Morph 4: Recruitment or “Making new friends!”

When it comes to morphing, recruitment invites a veritable potpourri of creative cult contortions. It’s risky! A “school” recruiter must be “awake!”. How else would it continue to save lost souls, keep the wheels spinning and increase profits without exposing the invisible world?

“School’s” recruitment machine sucked me in after about two years of tenure; at that point the leadership must have deemed me appropriately indoctrinated. (Learn the cult’s five-step recruitment process here: How to “Join” a Cult, re-post and  here: Cult Education – A History and Analysis of Sharon Gans Group.)

Recruitment-rule morphing plays out in various ways…

THE WHERE TO RECRUIT: During my first pass at the “third line of work”, we were to go out and talk to Boston area grocery-store shoppers, coffee drinkers, parents at playgrounds, co-workers, friends, fellow commuters, etc. etc. etc., anywhere and everywhere. Make new “friends!” You never know where the next generation of seekers may be! Turn over every stone!

But at times, “school” declared various neighborhoods off limits: in Cambridge, Harvard Square, Central Square and Porter Square — easily the most frequented areas; in Somerville, the ever-popular Davis Square; Arlington Center, also off limits. Apparently evil “disgruntled ex-students” frequented these town centers and would interrupt recruitment-in-process. A corroborator told me that  corporate headquarters also declared hot spots over the years …

“ … no recruiting in the Village in New York because S and I lived there; at another point all of New York City south of 14th street was off limits…”

THE WHO SHOULD RECRUIT: Because of the danger and sensitive nature of this “third line of work”, it’s best to send out the most experienced troops. Yet recruitment is critical to “THE WORK” and — at times — like say after a critical mass of “students” leave simultaneously — “school” must have all hands on deck.

Another “disgruntled ex-student”,  circa 1990, told me this…

When I joined, no new student recruited – this was a ‘very special third line of work’ and you had to be really advanced to be asked to do it — we thought. There was a small group of people on this, including a couple of newbies, who had great success and were in favor and advancement because of it (although we didn’t know that at the time).

When the recruitment success stopped, so did the favoritism and the punishment begin! The small group technique went on for years – about 14 people or so, led by a teacher, who had ‘permission’ to socialize in the name of the line of the work -‘Go do fun things together! Go to a play, go to concerts, talk to people! It’s normal …”

The Boston branch tries to rope all students into the “third line of work” or “work for ‘school”. Once you’ve attended long enough, “school” deems you “ready” — a privilege, “necessary for one’s evolution”! Without contributing to “school”, YOU WON’T EVOLVE. Congratulations! You are now ready to neglect your outside relationships even more to recruit “younger students”!  (By the way, “school” NEVER used the word recruit).

I recall Saturday morning meetings: 7 a.m., at a Watertown park. We discussed tactics, our progress and/or lack thereof; our recruitment coaches allayed our objections about the deceptive practice, offering justification for the “clever insincerity”: “School’s” invisibility must be maintained! Remember what a poor slob you were before you encountered “school”! You might meet the poor soul who can reverse global warming and simply needs “help” to do so … blah, blah, blah.

I hated it, but I complied, thinking myself lazy; I needed to “work against my pictures of myself”, I believed. But the practice stirred a revealing cognitive dissonance inside me — my anger at my recruiter, Lisa, started bubbling up … I hadn’t signed up for this. I’d joined an informal group that “discussed ideas … laughed a lot … one in which people came and went, casually…”  I hated myself for practicing the same deception on other unsuspecting souls; the pretense of “making new friends” made my skin crawl.

Simultaneously, though, my “school” stupor reminded me how I’d “benefited from school”. Pat “school” phrases played out in my mind– others are seeking enlightenment! It’s selfish to keep the answers from those seekers. I must be in the dreaded and evil states of “internal considering” and identification (“school”-speak for selfishness) — I am worrying about how my recruits will feel about me when they learn of my convenient omission of cult-ic details. Needless to say, I wasn’t very successful. I once recruited a friend, who I pried out after I left. He returned only once to spread the word to his colleagues, spurring a mass exodus (read about the Great Escape here).

After leaving the ranks, I learned that some “students” simply refused to recruit; some pretended to do it and lied about their efforts. When I think about how earnest I was in my attempts to do something that rubbed every cell in me the wrong way, it makes me laugh to know that I could have simply said, “No. Not doing that. Good luck to you.” In my mind, saying “no” to a “school” demand wasn’t an option.

