Want to Join a Cult?

What does it take to start a cult? What does it take to join a cult? Both of these questions are extremely interesting because they try to get at the heart of human behavior. We are social creatures who crave acceptance – sometimes this acceptance leads people to believe in bizarre things. For example, take the Mormon cult leader Warren Jeff who controls a group of fundamentalists from prison – even after being charged with sexually assaulting children and having 70 wives.

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How about one of the most famous cult leaders of all time – Jim Jones. Jones led a group of over 900 people to Guayana, South America to start their own socialist colony. This socialist experiment in Jonestown quickly turned into a horror movie after Jones convinced everyone to commit mass suicide. I am amazed at the ability of cult leaders to have total power over their followers; I barely can keep my chihuahua from peeing on the carpet. To better understand the birth, growth, and death of Jim Jones, I read The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn. This book is exceptional and really helps the reader understand the evil of Jim Jones. Jones was a charismatic leader who never backed down and desired complete control. Unfortunately, these traits were mixed with just enough moral ambiguity that followers thought they were being led to the promised land rather than their gravesite.

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Jim Jones was born on May 31, 1931, in a small Indiana town. He was raised by an eccentric mother who defied conservative social norms with her independent attitude, beliefs in reincarnation, and prickly personality. Jones’ father was a WWI vet who could not work because of his disabilities and who had no energy to raise an energetic boy. Jones was a loner and soon began to stand out from the other boys with his religiousness. On any given Sunday, he would go to several services, not to praise God, but to understand what preaching style worked best to energize congregants. By the time he finished high school, Jones was working at a hospital where he would eventually meet his future wife, Marceline Baldwin (not pictured below).

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Jones and his wife would quickly move to Indianapolis where Jones attended some college and preached at evangelical-tent events. Jones would eventually establish the Peoples Temple in the mid-1950s – a church that trumpeted racial integration, socialism, and community action. It was at the Peoples Temple that Jones discovered the power of deception by performing false healings and false prophecy; he would many times walk around the congregation with rotted chicken offal claiming it was cancer just removed from a member. Jones quickly gained followers from all walks of life who appreciated his message of social equality and marveled at his God-like abilities. Jones would eventually move this congregation to Northern California using the tool of fear – he claimed that there would be a nuclear holocaust in the Mid-West and that they were no longer safe.

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It was in Northern California that the Peoples Temple morphed from an eccentric Christian church to a full-blown cult. Jone’s began to have his members live communally and give large portions of their paychecks to the “socialist” cause. With greater wealth, Jone’s was able to expand his ministry and garner even more membership. Jone’s quickly began to stretch himself too thin and eventually, he began to take painkillers and amphetamines. His drug use made him more erratic and power-hungry – he would gradually start asking for sex from his female congregants. This sex was supposedly meant to lift up the women, and few members resisted; he would even have sex with several male members asking some if they wanted to be “fucked in the ass” after church meetings. This “uplifting” sex gave Jones greater control which eventually expanded to increased paranoia. Staged assassination attempts led his followers to believe that the FBI, CIA, and Fascists were after their happy community.

[Jim Jones, Peoples Temple Church Services]

The Peoples Temple morphed into a military compound with several members patrolling the grounds with firearms. This paranoia and the fear of nuclear holocaust led Jones to found Jonestown in Guayana. Jonestown was meant to be a sanctuary, but it actually represented the apex of Jone’s control over his members. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to investigate Jonestown which led to him being attacked by a Temple member – Ryan escaped with 15 of Jone’s followers. Jones, in all his paranoia, told his members that the government would soon come to torture them and convert the children to fascism – to prevent this from happening everyone had to commit suicide. 909 people, including Jones and his wife, died from cyanide in the mass suicide – 304 were children.

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So how did Jone’s get 909 people to commit suicide? It began with his ability to twist the truth so that the majority of his followers believed he had special powers – all while an elite inner circle assisted with these deceptions. Why did the inner circle help him? Because they often believed in his message of social change and felt powerful being in the graces of such an influential leader. Most of the congregation was made up of poor-uneducated members who were entirely dependent on Jones for their jobs, housing, and food.

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It was hard to leave the cult because Jone’s would actively prevent dissenters and it was easy to rationalize that he was telling the truth – “If there are lawyers, teachers, and businessmen following him, then he must be the real deal.” Finally, Jones was an expert at fear which he used as a tool to further separate followers from leaving the Temple. All these things mixed to create a twisted peer pressure that propagated infidelity, drug use, bullying, harassment, corrupt morals, and eventually death. We need to study these things because there are cults today and leaders who use the same principles. Be wary of half-truths and always seek knowledge so that this particular past will never be repeated.

