This morning, I’m thinking about the word “feedback” and how much I dread hearing it. One would think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to get feedback. Feedback doesn’t necessarily have to be positive or negative. It’s just information about how someone is doing.
I had to give someone negative feedback last night. I didn’t enjoy doing it. I don’t like to confront people, even when it’s sometimes necessary. I would prefer people to have common sense and basic respect for others. Unfortunately, some people don’t see the big picture and need to be called out. I woke up at 4:30am and that conflict from last night was the first thing I thought of.
Then I remember myself, back in 1996, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The director of training for the 1996 Volunteers was a guy I’ll call Don (not his real name). For some reason, Don didn’t like me. I don’t know exactly why he didn’t like me. Somehow, I managed to step on his toes. And one day, he said, “I need to give you some ‘feedback’.” Then, he proceeded to tell me off in a way that was very humiliating and upsetting. At that time in my life, I was not really equipped to take his comments with a grain of salt. I felt personally attacked and pretty worthless when he was finished with me.
I have never forgotten that word, “feedback”, ever since that day in 1996. That was a period in my Peace Corps service when it felt like everything was falling apart. I was trying to do the right things, but lacked the assertiveness and confidence to make valued contributions. I was not a “go getter”, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was pretty hampered by depression and anxiety. So although I really did want to do something good and useful, my attempts were a bit bumbling. I seriously thought about quitting my service because I felt useless.
Looking back on that time, I feel anger for 24 year old me. I wish I’d had the maturity and the backbone to stand up to Don and give him some feedback of my own. I had mostly forgotten about Don until a few weeks ago, when my former colleague, Matt, suddenly passed away after having been hit by a car in Brooklyn. It so happens that there’s a Facebook group for former Armenia PCVs. I sent a request to join, but when no one accepted me hours later, I decided to withdraw my request. I figured I wasn’t welcome there. And then I noticed that Don was one of the admins. I also remembered that Matt had once, quite explicitly, told me that Don didn’t like me.
Those old feelings rushed back when I saw his name and I realized I didn’t really want to connect with him, or some of the other people from that time in my life. Obviously, I didn’t fit in back then, and maybe I don’t fit in now. I don’t seem to fit in most places… even in groups I actually run!
Case in point… In 2017, when we still lived in Stuttgart, I started a food and wine Facebook group. I did so because, at that time, there weren’t any groups for that specific interest in the Stuttgart military community, even though they had groups for just about everything else. Back then, it was easy to go to different restaurants and gourmet stores. Bill and I did so most weekends and I would write about our experiences in my travel blog, which got to be somewhat popular.
When I first started that group, it was pretty active and useful. But then in late 2018, we had to move to Wiesbaden. I didn’t want to close the group because I had friends in it, and at that point, I thought we’d be visiting Stuttgart somewhat often. I predicted at least twice yearly visits to see the dentist. But then the pandemic struck, and we weren’t able to travel so much or dine out… and the group became a bit stagnant, even though we were doing a lot of drinking.
There’s a woman in my group who claims to be a wine expert. She started a group in Stuttgart, but remains a member of my group. She often directs people in my group to join her group, and organizes wine sales, which she freely advertises in my group. I mostly have been pretty laid back about moderating my group because I don’t like it when people micromanage others, especially on social media. Besides, I don’t have a problem with people involved with food and wine sharing information about things like wine sales. But a situation came up last night and I found myself offering some feedback. It made me feel uncomfortable, even though I felt compelled to speak up.
A woman in the group I run asked about restaurant recommendations in Stuttgart. The two places she asked about are places I’ve been. I offered my opinions. Next thing I know, the leader of the other group was pimping her “foodie” group in my group– telling the person who had asked about restaurants that she should join her competing group for more “relevant” help. It wasn’t the first time she’d made a comment that was kind of critical about my group. One time, someone asked about wine shops and she asked what city they were in, adding that the fact that my group addressed two cities made things “confusing”. That struck me as disrespectful and rude, because there was no reason why the “wine expert” couldn’t just act like a member of the group and simply answer the question without publicly directing the person to join the group that SHE runs, or simply appreciating the unique features of my group.
I didn’t really want to call her out and offer any “feedback”. I don’t enjoy conflicts, and really just want my group to be a place where people can relax and share information without any drama. But I guess she just touched a nerve… that “disrespect nerve” that so many people seem to hit, where they act in an inconsiderate or tacky way toward me and I’m expected to just shut up and color. So I very directly asked her not to “pimp” her group in my group. She came back with an “explanation” as to why her answer wasn’t disrespectful to me and then invited me to join her group, which she has done before. She didn’t even really acknowledge how she came across to me, but instead kind of “gaslit” me, explaining that what I can see– plain as day– isn’t what I’m actually seeing.
I don’t want to be in her group. I have a lot of reasons for not wanting to join. The main one is that I lived in Stuttgart for four years and I saw how the groups were down there. There is a different dynamic in that community… lots of young people from different military branches. There are TONS of Facebook groups in Stuttgart and, in my experience, they get very “high school” in a hurry. Some people get on power trips and some people really enjoy stirring up shit. I was overly involved in the Stuttgart groups back when I lived down there. They caused me a lot of stress and drama, which would inevitably get me into trouble. I’d always want to process the stress by writing about it, which invariably upset some people in the community. Up here in Wiesbaden, I don’t have a need to do that because: 1. there aren’t so many groups up here 2. I know very few people in this area and 3. I’m only a member of one other group in Wiesbaden besides the one I run. So I don’t run into the high school bullshit that often erupts in military centric Facebook groups, and it’s been nice.
Another reason I don’t want to join is because being in her group would make my group kind of redundant. But maybe that’s her plan. I’m not really interested in competing with anyone… but I do think it’s very inconsiderate to promote other groups within a group, especially when there’s no need or request for it. There’s no reason why people in my group can’t respond to that question about Stuttgart without having to be publicly directed to go to another source. The least she could have done was send the person a PM rather than blatantly advertising her group. It’s like going to a McDonald’s and telling everyone in line to visit the Burger King next door.
The original poster came back and explained that she’s going to be leaving soon, and wasn’t interested in joining another group. But just now, the “wine expert” left a comment about another group in my group. I just left her a stern comment letting her know that I wasn’t going to ask her again. Next time, I think I’ll just remove her and spare myself the stress.
My hands are actually shaking right now… because I feel like maybe this shouldn’t be a big deal. I don’t want to be “territorial”, especially on social media. But it obviously is a big deal to me, because my knickers are legitimately in a twist. I don’t want to be a micromanager, but I also don’t appreciate being trampled. I made it pretty plain that promoting the other group isn’t cool with me, but she completely ignored what I said.
Maybe it’s time I retired that group and moved on to other things. I can still visit places and write about them, and the legitimately interested can read about them. Or maybe I just need to remove her and let anyone who wants to follow her vote with their feet. I don’t know. But I feel kind of nervous and sick to my stomach, the same way I felt when I got “feedback” from Don, even though I am the one offering feedback this time. Being assertive is hard for me.