THE WHO TO RECRUIT: Another “disgruntled”, circa 1990, told me this recently:

“… you couldn’t recruit anyone with relatives in the military, the police, any type of para military organization such as firemen; this list was built up — when I first started recruiting it was just military, reporters and cops, or anyone who had relatives in these organizations. And you had to find this shit out!

Also the income level kept rising – when I joined there was a low level because I only made $30,000 a year. By the time I left it was up to $45,000 and it is apparently higher now.

When I “joined” Robert told me that “school” wouldn’t deny its “education” to someone simply due to lack of finances. Perhaps this was because, at the time, I was temping at a whopping $15 an hour; for some reason, he decided to dismiss the income requirement — perhaps “school” was desperate for new blood. But when I began “making new friends” a recruitment coach urged me to find out more about a potential recruits finances. This “new friend” clearly had plenty of money. I briefly snapped out of my stupor long enough to disregard that “instruction” … thankfully, I was disturbed by it. After leaving, I heard that $60,000 is the current required income. Perhaps someone out there can comment on this.

THE HOW TO RECRUIT: another “disgruntled”, circa 1990, nodded to an oft-used common cult recruitment practice, that “school” has taken on: “lectures”, or “presentations”.

“… I was there when they started the lectures, and then they put everyone onto recruiting because they just weren’t getting new people. They had ridiculous aims like 100 new people in a month, then they would punish everyone, but what the hell. I left before they figured it out – seems they did because I learned later that they built up quite a large rotating class, which met entirely separately from everyone else and was never troubled with Sharon, or third line, or anything else, so they stayed. Eventually they might be integrated into the bigger older class.”

During my tenure the “lectures” morphed into “presentations”. Every time someone slipped and used the word “lecture” during a “class discussion” several devoted “school” doobies would correct the offender: “You mean presentation, don’t you???” Perhaps the “lectures” were getting a reputation out in “only life”. Who knows. I’m certain these “presentations” are alive and well, happening somewhere (generally, they were presented at some hotel conference room) under a new name.

Morph 2: The Non Fraternization Policy
Morph 3: Drug Use
Morph 4: Recruitment, or “Making New Friends”

3 thoughts on “Morph 4: Recruitment or “Making new friends!”

  1. anonymous says:

    I was in the group for many years, and was always uncomfortable making friends, talking to strangers, etc. I thought it was because I was shy. Surprisingly, or not, I suddenly became more comfortable talking to people I didn’t know and making new friends after I left the group and divorced my spouse (who is still in the group, sadly). I seem to be a bit of a natural extrovert.

    I think I instinctively knew that the recruiting process was ethically wrong, bit I wasn’t able to voice it explicitly at the time. It’s the deceptive hidden agenda of pretending to be a friend to someone that bothered me. I think. We were expected to gain the trust of our new friends and then entice them to join the group. Once they joined, our job was done. Who had time to maintain friendships? We were constantly pushed to make new friends, make new friends, what’s wrong with you, why can’t you make new friends?????. Making friends developed a dirty taste in my mouth, and I dreaded the endless third line of work meetings.

  2. Hi, Thanks for your comment. Couple of responses:

    “Surprisingly, or not, I suddenly became more comfortable talking to people I didn’t know and making new friends after I left the group and divorced my spouse (who is still in the group, sadly). I seem to be a bit of a natural extrovert.”

    I was just thinking about how, while a “student”, my big problem was staying employed and finding work. In the end, when on my last “school”-sponsored job search, no one would hire me. Yep, I am a proud Trader Joe’s reject. After leaving, I found a job after a month. I’ve been employed ever since, in fact two jobs and several consulting gigs have come to me without the “school”-prescribed mad job search.

    I’ve given a lot of thoughts about how cults in general commit literal identity theft. In “school’s” case, we bought into this idea called “we don’t know ourselves”. We bought into it, because there’s truth to it. There is probably always something to learn about ourselves. “School” took that truth and twisted it; if we “don’t know ourselves”, “school” can assign us convenient one-dimensional cult identities — for example, a woman who has always struggled with work and money, can become the “entitled Jewish American Princess” character who expects the world to provide for her. The fact that I bought into “school’s” characterization of me, and felt like a horrible, selfish person who didn’t deserve financial independence and/or a rewarding work, didn’t help me present myself as a worthwhile employee; therefore I couldn’t find a job … there’s obviously a lot here and it could become a post on identity theft.

