Leaving the Group

Leaving the group.

Remember when you were a teenager? I do. I remember my parents telling me that if I attended a gathering where things started to get “out of hand” or “go awry” or if I were uncomfortable, to leave. Get myself out of the situation. At different stages of life, that could mean different things. As a teenager, maybe people were getting too rowdy. Or maybe I had the choice of whether or not to get into a car with someone I didn’t really trust. In college, maybe there were drugs present that I didn’t need to around. Maybe there was a mob mentality about something, and people were about to do something they wouldn’t have done if they were alone.

Recently, I found myself in a virtual group that started to scare me. By “virtual,” I mean it was the Facebook page for a group I joined long ago. According to the Facebook page of this group I remember as always quite civilized and respectful, the goal of the page is stated to be “to build a network of [members]…to share resources and opportunities.” It states clearly in the group rules that there is to be no hate speech or bullying. “Communicate with courtesy and respect,” it says.

Imagine my surprise when communication on this same page recently turned quite ugly and disrespectful. People are calling each other names. People are addressing members in ways I wouldn’t address anyone. People are using profanity left and right as a means of conveying their viewpoints, instead of using respectful speech.

Don’t get me wrong. Generally speaking, I don’t care about profanity, but I don’t like when it is hurled at someone…especially in a setting where we should be treating each other with respect. Imagine hurling obscenities at your coworkers in a professional setting. Or imagine your children hurling them at their teachers in the classroom setting. I don’t know about you, but the school wouldn’t even have to punish my child; she would be in big enough trouble at home.

I’ve seen kids on sports fields and sports courts in recent years sassing referees and gesturing after what they believe is a bad call, and every time, I think, “Holy smokes. My daddy would have walked out there and snatched me off that field.” I’ve been watching when my daughter was playing high school sports, and when a girl behaves poorly or with poor sportsmanship on the field, I’ve thought, “My daughter’s coach surely knows that I would take her home right now if she acted that way on the field.”

That brings me back to my group. Apparently, a lot of people don’t feel the same way. They think respecting others is no longer important. They think it’s OK to get out there and say whatever you want and say it however you want to whomever you want, without regard for others. They think it’s OK to use profanity in every sentence when they are trying to make a point. In this particular group, someone actually typed out these words to another member recently: Sit the hell down. 

And that’s when I knew I needed to leave the group. That was that moment my parents had warned me about. When things start to go awry or you are uncomfortable, leave. So I left the Facebook page of a group I’ve been a member of most of my life. It broke my heart, because I really wanted to try to make a difference. I’m really good at listening to other people’s viewpoints. I know everyone doesn’t feel the same way about everything…and I think that’s OK. That’s what makes the world go around. But I will not tolerate disrespectful behavior. I do not want to be a part of a group that communicates that way.

If it had been a one off situation, I could have gotten past it. But it wasn’t. People were accusing each other of horrible things. Worst of all, no one was hearing anyone else. And as soon as I saw “sit the hell down,” I was done. I left the Facebook page of a group I’ve loved for years…a group I have dedicated time and financial resources to…a group that, for me, was always a soft place to land, a place I made lifelong friends. I had to leave the Facebook page. I hope the behavior of those people is not indicative of the members of the group as a whole. Is civility dead?!?!

I keep getting messages from friends who are still in the group. I’ve received six or eight from people who have left it too, but I’m getting messages showing me screenshots of some of the posts, and I’m brokenhearted. I’m disappointed. I don’t want to be a part of a group that behaves that way.

So I left the Facebook group. I had to. My parents would be proud that I chose not to participate in the insanity, because that’s what it looked like to me. It looked like a bunch of spoiled, entitled, participation-trophy kids who think they’re the smartest things on the planet, and they’re probably 25 years old. They think their education makes them knowledgeable about life, I guess. At 53, I know that’s not true. They know very little, but they’re not even smart enough to realize that yet. When they’re 53, hopefully, they will look back and realize just how incredibly rude they were.

I’m out.

 

 

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I Visited A Cult

Oh, yes, I did.

I visited the international training center of a cult, and on the surface, everything looked great.

But I’m going to try to refer to it as a “community” instead of a “cult.” I won’t say which “community” it was, but my 21-year-old nephew came into town with a friend over the weekend, and on Friday night, he announced to me that they wanted to visit a cult (he used the word “cult”) on Saturday…and he wanted me to go with them. I had questions, of course. “You don’t want to join the cult, right?” “Why do you want to go?” “How far away is it?” “Is it scary?”

He showed me the group’s website. It looked pretty benign, And it said they welcome visitors, so I agreed to go, and we made plans to leave the next day. I should mention my husband thinks we are all nuts.

