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the things i hate by Vincent H. '23

and what they say about me

i hate when people ghost me, especially over text or email. not when it happens once or twice, or when they have good reasons for doing it, like if they’re busy or have a bunch of personal issues to work through; it’s mostly when i know for a fact that they have the social bandwidth to talk to me but are choosing not to because they assign low priority to our interactions

i hate when math and cs students call sciences like chemistry stupid (which, unfortunately, happens very often at mit). not the graduation requirements – i think there are very reasonable arguments that classes like 7.012 (intro biology) or 3.091 (intro chem) are structured badly or not good introductory subjects or shouldn’t be required – but when you declare that an entire field like biology is dumb i can’t help but think you must just not be a very curious person, like, wow, you don’t care about knowing what happens in your own body; you must just not care much about understanding reality, huh?

i hate when people seem to navigate through difficult life territory with ease. finding people you want to enter lasting relationships with is supposed to be hard, and finding jobs that you enjoy and which want to hire you is supposed to be hard, and crafting a personal identity that you love is supposed to be hard. or maybe “supposed to be hard” is a poor phrase to use, but what i mean is that these are problems many of my friends struggle deeply with, and they’re also issues my parents and other adults told me would be challenging growing up. so when i see people my age who have all these things figured out, part of me is happy for them and part of me is jealous, and part of me understands that the extent to which other people are put together really doesn’t have any bearing on my own life. but mostly i’m just confused by how absurdly different life is for different people

i probably hate my friends more than i hate anyone else. which isn’t to say i don’t love my friends, but it’s also true that their flaws bother me more than other peoples’. i hate that one of my friends is always late, and that another one is confused and indecisive, and that another one constantly fabricates drama where there is none. it’s like the saying that your spouse is the person who will frustrate you most in life, because, even if you’re 10x more compatible with your spouse than with the average person, you might spend 20x more time around your spouse than around other people and so you end up accumulating more issues with your spouse anyway

in psychological studies of empathy, scientists make a distinction between empathic concern and empathic distress. empathic concern is essentially when you observe someone experiencing eg. sadness and then feel concern for them accompanied by a tinge of sadness; empathic distress is when observing someone else being sad causes you to also become sad. in some sense empathic concern is probably the main evolutionary advantage of empathy – when you see someone feeling terrible you try to help them – while empathic distress is often associated with less healthy behaviors like burnout and emotional exhaustion which actually prevent you from helping other people

one of the important points here is that there is a difference between feeling something and being that thing. in other words, you can feel an emotion without your emotional state being primarily characterized by that emotion. you can see someone being sad and feel their sadness without being sad yourself. this does not make you robotic or unempathetic; it just means you are regulating your emotional state in a healthy manner. and similarly you can feel hatred – like, i hate that so many people are still dying from covid – but nobody would accuse you of being hateful because of that

these days i try not to hate anything, because the act of hating is exhausting and disrupts my mental stability. by which i mean that i am okay with feeling hatred – i don’t think one can truly eradicate these kinds of knee-jerk emotions and so i try to make peace with having them – but i am not okay with letting that hatred fester and consume my consciousness, not okay with being hateful towards anything in particular, regardless of how awful it may be

of course the key word in the previous paragraph is try. on bad days i still lose track of my internal monologue and it becomes very easy to descend into hatefulness directed at anything which is remotely annoying, like what i described a few paragraphs ago

recently one of my friends asked if they were making me sad. the friend in question suffers a lot from anxiety and depression and i think they were trying to ask if any of it was spilling over onto me. so i thought about all our interactions together and whether any of them made me sad, and the only complaint i could come up with was that sometimes they would take a very long time to respond to texts, which in the grand scheme of character flaws is really not particularly noteworthy or problematic

so why did something as inconsequential as slow response time make me sad when i have so many more important issues to occupy myself with and when i read about so many more consequential misdeeds in the news every day? why did i just write about hating trivial facets of my interactions with my friends and peers, rather than the problems that actually deserve hating, like violence or environmental destruction or inequality? 

the best explanation i can give is that, for me at least, Important Real-World Problems only inspire hate as a state of feeling, whereas my interactions with people i see regularly can inspire hate as a state of being. this is true even when the Important Real-World Problems affect me directly – for instance, it is very easy for me to hate a specific person in my life who makes a lot of anti-asian statements, but very hard for me to deeply hate the general problem of anti-asian racism

there is a line from demian which goes like this: “if you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. what isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” i read the book two years ago and at the time it flew entirely over my head. to be honest it still does, though i think i at least understand this particular quote now? it’s saying something like: you aren’t hateful towards external objects because of their moral value or intrinsic qualities, but because they remind you of parts of yourself that you are repulsed by. long response times don’t make me sad because i think there’s something fundamentally wrong about them; they make me sad because they remind me of my insecurities about being unlikable. and similarly, i don’t hate the inherent prejudice in anti-asian sentiment; i hate when i am reminded of my race and the differential status it confers. these are insecurities that i could let go of if i wanted to but haven’t bothered with yet, and so i would go as far as to say that by choosing to take everything as a slight about whether i’m likable or not, i’m actually making myself feel sad, while all my friend is doing is trying their best to respond to texts. and a similar statement is true for every other item i’ve listed — 

i hate ghosting because it makes me feel unvalued, but also because i choose to interpret it as a statement about my value as a human being. and i feel similarly about other behaviors, like social cliqueness and third-wheeling

i hate when math and cs people call other sciences stupid because i used to be a math person who thought science was dumb back in high school. then i learned more bio and realized it could directly explain how my body felt and why i kept getting sick, and then i became invested in other subjects like neuroscience and computer systems because they explained other parts of my life, and now i hate that version of me from high school because i am terrified of falling back into ignorance

i hate when people seem to have all their difficult life decisions figured out because, like i said earlier, i believe these obstacles are supposed to be hard. and so part of me believes that if i don’t struggle enough with my own decisions and problems then my life has been too easy and that makes me a fraud, in the same way that part of me feels that selling out or not working hard enough makes me a fraud

now we arrive at the whole hating your friends thing. i believe in the common phrase that you are the weighted average of the people you spend the most time with. for the longest time i thought this also implied that your flaws were also the consequence of the flaws of the people around you. i saw my own problems, like being too lazy or risk-averse or unassertive, reflected in the behavior of people around me, so i decided that these problems were the result of spending too much time around my friends. it took me a lot of alone time during covid and a lot of bojack to realize that this was not the case and that “you are all the things that are wrong with you”. so i don’t blame my friends for my problems anymore, but me hating their flaws is a remnant of that mentality, and it’s something that is now fading away but only gradually

this summer i read meditations, which is essentially a collection of very fragmented pages and paragraphs written by marcus aurelius. my single favorite excerpt from the book is this one, about what kinds of wishes to make: 

“Start praying like this and you’ll see.

Not ‘some way to sleep with her’—but a way to stop wanting to.

Not ‘some way to get rid of him’—but a way to stop trying.

Not ‘some way to save my child’—but a way to lose your fear.

Redirect your prayers like that, and watch what happens.”

and that pretty much sums up how i feel about hate too. if it’s true that everything i hate about other people is something i hate about myself, if it’s true that hatred and sadness and all the other kinds of negativity i experience are all avoidable options that i keep choosing to take, then there’s no point in wishing for the things i hate to disappear; what i’m really looking for is just a way to stop hating. the subject of how one actually stops hating things deserves an entirely separate blog post that i do not have the expertise to write, but for now i’ll just say that i believe it is possible, and i believe that i will slowly but surely get there