musings, psychology

The trauma of sending and receiving “feedback”…

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.

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Ex, musings

Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man…

Every once in awhile, when the weather is rainy and dark and Bill is at home, we like to have a leisurely breakfast while listening to music. This morning, it was a live album I bought by the late Allen Toussaint. Released in 2013, Songbook is just Allen on his piano, playing wonderful music. Although I’ve been exposed to Allen Toussaint’s music all of my life, I never bothered to listen to him just by himself. The closest I came was in 2007, when Bill gave me The River in Reverse, an album Toussaint made with Elvis Costello the year after Hurricane Katrina wiped out Toussaint’s home and recording studio in New Orleans.

I loved The River in Reverse. We were living in Germany the first time when Bill presented it to me. In those days, I had an elliptical machine that I used sometimes in a futile attempt to burn fat. We set it up in the mother-in-law suite in our house, along with a TV and an old school stereo with a cassette and CD player. I think it also had a USB portal, but in those days, I wasn’t USB savvy. Anyway, even though I loved The River in Reverse, I never explored Allen Toussaint further until recently.

I have Keb’ Mo’ to thank for re-introducing me to Allen Toussaint. I recently purchased a second copy of his wonderful live album, The Hot Pink Blues. I already had that album from iTunes, but thanks to upgrading to Catalina, my music library is a bit fucked right now. I have a Bose speaker that works well with Amazon Music, so I’ve found that it’s easier to just buy another copy from Amazon of the albums I really love. Allen Toussaint’s Songbook was a suggestive sell… and I’d probably been drinking (I’m really great at “drunken downloads”). So I downloaded Songbook and it was the musical backdrop for us this morning after I listened to Allen’s thirteen minute version of “Southern Nights”. By the time he’d finished, I was a bit weepy. I had to share it with Bill, who also got verklempt listening to Allen Toussaint describe his childhood in Louisiana. Bill and I both come from rural southern roots, so the story he told resonated with us.

No story telling in this version, but you can hear Toussaint’s evocative piano playing. I compare it to Pat Conroy’s vivid writing style. Allen Toussaint doesn’t even have to sing. The piano playing tells the story. Bill is distantly related to the late Glen Campbell, too. Glen Campbell made “Southern Nights” a huge hit.

I was also made emotional by Toussaint’s lovely piano playing. Playing piano was effortless to him and, I could tell, making beautiful music was a passion and a joy for him. I was thinking about what a privilege it must be to have the power to make total strangers misty at the beauty of music you’ve made. I have had a few people cry when I’ve sung, but they’re mostly people who love me anyway. I never met Allen Toussaint when he was alive; I never made it to a single one of his shows. But listening to his music this morning felt very intimate. I could relate to where he’d been. He made me cry.

Allen Toussaint was fortunate enough to die at a “good age”… and he didn’t spend weeks sick and dying in a hospital bed. Instead, he played his last concert in Madrid, Spain, then died of a heart attack in his hotel room. He left behind a treasure trove of wonderful music that still makes people feel things and sometimes get a little weepy.

Bill and I love to sit around, drink wine, and listen to great music, especially when the weather sucks. We’ve had some great conversations this way. Fortunately, we have compatible tastes in music and he’s very open minded to hearing new things. He’s often told me I greatly expanded his musical repertoire, which was not an experience he had with his ex wife. She liked Top 40 and pop country, and ridiculed Bill for liking alternative and grunge music. She claimed he was just trying to be “hip”. Instead of being a unifying thing, music was something to fight over in their relationship.

Ex would use music to belittle Bill. She’d play songs as a means of showing what kind of man he should be. He can’t stand listening to “To Really Love a Woman” by Bryan Adams or “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow, because those were songs Ex ruined for him. Or she’d make up insulting lyrics to hit songs as a means of putting him down. It got to the point at which Bill would respond in kind. Like, when she’d sing “Never Gonna Get It” by EnVogue, he’d respond with “Really don’t want it.” Or he’d hum “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull when she was around.

I don’t think music should be used as a weapon. I love it too much to use it to hurt other people.

As we were talking over Allen Toussaint’s music this morning, the subject of conflict came up. Bill doesn’t like conflict, which has led him to a lot of trouble. Some of the problems he’s had come about due to not wanting to fight have been very serious. For instance, on the day he married his ex wife, he knew the marriage would fail. He had voices in his head telling him he shouldn’t marry her. They even fought on their wedding day. But instead of disappointing his ex wife by calling off the wedding, they married and spent almost ten rocky years together. It’s taken years to mostly undo the mess, which has affected a lot of innocent people.

As we were talking about how sometimes fighting is the right thing to do, I was suddenly reminded of a classic hit from 1979. Written by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler, “Coward of the County” was made famous by Kenny Rogers, who sang as if he was the uncle of a young man named Tommy whose father died in prison when he was ten years old. Tommy’s father told him not to get into trouble. He didn’t want his boy to die in prison. He made Tommy promise to “turn the other cheek” and avoid fights, even when he really wanted to knock the hell out of someone. Tommy faithfully honored his promise to his dad, and let others walk all over him. Everyone in the county called him “Yellow”.

