I hope all of you are doing o.k. in the midst of this madness. My family and I were not downtown for the marathon and we live outside the city; I do know people who were either at the finish line or blocks away when the bombs went off. Thankfully, none were injured physically. I have dear friends who endured the lock down in Boston, Watertown and Cambridge. Needless to say, if you live in Boston and surrounding areas you were affected personally. I hope all of you and your loved ones are safe and sound.
I have been thinking about veering off the the path of “school” to write about this event. Then a couple of messages made me realize that I don’t have to veer off the path of “school” to write about it. First a fellow escapee sent out this interview with cult expert, Steve Hassan of FreedomofMind.com: How Fast Can Someone Be Radicalized
The interview centers around why a seemingly well-adjusted 19-year-old would transform from honors student, successful athlete and all-around popular young man to jihadist. Hassan addresses this question through the lens of Islamist radicalism as cult. He parallels it to his personal recruitment into the Moonies at 19 when, for a while, he swallowed that cult’s ideology hook, line and sinker.
When the interviewer asked how cults recruit, Hassan responded that they overwhelmingly enlist newbies person-to-person. Typically, he said, cults employ the “love bombing” technique — the flattering tell me all about you, you’re so special and smart, the world needs you, you have a purpose and we can help you fulfill that purpose strategy. He describes a model of destructive mind control called BITE: behavior, information, thought and emotion control used to make a person dependent or obedient.
Sound familiar? When I read the details of BITE, I was astounded by “school’s” mastering of this technique. I experienced almost every aspect that Hassan details on his website.
“No one intentionally joins a destructive cult,” Hassan said. “It’s a step-by-step drawing out information from the person, isolating them if they can, sleep deprivation if possible, dietary manipulation.”
The second thing that prompted this post was an anonymous blog commenter, who reflected on the bombings writing, “I have been thinking about the influence of ‘Spiritual’ teachings that prey upon people’s natural need for understanding and connection, yet in reality actually promote isolation and fear.” The commenter went on to say that cults feed on an over-riding sense of superiority and righteousness that justifies doing whatever necessary, to whomever, in order to “make the AIM”.
“A more true understanding would lead to the insight that we are all connected and that to harm another is to harm oneself,” the commenter wrote. “I am ashamed of my participation in cult activity of scamming a Christmas tree and more…”
Part of my motivation to create this blog was to process and purge the embarrassment and shame around my cult-related behavior. Like any good addict, I did things I didn’t believe in such as scamming the free Christmas tree and participating in newbie recruitment. Thankfully, I never did anything beyond the typical absurd cult activities — I never witnessed, was the victim of, or perpetrated violence. That said, I believe any person who has been sucked into a destructive cult can look at this kid, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and think this: there but for the grace of God go I.
Ever since I left “school” I have millions of little moments for which I am grateful. I am grateful that I’m home writing this blog, because I decided I needed to write it. The sun is lighting up my dining room. I’m not on the phone with my “sustainer”, or “AIM partner”, or “third-line-of-work” coach planning recruitment techniques. I am no longer allowing “school” to hoist its weird ideology on me and dictate my thoughts, feelings, choices, time and actions. If you are reading this post, breaking “school rules”, it’s likely that you are following your internal compass to the best of your ability and will never again allow some external force to mold you and your life into a series of cult-feeding activities.
As for the past, I can only look back and make efforts to understand why I allowed myself to be led by the nose into some ridiculous situations and try to forgive the naive woman, who felt lost and believed “school” would provide direction, and make amends when possible.
Maybe that’s all any of us can do.