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Is 27 Old?

Today’s my wife’s birthday and she is turning 27 years old. The last few days have been interesting because she has been obsessed with health documentaries on Netflix. Along with the documentaries, I started to notice her piqued face during wrinkle-cream commercials. My wife is like a small-skittish bird that needs to be closely observed in her natural habitat. I started to put the pieces together and put on my explorer cap – diving into the quagmire of the female brain – I discovered that she feels OLD. To better understand this thought, I tried to step into her shoes. The world as a woman sucks – plain and simple. Men have it easy for a million reasons. Men never have to worry about wrinkles. No man ever put on wrinkle cream. Most men embrace their wrinkles as a badge of honor, “I like those forehead wrinkles…you look like Clint Eastwood.” The same goes for the gut. The gut on men is standard practice and usually denotes some state of maturity. When a guy doesn’t have a gut you usually wonder if he is sick or has cancer. Men also don’t have to put on makeup or do weird things to their hair. I literally wake up 15 minutes before work, brush my teeth, comb my hair, and slither into my car half asleep. Christina’s morning routine is similar to the preparation needed for Good Morning America. There are lights, fans, and I swear ten people in the bathroom getting her ready for over an hour. Men also don’t have periods, don’t have babies, and don’t have to wear bras.

Society is too harsh on women. When I watch TV there are so many commercials of beautiful women advertising some “must need” product. Do you have split ends? You might as well be Chewbacca. Is your moisture barrier crap? You might as well be a human lizard? Are you five pounds overweight? You might as well be on My 600 Pound Life. Marketers are very good at making up products for women to buy. Does anyone really like whitened teeth? Who in their right mind is comparing the brightness of their teeth to a napkin? All of these social pressures make for a bittersweet birthday experience. Christina is not old and shouldn’t feel like her beauty is diminishing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I think my wife is sexier than ever. If you are a woman, please take a moment to give yourself a compliment. Don’t focus on the negatives because you want to know the most attractive trait? Confidence. There is nothing sexier than a woman who owns her age, her body, and her personality. To all my women readers, I’m going to tell you a secret about men. We don’t care about split ends, arm fat, black heads, or even wrinkles. In respects to sexual arousal, men care about the big picture – boobs and butt. In respects to general attraction, men care about confidence and personality. Just be you and don’t let society push you around. Once you embrace your true strengths you will never dread another birthday again – or even a wrinkle.

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The Myths of Happiness

Once upon a time, an old farmer lived in a poor country village. His neighbors considered him well-to-do because he owned a horse, which he used for many years to work his crops. One day his beloved horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors gathered to commiserate with him. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically, “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors rejoiced. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors visited the farmer to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” said the farmer. The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the farmer’s son had a broken leg, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” the farmer replied.

This insightful story is from the most recent book I read, Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t-What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does by Sonja Lyubomirsky. The farmer is wise in the fact that he doesn’t presume an outcome to be positive or negative. This is extremely insightful because we are more times the “neighbors” who are quick to congratulate or commiserate. How can be go through life and know whether future events will bring happiness or dismay? We are not fortune tellers, but we can learn from those who have gone before us and experienced similar events first hand. Let’s go through some key life events and figure out what will and will not make us happy.

I will be happy when I find Mr/Mrs. Right-When you begin a relationship with a partner, who you see as your perfect match, the passion can be described as unworldly. Everyday is magical, sex is incredible, conversations endless, and compliments bountiful. This of course fades with time; fast forward into a busy marriage and you may find yourself bored of your partner and wondering why you even got married. This is called hedonic adaptation which is the process of us getting use to things overtime. This occurs in relationships because we remain with the same partner who presents us similar stimulus on a daily basis. How can we fight hedonic adaptation and keep our relationships strong and happy? Change up the stimulus: try a new sex position, go to a new restaurant, give out a compliment, write a note, spend a weekend apart, etc. Give your relationship a buffet of stimuli to maximize the variety.