Then one day, the “Gatlin boys” came calling. They assaulted and gang raped Tommy’s girlfriend, Becky. When Tommy found his love battered, bruised, and shattered by the three brothers’ brutality, he was torn between wanting to avenge Becky and stop people from calling him “Yellow”, and honor his promise to his father that he would stay out of trouble. Tommy makes up his mind, goes into town, and puts all three Gatlin brothers out of commission. It’s not clear if he used his fists or a firearm, nor do we know if the boys were killed or just knocked out cold. Then Tommy says that he’s always tried to walk away from trouble when he can. But sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.

A classic song… even though one of the songwriters supposedly had a feud with the legendary singing group, the Gatlin Brothers. The legend goes that songwriter Roger Bowling said, “Fuck you, Gatlin.” to Larry Gatlin when he congratulated Bowling for winning an award for one of Kenny Rogers’ other hits, “Lucille”. Interesting story.

I couldn’t resist playing it for Bill, who smirked and said, “It’s kind of a cheesy song.”

I disagree. It’s 40 years old and still resonates. As Bill pointed out, they made a movie out of it. There’s a lot of truth in the lyrics, too. Sometimes you have to get in a minor conflict now to avoid a major one later. It would have been better if Tommy could have been more assertive when he was younger. Maybe those Gatlin boys wouldn’t have had their way with Becky. Maybe Tommy wouldn’t have had to dispatch them in such a dramatic way. We wouldn’t have been left with such a classic song or story, either.

After listening to the song, Bill agreed it wasn’t so cheesy after all. Especially as we face down another week here in Germany.

We finished our coffee and Bill took Arran for a walk. Now he’s at AAFES looking for board games to play and a jigsaw puzzle for us to do today while he cooks a rib roast for dinner. I think it’s going to be one of those “easy like Sunday morning” days… even though “Easy” isn’t really a happy song, is it?

So glad I grew up in the 70s and 80s, even if it does mean I’m getting old.

It’s amazing how music can help you solve your problems. It relieves stress, lubricates conversation, makes you move, and even helps you cry when you need it. What a gift it is to have wonderful music to listen to on a rainy Sunday. I bought a bunch of stuff last night and this morning, so we’ll probably have some great conversations today.

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psychology

German style toxic passive aggression…

Part of the reason I moved my almost nine year old blog to a new site is an indirect consequence of passive aggression. It’s been on my mind lately, as Bill and I reflect on the four years we spent living near Stuttgart, dealing with the frankly toxic effects of people who refuse to clear the air in a direct way. It’s hard to live in a situation in which a person is obviously angry, but refuses to confront that anger constructively.

What is “passive aggression”.

Most people are passive aggressive sometimes. There are times when it doesn’t feel “safe” to be directly confrontational, so angry feelings are pushed beneath the surface. Sometimes, being passive aggressive is a matter of self-preservation. For instance, when I was growing up, I was often very angry with my father. However, I learned very early not to confront him directly, since it would often lead to painful physical and emotional consequences. So I would often seethe when he was around… anger festered, and I must admit, it’s still an issue today, almost five years after his death. In fact, I would even venture to guess that some of my problems stem from unresolved issues with my father, who often treated me with contempt and disdain. I was rarely allowed to address my issues with him and I almost never got validation when I did address them. The end result is that I have a lot of baggage and very little tolerance for people who show me disrespect.

I think “German” style passive aggression, is kind of different than “garden variety” passive aggression. I think it comes from German culture, which gives it a particularly nasty quality. I’ve noticed it a lot during this stint in Germany. This week, I read about two true crime cases that illustrate it quite well. The first case took place in Fischbach, a hamlet near Kaiserslautern. A lot of Americans live near there, since there is an Army installation close by. An American woman, now living in the United States, had rented out her house to other Americans. Prior to renting out her home, she hired gardener Bernhard Graumann to design a garden for her.

Evidently, the homeowner didn’t like Graumann’s work. They had a dispute. Graumann was angry enough that he booby trapped the woman’s carport with a log that had a bomb within it. The landlady moved back to the States before the trap harmed her. Fortunately, the trap was found before anyone else was hurt; presumably, that would have been the innocent American tenants who were living there. Police determined that if the log had detonated, it would have destroyed a wood stove. They detonated the explosive in a safe way, so no one was harmed. However, other people who had dealings with Graumann were not so lucky.

In Otterberg, a woman and her small child were injured by a similar device left to be discovered by an unlucky person. A 64 year old physician in Enkenbach-Alsenborn died last Friday when he touched a booby trap. Police believe that these incidents were also perpetrated by Graumann, who is now himself dead as of last Sunday. The cause of his death is currently unknown. Police are saying that Graumann purposely made these booby traps to deliberately hurt or kill people with whom he had issues. He’d leave them in places where they might or might not be discovered, completely taking his victims by surprise and injuring or even killing innocent people in the interim.

Police set up a hotline to find out if other people had problems with Graumann in personal or professional relationships. Sure enough, over 100 references have been recorded, some of which is information about Graumann’s life and some which regard personal conflicts people had with Graumann, a man many described as “withdrawn”. Graumann, who was 59 years old when he died and was a member of a medieval club where he worked with “black powder”, was married and had two grown children, one of whom is now a police officer. The son who is a cop is not working on this particular case.

