The American workplace has become leaner, meaner and more stressful since the recession hit in 2008.

And that’s only speaking for the fortunate Americans who still have jobs at all.

That may help explain why the improbable story of flight attendant Steven Slater has resonated with millions of American workers, even if they never board a commercial airliner.

Slater is the JetBlue steward who got fed up with bickering passengers, ranted at them over the jet’s PA system and made a sudden exit via the plane’s emergency chute with a beverage-cart beer in hand.

Working in the airline industry may be near the top of the list of stressful jobs.

Long lines, irritating security checks, random baggage fees, lost luggage, hot, dirty and crowded planes, missed connections and long delays have made air travel more nightmare than exciting journey.

It’s no wonder passengers are surly.

What’s more, airline pilots and crews are too often stretched to the breaking point by brutal schedules, understaffing and poor pay.

It’s a wonder they can muster a smile at all.

Slater reached his breaking point Monday when, he says, two passengers argued over an overhead bin and he was hit in the head by the door.

His lawyer later explained that Slater was stressed by caring for his cancer-stricken mother, herself a former flight attendant.

Most American workers —  facing lower pay, longer hours, more work, unreliable computer systems and uncertain futures — can no doubt relate.

All of which explains the massive outpouring of support for the beleaguered flight attendant.

Who among us hasn’t dreamed of telling an abusive customer where to go and how to get there before simply walking out on a frustrating day.

Fortunately, most of us resist the urge. We manage our stress in other ways, by taking a time out or a day off. We commiserate with our co-workers, or count to 10. We squeeze our stress ball or take a walk around the block.

We deal with it without making a scene, cursing customers or suddenly walking off the job.

In short, we handle it like adults and like professionals. We do it day after day and year after year. It’s called self-control or self-restraint, and it’s what keeps the work world humming.

Given the publicity surrounding the JetBlue incident, we now expect the normal overreaction of Federal Transportation Administration employees.

They will charge Slater with everything from terrorism to tampering with the U.S. mail.

In the end, we hope a judge will take a look at Slater’s case and see that he didn’t bring a gun to work or punch anyone. He didn’t kill himself or anyone else.

He was simply a human being who allowed himself to be pushed beyond the breaking point and responded in an unusually dramatic fashion.

That’s wrong, but he clearly needs counseling and support more than a jail sentence.

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