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Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire

by Ulises Pabon

I do not have the stomach to post the pictures here, but if you search for “Jim Jones November 18” and click on “images” you will get a taste, albeit a bitter one, of the Jonestown mass murder-suicide on November 18, 1978. I will leave it up to you to research the story. One-third of the 909 that perished that day were children. I invite you to do the search, look at the pictures, and read about the turn of events that led to this unfortunate and horrific outcome.

Why? It shows, empirically and graphicly, what you can achieve when you combine ignorance and blind belief (on the followers) with charisma and an inflated ego (from the leader).

To be uncomfortably specific, you can drive a parent to use a syringe to drop a potent mix of cyanide, sedatives, and powdered fruit juice into his or her child’s throat. You can get that parent to line up to drink the poison-laced concoction he or she just fed his child with. Strong stuff. Not the concoction, the cult formula: ignorance, blind belief, charisma, and an inflated ego.

Add hatred to the equation and you’ll take it to the next level. Enough to drive a mob of supporters of Donald Trump to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in an attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. The original live transmission pales against the recent footage, released this weekend, showing the barbarities that took place inside the U.S. Capitol. Hatred, ignorance, and blind belief, all explicitly portrayed in the videos taken during the assault.

So, let me go back to the Jonestown events. Who is to blame for what happened? Who should be held accountable? Who would you hold accountable? The cult followers? The cult leader? Both? Neither? Others? Whom?

Before you answer, let me add an additional twist. Have you noticed that the words cult and culture share the same origin?

The term "cult" first appeared in English in 1617, derived from the French culte, meaning "worship". Culte, in turn, originated from the Latin word cultus meaning "care, cultivation, worship".

Are we surprised that organizational cultures based on knowledge, reason, and caring (care for our customers, care for our colleagues and stakeholders, care for our community, and care for our planet), led by balanced leaders that choose stewardship over ego, yield healthy and productive workplaces? This is the exact opposite of the cult formula!

Knowledge, reason, and caring instead of ignorance, blind belief, and hatred. Stewardship instead of charisma and an inflated ego.

The question of accountability is a complex one; worth pondering, nonetheless. Yet, let me leave you with an additional question; one that prompts you to look forward rather than backward.

What would it take to nurture a culture of knowledge, reason, and caring in your community? What seeds do we need to plant today to harvest a healthy and productive community tomorrow?

Combating the three-headed dragon of ignorance, blind belief, and hatred may be an intimidating pursuit. Recognizing true stewards may be challenging. But one thing we know. The cult formula is anathema to freedom and prosperity. We really don't have a choice.

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