    “It’s the deceptive hidden agenda of pretending to be a friend to someone that bothered me. I think. We were expected to gain the trust of our new friends and then entice them to join the group. Once they joined, our job was done. Who had time to maintain friendships?”

    This is exactly what brought up my anger at Lisa. I remember one moment when my rebels poked me awake; they said, “Lisa was never your friend. She was doing a job.” It was fairly early on — within the first year of my tenure. But it was crystal clear that once I started attending class, Lisa had no time for me. Still I stayed. I had that insight and still bought into the presentation of “highly evolved group of men and women working on themselves”. I also thought, “If they ever ask me to recruit, I’ll leave.” As it turned out, I didn’t leave when I was included in the “go out and make new friends list”. But I always hated it; always felt dirty about that practice. The lesson being, always trust that internal voice and moral compass. Never let an external source over ride it. Because when you do that your truly begin to “know thyself”.

    Yes, this is definitely a topic for a post.

    “I seem to be a bit of a natural extrovert.”

    Go out there and enjoy that natural extrovert! That self you uncovered by leaving “school” and dismissing its characterization of you. That’s freedom. And it must come from within.

    Thanks for your continued comments! I always appreciate your voice.

  3. anonymous says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how new students come into the group excited, trusting, and slightly apprehensive. What’s happens to them? How are they subtly and gradually molded into willing and complacent followers who’ll do whatever is asked of them?

    I think this concept, “we don’t know ourselves” plays a big role in this. It’s often one of the first topics discussed when new students start, and it’s a phrase and concept from Socrates that everyone is familiar with. As a skeptical new student, it’s reassuring to be discussing concepts from Greek philosophy; it adds an air of legitimacy to the whole proceedings. Here’s an example of a true idea that gets slightly distorted and then used to mold and manipulate. We come in as new students, with some ability to think critically and with some healthy skepticism. We’re told we think we know ourselves but we really don’t. And whatever sense we had of ourselves gradually gets stripped away. We no longer trust our own thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

    This stripping away of our customary sense of our self is presented as a very good thing, we were told it’s a necessary step in the path of self evolution. And as new students, that is why we came to the group in the first place, because we knew inside that weren’t all that we could be, because we could sense there was more to life than the lives we were living at the time. Self evolution is the proverbial carrot for us, like the race horse in training, we’re forever chasing after it. And as we followed this elusive carrot, any uneasiness about the process is dismissed or ignored. We slowly stopped listening to our true selves.

    As new students, I’m sure we all had concerns about the group at different points. But over time, we were gradually taught to doubt our own perceptions since they may be our denying force, or they may be just the swing of the pendulum. And there are many other Ideas that are also used to erode away our sense of ourselves: many I’s, identification, false personality, true personality, and essence to name a few. So many ideas studied in the beginning classes point to the concept that we don’t really know ourselves, and we need to study ourselves to find out who we really are. This becomes the foundation for the phrase “valuation of the work” which is a whole other discussion.

    We were told that school acts as a mirror so we see the true reflections of ourselves. It’s a bit creepy now to think about that statement. Because what school is really saying is “let us tell you who you are” in fact, they were really even going a step further “trust us to tell you who you are” I shudder now as I write these words. Because once the teachers gain this trust, then they have us. They become the authority and we become the complacent followers.

    In “ In Search of the Miraculous” Gurdgieff talks about the parable of the magician and the sheep. The sheep are hypnotized into thinking they’re lions and eagles so they stick around until they’re slaughtered. And as students of this false esoteric school of self development, that was our predicament: we were merely sheep with grandiose senses of ourselves. And the slaughter? For the sheep, the fur, meat and bones were all used by the magician. For us, well, we were fleeced, too. Time, money, outside relationships, and our true senses of our selves were all stripped away over time.

    As you so wisely point out, ‘Always trust that internal voice and moral compass. Never let an external source over ride it. Because when you do trust your internal moral compass, you truly begin to “know thyself”.’ I often close my posts with a blessing learned from a yoga class years ago. May the true light within us guide our way home. ….. All of us, teachers, students, escapees, all of us. No matter what our role is, or was, or will be in this great drama.

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