I joined a cult because the ’60s were a mess. I see much of the same happening now | In Focus

“The less we know, the more we think we know.” I certainly experienced that in my youth.

Why did I join a cult when I was sixteen years old?

I joined because my family life was a mess. It was 1963 and the Vietnam conflict and the military draft were gearing up. Race demonstrations and riots were occurring across the nation

Joining a cult meant I could rely on someone else to make decisions for me.

I hated making mistakes. Following the cult leader’s views and rules gave me a sense of security and certainty, which I deeply craved.

Eventually I realized I had been scammed. I left the cult in 1973-4. At that point, I became caught in a philosophical bind: Should I go back to what I believed before I joined the cult? Should I reject everything that I had believed during my cult years? Cults are often good at exposing the flaws of a culture. My answer to both questions was and still is, “It depends.”

Having been scammed once in a big way, I came to the conclusion that I could not trust or follow any organization or leader wholeheartedly. There is no human organization or leader who is right on every issue. There are few people who do not let emotions overrule reason on topics that strike at the heart of who that person is or believes themselves to be.

I came to the realization that I am responsible for my own issues and decisions. If I’m wrong, then the burden is upon me and no one else. I learned I needed to examine every belief and reflect on every statement I made to see if it held up under the scrutiny of facts, experience, observation, and data.

Many people around me today and in today’s news remind me of my young self. I see the same dogmatic attitudes through their tone of voice and body language that I exhibited when I was much younger. I see an inability or unwillingness to answer this question: “What is the source of your authority?”

If you have ever had a conversation with someone else about a controversial topic, whether it is about sex, religion, or politics, you will likely see the steely stares, and the brook-no-opposition attitudes that are the tells of a cult-like mental state.

If someone is truly secure about their beliefs, they can allow someone to state an opposing view without feeling that their identity is being attacked. We are, after all, humans who are frequently wrong. No one has a corner on the truth. Curiosity should be the attitude we take when conversing with someone whose view we strongly oppose. If we can’t patiently listen to an opposing view, it likely means we are feeling threatened.

I have often wanted to ask those who disagree with me about why they believe as they do. I need to project a curious and non-judgmental manner. There are times when I often don’t feel safe enough with that person to risk damaging or destroying the relationship.

Preservation of relationships are important because relationships are one of the keys to living a long and a satisfying life, along with proper exercise, healthy diet, and a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Humans are relational by nature. We need to get along with others. That may mean we don’t talk about subjects that will alienate those we are close to. I’m guessing that all of you can think of someone you don’t confide in about topics that make you or them feel unsafe. If you’re like me, you skirt around those issues and search out those with whom you feel safe when speaking about controversial topics.

True friendship and maturity result from being able to be open about your views without becoming dogmatic. Unfortunately, this perspective is easy to describe but hard to put into practice. I have learned to tell my listeners, “You don’t have to agree with me.” That takes away my dogmatism and the listeners’ resistance to a differing opinion or view.

One lesson we have learned from the 1999 sociological studies of Dunning and Kruger is that the less a person knows about some issue, the more they tend to overestimate their abilities . Those who know more tend to underestimate their skills.

The lesson I learned from my youthful cult experience is that “the less we know the more we think we know.” That very human tendency represents a cult mentality.