Looking Back at Anger
By Tracy Wang
In 15 years I’ve grown, cried, fallen, learned and learned some more. However, I have wished I was better, more proficient, smarter, savvier, wittier, stronger, something… more than the person I am.
I’ve lived for 15 years and it’s quite unnecessary to say that I’m continuing to live.
Life right now is quarantined. My father is unemployed. All of us, my mother, father and sister are living under the same roof. There have been so many ups and downs in this entire span of time, everything and everyone feels invisible if you don’t pay any heed. Sonder was the word, everyone was living a completely different life than any one of us in this moment. And in this moment I think, there’s been times—so many different little times in quarantine, in the 15 years I’ve grown, cried, fell, learned, and learned some more—that I wish I was better, more proficient, smarter, savvier, wittier, stronger, something more than the person I am. Something I’ve seen in others, in the media, in strangers who are deemed as heroes, students my age, children younger than me, and I envy them. So much envy. And for a while my envy turned into hatred towards myself and the people around me as well.
Was that all it was to it? Did I have to transform to a completely different version of myself to please everyone? Like metamorphosing but rebirthing as a different species, something like a perfection of a human being, just to meet people’s standards?
Why couldn’t envy be a good thing, turn it into a trait of admiration and inspiration? Why couldn’t our motivation be for something that would bring us one step closer to a better version of ourselves? And not for this wasted effort of retribution, or forcible acts to “prove someone wrong.”
It is on the brighter side to say that these different little times had indeed taught me a lesson.
There was a time I was out on the streets, it was raining, and there weren’t a lot of people around. I entered a street but not before checking my surroundings. It’s something on a normal basis that girls do. It’s automatic, girls do it without thinking, and it’s pretty clear the reason why. There was a man, a few yards ahead. The avenue was long and this man wore delivery attire. I thought nothing of it. I looked straight ahead, airpods playing music in both my ears. I had thought better of the person he appeared to be. I had given him the benefit of the doubt as I came closer. He approached me from my left side and I was startled with a sudden kissing sound. It was disgusting and it took me a second to process what he was doing. Street harassment. Not the first time someone actually did anything of that sort to me, but this was different. Now I am older and I understand. This was a verbal act, similar to a catcall, but still the two cannot be compared in terms of the weight of their intended effects. My anger should have bursted through the roof then. But it did not. Instead I was just desperate to get away, so helpless, so upset. I called him expletives, and should have screamed “fire” because then someone would actually be willing to come out of their house to help. I should have threatened to call the police. Instead, I glared at him, fixed my gaze straight ahead, and needed to remove myself from the situation as fast as possible. You see if he had an accomplice or I was in a worse scenario, anger would have been so important to guarantee my safety. During the incident, I had anger, but I was more upset than anything.
I understood. Not immediately, but with time, anger was crucial, but anger towards oneself with no reason was crucially devastating. To understand what this means is to remember all the times you hurt someone else when you were angry with yourself, hurt yourself when you were angry with yourself, and felt as if the whole world wanted you to hurt and so you did. You hurt yourself more, when you believe you can’t be more than your current position. To connect anger and devastation means to remember and reflect the impacts of that anger, no matter how agonizing or right your situation was. Who made it happen? Who allowed it to happen? What could you or someone else have done to make it stop? Gaining awareness about how anger could be so rupturing to relationships towards yourself and others is capaciously vital.
There was another time when I was lying awake, up at night with a face caked in tears. What I was feeling in those moments was something I never want to repeat. On that night, on any night, being angry and falsely determined wasn’t going to solve anything. Shaking my fists and swearing I’ll be better than those who had put me down isn’t a comeback, it was a desperate cry for revenge. Rather than satisfaction, it left a humiliating and burning sensation in my body. I could taste the inferiority so dense—that so many of my loved ones had made me sustain—I wanted to escape. I yearned for sleep to steal my consciousness away. I desired immediate adulthood to completely scarf me down and take me anywhere else but where I was. I needed a savior. Little did I know, my savior laid in my thoughts, attitude, and outlook on life. It laid in compassion.
Anger is a gamble when you are not prudent with its risks. It is a scary weapon to wield, but sometimes it serves well in protecting ourselves.
But notablably anger is also a deadly weapon. Anger is protection, but anger is also power. Sometimes, it’s just a needless symbol of power and weakness all at the same time.
Power and anger goes hand in hand. Without power, anger cannot show. Because someone with more power will always silence you. And power can be abuse, or it can be love as James Baldwin says.
I am from a small city in a Chinese province, named Fuzhou, and there’s about eight million residents. Day by day, many young millennials trail out of the half-rural, half-urban region and emigrate to other places, whether it be to other provinces or to completely other countries. It is not that they no longer like the place, it is as though they wish to start a new life away from their homeland. I, too, don’t know if I’ll remain in New York as my adult years draw near. And like my parents, they were once those people trailing out one by one and ended up in America. But as you know with Guangdong and other provinces, there is a specific and distinct dialect spoken there. In China, there are 80 million speakers of Cantonese. As the old get older, and the young with their young blood leave—even slower perhaps due to a pulling reluctance, but nonetheless they still leave—the population dwindles. The older folks grasp on tightly to what they’re left with, their only means of communication with the outside world, yet still can’t keep up with the strangeness of this time. Perhaps their forgotten language has acted as the proof that they were indeed lagging behind, and amplified the estrangement with new generations.
