Seemingly poor planning and limited trial runs did not foresee the computer issues that would be brought about by millions of people trying to access the site at the same time.

The NSA intelligence plan is being described as a legitimate plan that has run amok.  What may be a fairly innocent gathering of intelligence has come to resemble a James Bond movie speeded up to double time.

The presence of Tea Party members in the House of Representatives resembles a gathering gone amok most of the time.   Just trying to get a simple piece of legislation through Congress has become next to impossible.

The whole industry related to the manufacture of strength enhancements and their interaction with professional athletes has run amok.  It is pretty clear that a whole generation of athletes have accumulated asterisks next to their names and their accomplishments, either by innocent or intentional ingestion of drugs which bring about inappropriate physical attributes.

And then, of course, there is the rapid growth and proliferation of the social media glitches which create chaos as society goes about trying to figure out the morals, rules, and operating standards for an industry which is magnificent but can be dangerous, especially to children.

Run amok, the dictionary tells us, is a word that comes from the Malay language, meaning to run wild in a violent frenzy. That works.


Photo Credit:  Niel Robertson

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