Drinking the Kool Aid

photoThis has been a subject I have wanted to post about for months.


When people use the phrase” Drinking the Kool Aid ” , they are making a reference to the Jim Jones cult suicides that took place in Guyana in 1978 where followers knowingly drank poisoned Kool Aid. This tragically resulted in the death of over 900 people.I can vaguely remember this incident on the news.For me, being pretty young, it remains hazy along with Watergate, Patti Hearst,and the gas crisis.I can remember the atmosphere of what seemed to be tumultuous times.I can remember my mother saying how Nixon was a  “crook” ( she was a regestered Republican by the way) and how Patti Hearst was ” brainwashed” into her invovement with a bank robbery.As a kid, looking up to my parents and other adults, it made me feel like the world had gone crazy.I guess it had and still is.

Nowadays, when someone talks about drinking the Kool Aid, it’s means stepping over a line into some kind of collective insanity.It means being baptized, if you will, into a way of perceiving the unreasonable as completely acceptable.It means taking the plunge into “the new normal”.

After mentioning to a friend and co- worker about my facination with the Jim Jones incident, he turned me on to the Source Family Documentary.I didn’t know anything about this early 70’s California group so I was eager to check it out.With this bunch, there were no mass murders or heavy drugs.They preached the gospel of health food, yoga, and self awareness with some and marijuana sexual impropriety thrown in.I am sure people did feel disillusioned by it all but it lacked the gore and horror of the Manson Family, Waco, or Guyana.

It’s funny how when you mention something cult related, many act like, “Pfff, stupid people.I would never do anything like that.” It’s relatively rare to find anyone who has been closely involved in cult activity.The major consensus is that no one would ever find themselves in such a compromising situation unless they were completely guileless and naive.

Think again.

Something that really stuck in my mind about the Jim Jones,” People’s Temple ” was that they originally had an air of legitimacy.For one thing, they were very racially integrated, which was huge at that time.They were politically active and they were speaking to people’s concerns.Remember, this was during and right after the war in Vietnam, assasinations, and major social upheaval racially, sexually, and socially.

The Source Family was a outgrowth of Jim Baker’s( note Baker, not Bakker) hugely successful Source Family Restaurant on the Sunset Strip.Let’s face it, if anything speaks loudly, it’s money.This restaurant hosted many celebrities and was featured in restaurant trade magazines.

So where did it all go wrong?

I don’t know.Maybe abuse of power, egos, lack of integrity, any number of things.What really spoke to me, about the Jim Jones thing in particular, was how committed people in the group were to one another.It wasn’t all about the leader.This was their community.These were friends who may have had similar experiences, beliefs, goals, and ideas.They didn’t want to let their friends down.

Think about that.

Although being involved in bonafide cult activity may seem very remote to most of us, I believe we have all been involved in a group of well meaning individuals that have exhibited similar behavior.Think of the family that looks the other way at a loved one’s addiction and creates a whole support system and coping mechanism around that.The boss who bullies their employees by making unreasonable demands that everyone complies with in order to keep the job.Of course we see this in religious institutions but also in street gangs and organized crime.We even see it in friendships and intimate relationships.”Drinking the Kool Aid” means you are doing something that no one would even consider, even yourself, if they weren’t as closely involved as you are now.

Even if cult involvement seems a little off your radar,I am sure unhealthy behavior is something you are familiar with.In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it is commonplace.What constitutes unhealthy behavior anyway?

Here are a couple thoughts to ponder.Are you involved with people who are very insular and rarely interact outside their group? Can you introduce new ideas? Are they threatened by your personal growth? Do they allow for disagreement and/or dissent? Can you voice your concerns openly without fear of ridicule, intimidation, or shame? Can you choose to reduce contact with the individual or group harmoniously or will that create an incident?

One thing that bears mentioning is that group energy is very powerful.Unity and solidarity are wonderful things and we can benefit from being part of a group, community, partnership, or relationship.It is a means of protection and support.Not every family is 100% functional ( I wonder if there is such a thing ), not every job is a warm jovial place where are input is welcomed and applauded, and not every relationship is without a fear, jealousy, or suspition.We can’t be expected to ditch our family, job, and primary relationships just because they fail to meet our every expectation. Our government has problems but are we ready to overthrow it? Drinking the Kool Aid is a different matter,though.

When you ” drink the Kool Aid” so to speak, you have already shut down the internal warning system we all have that told you things were going terribly wrong.You already gave up the fight and stopped asking questions.You convinced yourself that you no longer had any choice.When the few survivors of the Guyana massacre were interviewed, they viewed it as more of a murder than suicide.Once the followers were that isolated and far from home,they were trapped.The question is, then, when did the real loss of power begin?

During times of uncertainty, people are more likely to give up some personal freedoms in exchange for a sense of security.This is nothing new.We see it today with the rise of radical religious fundamentalist groups.We hear it echoed on angry talk radio.They call for a quick solution to the ” problem” meanwhile the problem is us.I am always suspicious when I hear leadership talk in terms of ” us and them” as if the “them” are people we have nothing in common with. ” They ” are only vaguely human.

In Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way” she describes something closer to our everyday experience.She uses the term “crazymakers” to describe people who are master manipulators that create chaos and distraction in our lives that cause us to lose focus on our own pursuits.These are the one’s that call you for help when you are about to go on an important job interview or much needed vacation.They seem to have absolutely no regard for your valuable time and their timing seems impeccable.With crazymakers it is necessary and possible to set boundaries.It may take some re conditioning on our part and that responsibility lies with us.

You may ask,” why are you writing this? what does this mean to me?” I suppose this is a dilemma that I face daily.Crazymakers, so to speak, seem to be a mainstay in my life.I soon as I seperate from one there seems to be another waiting in the wings to take their place.Crazy people can be charismatic and inspiring as well as frustrating.If that were not the case, people would not follow them.We all have had that friend or loved one that was fun to be around and, perhaps, pushed us to do and be more than we thought was possible.Then again, they left us exhausted and sometimes angry.Today, I am more in touch with my own needs and personal convictions and have a easier time recognizing what my limitations are.I know when to say no.

Is it wrong to want to break with the rest of the world’s ideas in pursuit of a different kind of society? I don’t think so.I think there has to be a ponit you ask yourself,” is this what I signed up for?” If it goes against your core ideals and beliefs, it’s time to bow out while you still are in a position to do so.

In addition to hearing the term,” drinking the Kool Aid”, I also have heard the term,” I didn’t drink the Kool Aid “.

Translation :  I saw what was going on but I didn’t buy into it.

We can’t always stop the insanity  going on around us but we don’t have to invest ourselves in it.We can’t always prevent others from being beguiled by a magnetic, sometimes maniacal person or being burned as a result of a unsolvable conflict but we can protect ourselves.We can be a witness.We can be the voice of sanity.

So don’t pick up the poison, no matter what form it takes.It may be easier now than later.


Comments Off on Drinking the Kool Aid

Filed under emotion

Comments are closed.