I will be happy when I obtain (fill in the blank)-In our consumer culture we are told that obtaining a certain amount of money, status, or power will bring us happiness. Money can buy happiness but only to a certain degree. Once we have food, shelter, heat, and safety (including health insurance) we derive minimal happiness from additional monetary funds. The additional money we earn frequently used to increase our luxuries which we become accustomed to overtime through hedonic adaptation. For example, my wife and I bought a house; in the first month we were on cloud nine but we soon got use to our surroundings and our happiness returned to normal levels. This happiness myth also applies to obtaining titles or promotions. The initial feelings we have after achieving new status is soon adapted to and often times replaced by unhappiness related to new stresses and unforeseen responsibilities.

I can’t be happy when the test results come back positive-Our predictions of the future are very inaccurate because we tend to only focus on the positives when we desire something and the negatives when we don’t want something. For example, when I think about going on my vacation I imagine the sun and relaxation but not the stressful travel and overpriced services. Conversely, when I think about having cancer I imagine vomiting from chemo but not celebrating holidays or listening to good music. We have a strong psychological immune system that tempers negative situations and allows us to be more optimistic than we thought possible. Adults who became blind were reported to have the same happiness after one year compared to when they weren’t blind. Time heals all things and terrible events are not so terrible because life is made up of many small happy events: having dinner with friends, seeing a full moon, reading a good book, etc. If the test result is positive, know that your post-tragedy happiness will in short be similar to your pre-tragedy happiness.

As you can see, happiness comes in many different forms and what we think will make us happy or unhappy is not always the case. To foster the most happiness we need to be conscious of the small things that bring us pleasure. I love yoga, coffee, conversations, reading, and tv shows; deliberate appreciation of these things makes my baseline happiness high. If those things that make me happy start to not make me happy then I take a break and come back to them-this is done to ameliorate hedonic apadtation. Lifelong happiness can be obtained if we understand our adaptability to both the positive and negative outcomes in life-when thinking about present and future events say to yourself “May be.”

 

Worry Wart-Remover

Have you ever been called a “Worry Wart?” I have on several occasions and throughout my life my worries have grown. As an adult there are a million things to contend with which can induce worries: paying the bills, keeping up with health, climbing the social ladder, maintenance of relationships, etc. Then there are the irrational worries that are usually propagated from movies or news: flesh eating diseases, serial rapists hiding in the bushes, razor blades in candy, movie theater shootings, sex-slave kidnappings etc. And to my luck, I live in Flint, so now I get to worry about consuming toxic water whenever I turn the tap on. So suffice to say, we must grapple with our worrisome thoughts everyday. How can we let go of our worries? To be truthful I don’t completely know but there are a few key things that help me get through storms of mental despair.

  1. Prayer: Release your worries to God because He has your back. Talking to the big man upstairs is not only therapeutic but strengthens your spiritual relationship. I know this the Sunday School answer but it really will lift a weight off your chest. You don’t have to formally pray or say anything at all-just clear your head and notice God’s presence. You’re not alone. We didn’t worry nearly as much when we were children; be a child in God’s presence and know He understands the big picture.
  2. Yoga: I’m a huge fan of Yoga because it forces you to be mindful of the present. Yoga is not meant to be some ab-shaping-calorie-scorching workout, it’s meant to bring you more in tune with your inner self. My favorite instructor is Tommy Rosen and he focuses on breathing throughout all the movements. When you learn how to breath you learn how to listen to yourself. Your true self is constantly being bombarded by outside influences that many times create negativity and anxiety. That may sound like a bunch of hippy crap but I promise if you practice mindful meditation/yoga you will make it priority in your daily life.
  3. Watch a TV series: I love well made TV shows: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, The Wire, Mr. Robot, etc. There are so many great series on TV right now that you can find the perfect show that fits your personality. Why would a TV series reduce worries? One word-Flow. When you get into a show you forget your worries and enter into the emotions of the characters. For a short moment you aren’t focused on your worries but rather the story unfolding in front of you. Of course, any flow experience is good but I like series for reducing worries because my problems are nominal compared to my beloved fictional characters. Walter White’s worries of selling meth to pay for his cancer treatment trumps my worries of not having pooped in the last two days.

These are three tangible things that you can practice in your life that will help reduce your worries. I love this quote…

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Let us let go of our worries by seeking God, being more mindful of the present, and realizing that our worries really aren’t that big of a deal in respects to the big picture. Your thoughts can make your life like heaven or hell. It’s all up to you, your thoughts are your own-what will you choose?

Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.