In my case, my dialect would be Fuzhounese. According to statistics, “less than 50% of young people in Fuzhou are able to speak Fuchow dialect.” As someone who isn’t entirely strong with Mandarin, it is not surprising that my Fuzhounese is worse off than my Chinese.
For this reason, I cannot communicate intimately with my grandparents, and more times than not I feel the small feeling of inferiority creeping in. It is ironic that language, which is supposedly meant to bring people together, allows for people to sort of have the upper hand and provides discomfort instead. Perhaps what’s not important is a language exclusive to particular people, but rather, love, the universal language humans share holds more meaning.
Rather than dwelling in this fear and shame that I do not know how to speak my dialect, I focus on what I have instead. Love. I have love for myself. I will turn this fear into a skill, I will focus on patience, perseverance, and compassion in this journey, a motivation for learning my dialect would be for me and no one else.
Something I failed to notice perhaps around the people near me were their good traits. Commendable traits. But it didn’t last long, and it made all my good impressions fall down and I just couldn’t help but grimace at how low they had let me down.
There was that too. Anger stemmed from that.
Perhaps that anger warped into just as dangerous thoughts I had directed toward myself. Accusatory anger, and resentment to the point that I couldn’t even bear to speak to a person. I loathed my situation and I blamed the person who had made it happen. She offered no solution, was oblivious, or perhaps she was just invalidated by what she felt at her lowest.
There comes a time for criticism, but there must be a perfect balance between showing compassion and noting one’s flaws. Too much criticism and you carry anger throughout each day. Too much compassion and you’re just making excuses for yourself. There needs to be a perfect balance for growth.
After years, whether you’ve grown wiser and more sensible, and are in a dfferent place, would the majority of people still admonish themselves for being “so stupid, blind, naive?” Or would there be self-compassion shown? As Musa once said, “When we do forgive people in our lives, we’re not actually doing it for them. We’re not excusing their behavior or forgiving them and letting them kind of fully off the hook. We’re doing it for ourselves because we understand that there’s some sort of blockage there in our own ability to connect to things around us…”
For so many who have this self empathy ability already and those who don’t, were they unaware, aren’t able to do so, or really just can not release from the grips of their past? And what happens when they live with this anger, this fear, this bitterness that they could no longer regain control or function over their own lives?
Maybe I could never agree with my past actions now speaking from hindsight, but it means to understand. It means to look at each tree for a tree, and not an entire forest. Not the fact that I should have done this, but more so what made me do the things I did?
Looking at the bigger picture means to acknowledge that some spontaneous thoughts do not define you, as to what you did or didn’t do with them. It means to not put a villain label to anger, to imprudent anger, to blind anger, to a person who let anger get the best of them.
There comes a time for regret where that sudden burst of anger dawns on you, and makes you realize that maybe it wasn’t wrong nor was it right, but it certainly did get the best of you. And you aren’t wrong for feeling guilty afterwards, that doesn’t point towards your actions of being wrong, but guilt and embarrassment are just opportunities for moments to make a reflection.
These feelings, guilt and embarrassment are just those little rocks that hinder your tumble off the cliff. Yet these little rocks could also very much add to a slippery tumble, something that if you saw only the bad and wallowed in, it’d lead to more anger.
For everyone, what is this guilt and embarrassment that lives in them? And like envy, could it be something good too? Could it be happy embarrassment, the ones that would make you laugh and share the joke with many others and make you facepalm and reminisce? Would there be compassion hidden in this guilt?
Would these feelings manifest into not a sworn promise of what you won’t do next time, but instead, an understanding coming into active struggles of abstinence from what you had initially directed anger at. Furthermore, abstain from holding on to that anger. Because once again, no matter if the anger was right or wrong, there was an important amount of devastation done there.
You see the benefits and detriments of anger are all present, yet the bottom line is to always validate the anger that you feel, never swear that you will never do it again. If you do—the consequences may be more taxing than the offense itself—be understanding and also disagreeing, feel guilt and embarrassment and also feel compassion.
At the end of the day, anger is an aggressive eruption of fear and can be life-changing, it all depends on how you learn to manage it.
Anger is the double-edged sword, and forgiveness will be its sheath. That is the lesson I’ve gathered.
This was for a school assignment, more specifically ELA finals. The prompt of writing a personal narrative of when “anger got the best of you” was an incredibly mindful and inspiring experience. I wrote a personal reflection, looking back at times anger seized all control of me.
Tracy Wang is a 15-year-old who first discovered her zest for writing during her middle school years. Being the recipient of every wonderland books offered her, she's now decided to tell stories she's seen, stories that grew near to her heart, stories that inspired her and would inspire others, stories to call her own. Writing for her has always been a form of communication, either to others around her or to herself. It is a form of change, of healing and developing, of learning and indulging, and brings revolution. Motivated by show-not-tell, she believes writing accomplishes this.