Some Things Are Best Left on Your Chest

Did my coworker deserve my wrath? Yes, but I still feel terrible about it.

Yesterday I got up, took a cold shower, did a little yoga, put on nice clothes, had a healthy breakfast and two cups of tea, and then I fucking went off on this guy that works in my office. I work in a co-office, and this guy has a loud voice and loves speakerphone like it’s 1994. While I have complained before, I have never gone off. Today, I changed that.

I really went off on him. I think I was shouting at him for about two straight minutes. I don’t think I swore. I did make some threats. What else did I do? So hard to remember. It all went by so fast. OK, I think what I did was list what this person was doing wrong, express my indignation at his refusal or inability — who knows which — to imagine that his behavior deserved censure and then I made some threats. Oh, and then he used the word "vent."

“You can vent at me all you want,” he said.

This was an unwise choice on his part. I was not venting. I was expressing anger. And I was expressing this anger because I have told this person before that I don’t enjoy his behavior and this person has never adjusted his behavior nor even addressed the fact that it upsets me. Under those circumstances, I don’t think being angry is venting. It’s just called being angry. And people need to expect that if you’ve spoken to them once, twice, eighteen times politely about something, and they have done nothing to engage you about this or to let you know in any way that they have heard you, you’re going to get angry at them. It’s just what happens.

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So, anyway, there we were, post threats, and then, post accusations of venting. Which is when I really got mad. And then I went off some more. And I was in the right. I was in the right all over the place. That was all fine. The problem is that afterward I just didn’t feel very good.

I had an anger hangover. I feel like that is an incredibly cheesy term. I am embarrassed to have used it. But there’s no other way to describe how I felt. Adrenaline had built up in my system and I had to wait for it to subside and until it did, I wouldn’t feel right.

I thought about this quote: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

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I have actually said that to people before. They must have been so annoyed. (I said it to myself then and thought, unhelpfully, that even the fantasy that I could cause harm to this person is gratifying enough.) Then there’s this one: “Being angry is like holding on to a hot coal, while you’re waiting to throw it at someone you’re the one getting burned.” Again, that didn’t really work for me. I would take the burn for the pleasure of the throwing.

Those were the only quotes about anger I knew offhand. Googling “quotes about anger” was instructive. Almost right away I found one that expressed exactly the degree to which what happened made me feel good and then, quickly made me feel bad: “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

That was exactly it. I was so fully and painfully regretting how articulate I was. The thing is that this guy that I went off on, yeah, I don’t like what he does and I want him to stop and I think he should. And yes, I definitely needed to take practical steps to see if I could get him to either stop what he’s doing (this seems unlikely because he doesn’t seem to think screaming on speakerphone in a crowded office is bad) or to see that I no longer interact with him.

But the whole tirade that was so gratifying at the time, I remembered later as if it were a bad dream. I thought about all the things I said, about how people should treat people, about accountability, about what a community is. And I thought about how on a daily basis, I could have directed this speech at just about any person who disappointed me and about how (and I’d like to think this is just a matter of proximity) the person who disappoints me most on a daily basis is me. And while he was an excellent and perhaps even deserving target of my speech, the fact that this was all so ready to come jumping off my tongue — the outrage, the shock, the offense — suggests that I was just sort of waiting around for an occasion to articulate the depth of my disappointment with the way the world just is, with the way I am, with the inevitable outcome of contact with other humans.

Again, I’m not saying that this guy’s behavior shouldn’t have consequences. I’m just saying that it’s kind of fishy that even though there are steps I could take — rather dry, flavorless steps — to eradicate this person from my life, I still made the self-righteous speech. I must have really wanted to make a self-righteous speech.

What if I had just gone into this guy’s office and said, “I’m going to talk to everyone here about making some rules regarding noise here. I just wanted to let you know.” And if he went off on me, I would just repeat that. Which of course would be its own form of cruelty. But seriously. What if I hadn’t been so good at telling him everything that sucked about him, and, more broadly, that sucked about everyone, including myself? It might have been a less exciting day. There may have been a little less justice ringing in the air. But it might have been more pleasant. As it turns out, I don’t know if I really needed to hear myself being so right, for such a long time.

Tags: memoirs

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