Psalm 50:15 NLT

How to be a Supersurvivor

Everyone has heard of people overcoming adversity and becoming stronger because of their hardships. Some of these people are known as “Supersurvivors”-essentially someone who had life crap on them but then went on to do ridiculously awesome things. One example of a super survivor would be Alan Lock, who became the first blind person to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean (taking 86 days to complete). Alan was not born blind but was born with macular degeneration which took his sight at the age of 25. Could you imagine going blind after 25 years of beautiful sight? I would be extremely depressed and probably would commence a slow suicide through constant ice cream consumption.  Lock’s feats and countless other examples of Supersurvivors are hard to comprehend. It takes unique skills and resources to not just overcome tragedy but come out better than before. So what is the secret? There are three things that I learned from Supersurvivors: The Surprising Like Between Suffering and Success by David Feldman.

  1. Have a grounded hope-be optimistic but realistic. Have confidence in your future but base that on what factors you can best control. For example, Lock knew he would never get his eyesight back (realistic) but he knew that he could use other skills to accomplish great feats in the future (row 3,000 miles).
  2. How you feel in the moment is not how you will feel in the future. The news of having cancer is awful but most people will tell you that soon afterwards they regained their pre-cancer levels of happiness. Humans are resilient and the more we are conscious of this resilience the more we can plan to do great things.
  3. Surround yourself with people who don’t enable you. Don’t gravitate towards complainers who will make your crappy condition worse. People who truly love you will encourage and push you to be a better version of your self. Iron sharpens iron, everyone needs a great team to be a Supersurvivor.

Of course we do not all need to be Supersurvivors  but it is nice to know that we all have the potential to do great things no matter the situation. I need to always remind myself that I am not above the statistics. I am just as likely to get cancer, die in a car accident, or be faced with an adversity as everyone else. Knowing this makes me feel more vulnerable but it also helps me appreciate my blessings. It is easy to assume that we will all live to 95 and die in our sleep but that assumption is actually a bad one. If we are unrealistic about our fragility then we are more likely to delay life goals, be absent minded, and hold off that phone call to a loved one. Live your life in the now because we are all delicate beings in a unknown world. Don’t be sad about your fragility, use it as a catalyst to be a Supersurvivor and dominate whatever comes your way.

The Blessing of Disease

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Is having a disease a blessing? That is a very counter-intuitive question but I have been thinking about this very idea while reading More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life’s Ultimate Lesson by Neil Cavuto. This book profiles several different successful individuals who overcame cancer, MS, and paralysis to lead fulfilling lives. These individuals focused their efforts on helping others and their families instead of solely seeking financial gain in their careers. They did this by starting charities, being public spokespeople for disease awareness, and trying to change government policies for the benefit of societies’ disadvantaged. Without their personal struggles with serious medical ailments they would have never led a life that was focused on fostering relationships and helping other people. It is this fact that makes me think that having a disease can be looked at as a blessing. Of course, having a life threatening disease can be extremely painful, isolating, debilitating, and a host of negative adjectives that are far from any semblance of the word “blessing.” However, through the suffering and pain, I see more times than not stories of people appreciating their lives and families more than when they were previously healthy. The onset of illness many times makes people stop and think about what is truly important in life: they may not skip out on talking with their kids instead of emailing, they may go on that trip that they have always been putting off, they may tell the ones they love that they “appreciate them with all their heart.”

A life well lived cannot be measured quantitatively. A life well lived is the sum of qualitative experiences that are completely independent of a person’s age. If you have a disease, cancer, or a debilitation do not look at it as a negative. You have the first-hand knowledge of life’s unpredictability and hence the power to take advantage of all the opportunities still accorded to you. If you are healthy then try your best to look at life with the lens of someone with a disease. Think about what is most important and truly take advantage of your health while you still have it. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Suffering can change our perspective on life and really make us examine what is worth doing while on this Earth. If you don’t examine your life and live it in the best way possible then you are throwing away your blessings and in my opinion you are worse off than having any possible disease. I am not wishing disease upon myself or anyone for that matter but I am encouraging you to think about how suffering is not always a negative and how we can take advantage of any situation. The cliché saying is to live like there is no tomorrow. There is merit to this but it is not realistic because most of the time there is a tomorrow. I would say for those who are healthy live like you will die in the next 5 years. This way you can still keep some financial balance while not pushing off all your hopes and dreams. For those who will not make it to the next five years I want to reemphasize that you can “live” more in those five years than most people will “live” in an entire lifetime. 

To end this post I recommend this inspirational video that profiles how a disease can truly be a blessing in disguise.

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