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MIT blogger Cami M. '23

on anger by Cami M. '23

understanding and learning and navigating

In a call with my boyfriend a couple months ago, I asked him the question: What is my best and worst trait?

He admittedly didn’t answer with my best trait and instead replied with my worst, saying that it was my meanspirited nature and anger. He thought I was really mean and while it didn’t bother him a whole lot, he said it was definitely a lot at times. I’ll admit I was a bit taken aback by his reply. While I was gathering up the courage to ask the question in the first place, I was already predicting answers. My insecurity, jealousy, stupidity, etc. but instead he hit me with this.

And because of it, I’ve been thinking a lot about what he said. In recent months, I’ve been a lot angrier than usual, with the BLM movement being in full view across all social media platforms and more and more instances of police brutality and just blatant racism being caught on camera nowadays. I will be the first to admit that I’m very vocal. And also very blunt. I’m not afraid to call it as it is, and I’m usually the first to call out people on their behavior or on something I don’t like.

I asked my mom if she thought I was mean, and she simply responded with, “You’re sassy, but it runs in our blood. We’re blunt. We’re sarcastic. We say shit people don’t like. And that’s just how we are.”

She then went on to tell me that she’s gotten better with age at holding her tongue (though her co-workers may not believe it). Before in school, she would always be the first to speak, always be the first to call out. But in recent years, she’s learned to step back. “Pick and choose your battles,” I had said after she told me this.

In many ways, I can see how similar my mom and I are, and where my behavior comes from. On one hand, my mom has always been incredibly outspoken. A doesn’t-take-your-bullshit kind of attitude. On the other hand, my dad was always very nonconfrontational and this was something I admittedly really, really disliked about my dad. This was only further driven by the fact that my parents were divorced, so I obviously grew up pretty biased since I lived with my mom and I picked up more of her traits.

There were definitely events throughout my childhood that really hammered in this “angry” kind of attitude. In high school, I was a part of my school’s Advanced Science and Engineering program. There were about twenty of us in this cohort and we had basically have the exact same classes for those four years. You really got to know some people, as a result. I remember one day after lab, where were all cleaning up the leftover glassware after the lunch bell had rang, my teacher had asked, “Why do you guys let them do that?”

I had no idea what she was referring to at first, but then I looked around the room as she spoke. “You ever realize,” she started, “that none of the boys ever stay to clean up? They just…expect you to do it?”

And sure enough, she was right. I was surrounded by only girls, as we were hunched over sinks washing empty flasks and drying them on the rack. Pushing in chairs that had been left haphazardly askew as excited feet scampered out the door to go to lunch.

I think sometime after that someone had asked my teacher, “Why don’t you just keep the boys in and call them out?” to which she responded something like “That’s not my job. That’s your job to speak up because there will come a time where I won’t be there to say something. This happens all the time in the future. Hell, I even went through this in graduate school. Even today.”

And this moment has stuck with me ever since. I didn’t want that fate.

For the rest of high school, I realized it was infinitely more worth it to stand up for myself and be considered a “bitch” rather than be a doormat. And I really lived by this mindset.

By the end of my senior year, I remember getting comments on my Instagram about how I had really become a bitch. Or how I was always angry all the time. Or how I should simply “care less.” I think this is the same mentality that Raymond really carries with him — “it’s just so much easier if you don’t care.”

And while I’ve learned to care a little less more recently, I also believe in the power of anger, that it’s one of the emotions that really drives change. My anger pushed me to see the bad around me and call it out. As a result, yeah, it alienated me, but my high school wasn’t exactly full of people I wanted to be around or make friends with, anyway.

I felt similar themes throughout my Microsoft internship. I could have shut up and kept quiet, but instead I vocalized my thoughts and, in the end, I think that made me a more memorable candidate and intern. Whether that’s for the best or for the worst, I guess we won’t really know. I still don’t regret it at all.

This idea of picking and choosing your battles, though, is something that’s really stuck with me. From Raymond, I think I’ve learned that it’s okay not to care. It’s okay to not get upset every single time something bad happens because, well, bad things are going to happen. But I also think this mentality shouldn’t extend too far because then it leads to complacency, this belief that “Bad things will happen so we should just be okay with it.” Sometimes, bad things just shouldn’t happen. It shouldn’t be okay for women to be told that their lesser than in the workplace. It shouldn’t be okay for trans people to feel fear every time they leave their homes. It shouldn’t be okay for BIPOC to suffer infinitely more than their counterparts.

So then comes the question: How do I know which battles to fight?

That…now, that I don’t know. In recent months, I’ve stopped getting angry and instead have started laughing more. Is this a good thing? Unsure. I think I’ve reached a point where sometimes things are just so fucked up I can’t help but laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. For instance, whenever people tell me I’m being too bitchy or too mean, my original first instinct would be to argue back. To say that maybe my anger is well founded. Now, I kind of just chuckle. And laugh. And usually reply with “Tough shit, your problem, not mine.” Once again, unsure if this is a good thing.

