Frustration and empathy are conflicting
If I have to read the words ‘in these trying times’ one more time, I swear I’ll vomit
One emotion I was not expecting during this pandemic was frustration. Anger, sadness, loneliness, yes, but not frustration. It seems pointless to be frustrated with anything when the stakes are so clearly life-and-death. But here we are, the last issue of the semester, and I have felt nothing but frustration for the past 60 hours. At the same time, extending empathy to those who are struggling used to be something I defaulted to and something I championed to others.
Someone flaked on a meeting? Maybe consider something terrible came up and they didn’t have time to let you know. Someone didn’t really pitch in on a group project? Maybe they’re having a really hard time right now. There’s always an explanation if you’re willing to look for it. But I’m at a balance point.
One source of my aggravation is definitely the MIT administration. When Housing and Residential Services pushed back dorm assignments four days and then five more weeks, how were undergraduates supposed to feel? Grateful that they were finally realizing that three thousand students could not possibly fit on campus safely? Or understanding of the fact that, after Sloan’s master’s students got their classes canceled twice, we were still the ones viewed as young and immature?
I don’t blame them for having to make the hard decisions. I definitely don’t envy them, either. There’s no good solution, and no matter what they decide, there will be angry students, or worse, sick students. I just wish it wouldn’t take so long to reach a decision. Because after all, they gave us three days to move out and less than two weeks to decide on a cohort with which to live for all of spring semester. Waiting for an announcement when you don’t even know if it’s coming is like waiting on Pi Day without knowing if MIT had even bothered to respond to your application. But then again, MIT has a reputation of sticking to its plans, which is why each decision has to be deliberated for so long.
Another source of frustration comes from the class that I TA this semester. I started this semester so confident that I could be understanding of students’ situations and do anything I could to help them succeed. What I didn’t realize is that sometimes trying your best isn’t anywhere close to enough. Particularly when I read regrade requests that accuse us of not reading answers or being too harsh, or nitpick our responses to invalidate a job 95% well done. But I can’t be frustrated with the students who seem to hate me, because I know exactly what it’s like taking classes online in my childhood bedroom, and it sucks. I learned this semester, as so many of my teachers have expressed to me in the past, I love teaching and I hate grading.
I’ve been feeling the same flip-flop with myself, too. With the last few days of the semester coming up and innumerable tasks that I have yet to complete, I’m angry that I so easily turn towards social media when I should be working or fall asleep when I mean to pull an all-nighter. Even now, as I write this article two days late and at 4:30 a.m., I haven’t finished what I wanted to finish before I go to sleep. We’re told to be gentle with ourselves because of the pandemic, but it’s so hard to feel empathy for a person I know could be doing so much better if only I tried harder. I know exactly the ways in which I let myself procrastinate, and yet I can’t stop myself from doing so. The complete lack of willpower is infuriating, and I don’t even know if it will come back once the pandemic is under control.
But is it necessarily bad to feel frustration? Should I always give everyone the benefit of the doubt? (I have been told no.) Being upset with a situation shouldn’t prevent me from recognizing that it’s difficult for everyone in any predicament. But finding the balance is definitely a work in progress.