The second case I read about is even more sinister. In the northern German city of SchloƟ Holte-Stukenbrock, a 23 year old man fell into a persistent vegetative state after ingesting high levels of mercury. Investigators were at a loss as they tried to determine how the man had fallen ill.

Another man, who had worked with the 23 year old on the same shift, also got sick and visited a doctor at least five times, complaining of mysterious symptoms. He was later found to have severe kidney damage. A third man, Klaus Radke, went to the police after several instances of noticing a brownish substance in his sandwich he’d brought from home. Hidden cameras were finally installed in the break room where these three men had worked. That’s when they discovered their colleague, Klaus O., was poisoning them.

Why was Klaus O. poisoning his co-workers’ food? Well, it wasn’t because he was necessarily angry with them personally. A psychiatrist who interviewed him explained that Klaus O. was “interested in watching the effects of poisons on his victims’ health”. Klaus O. had his own home lab, which included lead, cadmium and mercury. Klaus Radke, whose sharp eyes had noticed the “brownish substance” on his sandwiches, had brought one to the police for sampling. Lab tests discovered over 71,000 micrograms of lead within it. The police later discovered that Klaus O. had ordered more poisons online just before he was arrested. Investigators also found extremely high levels of mercury on the man’s property.

What caused Klaus O. to so callously harm his co-workers, with whom he’d apparently had no real or obvious conflicts? It’s hard to say definitively, although the court did hear testimony from Klaus O.’s estranged siblings and other family members. They described his upbringing, which was evidently traumatic and marred by poverty. Was this the reason why Klaus O. felt the need to strike out at innocent people by surreptitiously poisoning their food? Maybe… or maybe he’s just a sociopath who would have turned out this way regardless.

Many people are uncomfortable with openly expressing hostility. It’s as if being angry and expressing that emotion is some kind of sin. But anger is a very natural and normal emotion. Sometimes it’s even a motivating and constructive feeling. Bottling it up is unhealthy. On the other hand, expressing it can also be hurtful. I moved my blog, in part, because I was openly expressing anger that was making other people uncomfortable and they were confronting me in a way that was making the situation worse.

Germany is different than the United States is. Things are done by the book. I now live in a country where a person can be sued for verbally insulting another person and flipping someone the bird in traffic can lead to a very expensive fine. I am not German, so I don’t know what they learn when they are growing up in this society where it’s illegal to be insulting. However, knowing how challenging and frustrating life can be, particularly when you must deal with people with whom you don’t mesh, I can see how the habit of being passive aggressive could develop in a place where venting openly can lead to the courtroom. On the other hand, in the United States, expressing anger and engaging in conflict sometimes leads to violence. Here, people insist on civility… at least on the surface. In the United States, civility is less important and, I think, that sometimes leads to real tragedies.

I notice a lot of jokes about German passive aggression. In fact, just Googling it led me to this humorous blog post written by a fellow expat who has observed it. I have also noticed that Germans are also openly aggressive in some situations. If you do something that isn’t “right”, you can expect to be yelled at by someone. It’s happened to me more than once. This is a very “rules oriented” society, and people are very open about telling you when you’ve messed up. But if they stay angry with you, you might start noticing little subtle things that eventually become less subtle.

A good example of German passive aggression spotted in a public toilet. The sign requests that users not throw things on the floor and to use the toilet brush. The handwritten part beneath it requests that the people cleaning the toilets do something about the stench.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love living in Germany and I have developed a real affection for most German people. I’ve made friends here and there’s a lot to love about the German lifestyle. But I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the German style of passive aggression. I find it maddening.

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Uncategorized

Pardon me… I have nothing to say.

Actually, I have a lot to say, but I am feeling stifled, anxious, and paranoid right now. So instead of writing what’s on my mind, I’m going to think about where I’d rather be…

I’d like to be on a deserted beach right now, basking in the sun, as long as I was wearing plenty of sunscreen. I am lily white and burn easily.

I’d like to be in a mountain cabin of my very own, gazing at the trees and the vistas in the distance, hoping that no one drives a moped over the side of a cliff.

I’d like to be sitting on the back of a draft horse, carrying me through a peaceful forest in the springtime, watching the trees turn green and the flowers blossom.

I’d like to be among real friends, human or animal, who simply enjoy my company and accept me for who I am.

I’d like to be off the Internet, actually… I’m sorry I ever shared my thoughts and feelings with anyone. I feel violated, insecure, and angry… like I’m the crazy one, even though I know I’m not.

I truly hate it when there’s conflict. It’s a relic from my past. I dread the idea of engaging in battles with other people. I prefer to simply vent my spleen and move on. I have spent too much time fighting with other people– people I actually love and value relationships with. Part of me would really just like to plan a vacation.

And yet… I feel like letting this go and not saying or doing something is a license for the egregious abuse to continue.

I worry that my words will be used against me, even though I know I’ve been truthful.

But most of all… I feel like I simply need to be away from people, with the exception of Bill, who is always welcome in my sphere.


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