I think I’m still learning when to fight. When it’s good to stand up for what you believe in and when it’s best to yield. I remember my mom told me that she deals with a lot of dumbasses at work, and it would drain her energy far too much if she spent her time roasting all of them. So instead, she just sits there, shuts up, and does it. She finds it’s the path of least resistance. I think this is important — knowing when to save your energy for bigger battles down the road, in the video game boss battle kind of sense.

One of my biggest pet peeves in life is when people confuse being blunt with being mean. I’ve met a lot of people who justify their rudeness with their “blunt nature.” I sometimes get scared I’m like this. I really try not to be. There’s a fine line between being honest with someone and then flat out insulting them. I try to lean more towards the former. If you ask any of my friends, I think they’ll mainly agree and say I lean more towards the former bit.

When I’m being mean, I know I’m being mean. And I think that’s the difference. I’m not insulting someone’s demeanor or behavior to be “blunt”, I’m doing it because I’m being mean to them and I want them to know I don’t fuck with their behavior. Is that a bad thing? Maybe, but it’s better to be straight up and just know you’re being mean rather than trying to hide it under the guise of “being an honest person.” There’s actually a lot of layers to that. Being honest about being mean instead of being honest. Try wrapping your brain around that one.

There are times where I do step back and think I am a little mean. Should I have made that comment about that girl’s face just cause she’s a racist? Lol actually yeah I don’t feel bad about that. If you’re a racist, you’re ugly through and through, I don’t give a shit. But other people, well, they don’t respond really well to that.

A lot of people think I’m pretty hateful. Or that I’m full of anger. Hell, my own boyfriend thinks that and sometimes, yeah, it does keep me up at night. Sometimes I think I should change and be a nicer person. Or that I should learn to shut up more (something my high school freshman self wrote to future me).

I feel this especially whenever I meet my friends’ friends, usually from outside of school or from high school. And they don’t…particularly grab on to me. I remember one time I insulted the way a girl looked (she was a racist and also a bitch, I have no sympathy) and one of my friends’ friends kind of murmured passive aggressively over the call “Oooh, women putting down women? We…love to see it I guess.” And did I feel a little bad? Yeah. Did I feel a little annoyed? Yeah, because she didn’t know the situation nor who I was insulting.

I’ve been told by friends’ friends that I’m abrasive. Or harsh. Or difficult to get along with. And sometimes I wish I could be that friend you can introduce to anyone and you’ll immediately get along with them. Emma and Aiden are particularly like this. But simultaneously, I really don’t want to sacrifice my character for the sake of pleasing people. Nine times out of ten, I wouldn’t really be good friends with those people anyway.

My anger comes from necessity, though, and I think this is what a lot of people don’t get about it. There are so many times where I’ve been manipulated and walked all over. Where work was placed on to me because they thought I’d be quiet and just take it. Where authority thought they could treat me like shit just because I was beneath them. This was something Raymond told me he’s never felt, and I think that’s what really sparked this whole thing. Whether he acknowledges it or not, it’s a privilege not to be treated like this in the workplace or at school or, hell, even at home. People will pile on work to you. People will tell you to do things because they think they can and because they think you’re weak and are afraid to say no. And, fuck, most of the time people are. They take on work that they should not take because they are afraid of disappointing or upsetting people. And that’s why I’ve learned to be angrier. Because I’ve realized that there’s a lot of shitty people out there who will try and do me wrong, and if I’m straight up about it right away, they’ll know not to fuck with me. And this is especially why I usually am unfazed when people tell me I’m too mean because most of the time, they’ve never been placed in the position that I’ve been in. If you’ve never dealt with this, great. Congrats. I’m happy people don’t stack work onto you like a horse and see you as a doormat or a receptacle for all their shit they don’t want to deal with. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of us out there, women of color especially, who have to deal with this shit. So if we’re angry or if we’re mean or if we’re too much for your delicate demeanor, maybe instead of shittalking us or insulting us or telling us to “calm down”, you should try and understand our anger first.

There’s definitely a lot more here to unpack on my end — jealousy, insecurity, past trauma from friendships, distrust, fear of abandonment, etc. But I really just wanted to scrape the surface and I guess…talk about this. Because it’s been on my mind for a while. This blogpost has been in the works since June, but I’ve had these feelings since my sophomore year of high school.

I try and strive to be a better person, but I try to do so without sacrificing too much of myself. It’s a balancing act I feel like I have to do — to be nice enough to be digestible but not too much of a pushover where people think they can say and do whatever they want in front of me. There are times where I tip too far over to one side or the other, being a bit too combative or perhaps a bit too lenient with people. It’s a difficult thing to navigate and that’s because I’m still learning and trying to figure out who I am and how to balance this personality. At the end of the day, though, I’m okay with being abrasive. Or too much. Or hard to hang around. Because I’ve still managed to make great friends and meet great people without compromising who I am just to be an easier-to-swallow pill. And I think that says a lot.