On November 18, 1978, a preacher by the name of Jim Jones convinced his followers, who had moved from California to Africa, to willingly commit mass suicide. 918 people died drinking a poison laced Kool-Aid like substance. This gave rise to the popular expression “Drinking the Kool-Aid.” They did this, from what we know of that night, without too much protest or questioning. It appears they were largely glad to do whatever their leader wanted them to do.
Drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid isn’t a new phenomenon. It has always existed in some form of another. There have always been leaders, movements, and ideologies that attract a cult-like following. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize it until it’s too late.
I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to drink any Kool-Aid. I hope you are in the same boat. So, here is a list I’ve put together that might help you identify whether or not you are drinking the Kool-Aid. This list applies whether we are talking about a preacher, a philosophy, or a politician.
1. You Don’t Ask Questions
Growing up, we all go through a phase where we question the wisdom of our parents and our elders. It’s a perfectly natural and healthy thing to do. It shows that we are wrestling with ideas and institutions, testing them for their legitimacy, and seeking to form our own view of the world.
This is a practice we should keep up the entirety of our lives. As Plato once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We should, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “Question with boldness the very existence of God; for if there be a God, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfold fear.” We should always live a life of curiosity, and allow that curiosity to view nothing as sacred except that which we can prove to be true. We should not shy away from asking hard questions, as failure to do so will make us a Kool-Aid drinker rather easily.
2. You Are Always One-Sided
Have you ever watched Fox News or MSNBC? Have you noticed how the commentators are generally pretty one-sided? No matter what the facts are or the reasonableness of the opinion put forward, the person on the other “side” is going to be made to look like the fool, and held in some sort of contempt.
Whatever you do, don’t be like these news networks. Refuse to play games in which you get caught up into some tribal like identity, always attacking or always defending a particular person or position. Rise above the “left vs right” vitriol. Be willing to praise the strength and weaknesses of all sides of an argument. Don’t resort to “what about so and so…” type nonsense. If somebody says “Trump this…” don’t say “Obama that…” Only Kool-Aid drinkers engage in such behavior.
3. You Live In An Echo Chamber
Do most the people you surround yourself with kinda sound like you? Does your bookshelf at home contain books that contradict each other? Do you ever deliberately listen to people and consume content you know for a fact you will disagree with from the getgo?
If not, you live in a bubble full of your fellow Kool-Aid drinkers. The reason it seems like most people agree with you is because you’ve created an echo chamber, designed to do nothing but help you hear the sound of the same voice. To avoid drinking the Kool-Aid and to escape your bubble, you need to deliberately surround yourself with people that are not like you, and to consume resources other than those that already confirm what you believe to be true. Next to your copy of something written by Ayn Rand should be something written by Karl Marx.
4. You Rely On Others Too Much
When looking into issues, you should avoid always deferring to “authority figures.” While there is certainly nothing wrong with citing leading authorities on various subjects, whether it be your favorite preacher or scholar, you should be careful of relying on these individuals too much. We should definitely stay away from becoming “fan boys” of celebrity type individuals and building cults around them.
While it is not possible for us to be experts on everything, and we may need to defer to those who are experts on subjects, we still need to make it a point to do as much heavy lifting as we can on our own. As a result, whenever possible, we should look to carefully gather data and research primary sources independently as possible. We should not only know “what” we believe, but “why” we believe it. And if all we do is recite the answers other experts and authority figures have given us, we’ll always be the slave to whoever does the best Jim Jones impersonation.
5. Your Opinion Is Always The Same
Personal growth is always marked by change. You cannot grow without changing. This happened to us from the moment we were born, and should continue until the day we die. I worry about people who always feel they’ve “arrived.” Such people are doomed to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, for in feeling they’ve arrived and feeling they have no further to go, they will never move a single inch towards anything.
The only people that remain perpetually in the same place are corpses six feet below the ground. That’s where Jim Jones followers dwell. We should always seek to be transformed, “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we grow and learn new things, we should constantly re-evaluate our perspectives, our positions, and our loyalties. While we do not need to always abandon everything we’ve ever learned or those that taught us those things, over the course of our lifetime our views on things should not only be challenged, but change.