Early Saturday afternoon, we got into the SUV and drove over an hour to the address listed on the website. We were excited to see what we would find! Upon arrival, we drove into the parking lot at the front of the group of houses and got out. We walked around looking for people, but all we saw were sheep out front eating hay. One of the sheep had a penchant for magnolia leaves, so we watched them for a while and discussed what we should do.

Ultimately, we decided to go to another road and approach from the back. When we drove into a back parking lot, we saw a woman stick her head around a fence. I asked my nephew’s friend to put down her passenger-side window, and in my best sweet southern voice, I said, “Hey! We read on your website that y’all welcome visitors! We’re just curious and would like to find out what y’all are all about!” Once she decided we were friendly, she offered to show us around. She explained we weren’t seeing many people because Saturday is the Sabbath, and most people were resting.

We followed her into the dining hall/meeting room, which was lovely…clean and nicely decorated. We ran into a couple more friendly people inside who readily introduced themselves. From there, she showed us the barn area, where they had goats and cows. And after that, we walked over to one of the community’s houses, where members of the “community” had gathered outside for music. We were offered tea, and we all took a cup. I thought it was delicious, and my nephew did too, but I noticed his friend was holding hers…not drinking it. I knew she was thinking about Jonestown, so I took the tea off her hands and drank it myself.

We were welcomed with open arms by everyone gathered outside, and we asked any questions we could think of. Are people free to come and go as they please? Yes. If someone leaves the community, are they shunned? No. Do y’all drink alcohol? No. What are your beliefs? How do you support yourselves? I wanted my nephew to ask if they used cannabis, but none of us had the nerve to ask that. I thought I smelled it wafting out of a house at one point, but I couldn’t be sure. And this group believes everyone should work together for the greater good of the community. Every person contributes by working…like bees in a hive. Children are educated onsite. We weren’t bashful…we asked questions. We didn’t ask in a threatening way…we asked in a curious way, which is exactly what we were…curious.

We left after a couple of hours thinking, “This isn’t a cult at all! They’re just a religious commune!” Everyone was so friendly. They were very reserved, but they were friendly. We had no reason to believe they were anything but good folks.

And then, after we got home, we googled the name of their “community,” and that’s when things got weird!

Unbeknownst to us, just last week, the FBI had released from their vault information from a 2013 investigation into this particular group. At the top of the report, it says, “Open investigation based on allegations that children are being sexually exploited.” And somehow, we decided to visit right after the report was released from the vault? We had no idea! In the report, there is testimony from former members of the community with allegations of child labor, sexual abuse, sexual orgies, and drug use. That led us to look at other websites, where we found allegations of community members being held against their will…and more. And honestly, it frightened us. Is any of the “testimony” true? I don’t know, but it was enough to make my hair stand on end.

And it made me a little sad. I thought of the sweet people we had met. Most of them were friendly, but some of them were looking at us wide-eyed, and one of them appeared a little unstable, but we chalked it up to dementia. But after reading everything, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the wide-eyed ones were desperate to leave. Were they unhappy? Were they being abused? Did they want us to take them with us? Did they want to pass us notes asking us to send help? Of course, that’s all my imagination. No one, at any time, indicated they were unhappy. In fact, most of them appeared very happy.

In hindsight, I’m glad we didn’t google the community before we went, because we never would have gone. I believe there are some good people in that group. Are there bad folks? I don’t know. But I’m guessing that will be my only visit to their commune. We went unannounced, but didn’t see anything suspicious. Of course, my nephew’s friend pointed out that we were really only shown the animals and the interior of one building, which was almost unoccupied at the time, so there wasn’t much opportunity for us to see anything nefarious.

Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they seemed like nice people. Of course, someone else pointed out to me that “of course they were nice! They wanted y’all to join!” Yeah…they probably didn’t want me. I’m way beyond child-bearing years, and I’m sure they could take one look at me and tell I’m way too high maintenance. My nephew, on the other hand, is low maintenance, strong, hardworking, good-looking, musically talented, and artistic. Any cult would love to have him. His friend is pretty and outgoing…they’d love to have a young lady join up, I’m sure. But I would have been a total drain on their system.

And in their defense, the FBI closed the 2013 investigation. Since I never read anything about any arrests, and they didn’t invade the place like they did with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, I’m guessing they didn’t uncover enough evidence to support the allegations.

Either way, we got out unscathed. If anyone ever tries to hold me at a commune, they will run me off as soon as they figure out I don’t even know how to mop very well!

On our way home, I thought of how happy my parents would be that my nephew was hanging out with me in North Carolina. And I wished I could call them to tell them about the experience…they would have loved hearing about it.