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Learning Something New About Undue Influence

If you would like to learn something new about a subject most people know little about, you are in for a treat. And the price tag is only 53 minutes of your time; unless you choose to stop after 15 minutes, which will be well worth your time.

In this delightfully engaging video conversation, Jon Atack and Susan Gaskin bring to life what, to many, is a dry topic: undue influence. They begin with Jon’s colorful definition and appropriate synonyms, such as coercive control, exploitative persuasion, manipulation and brainwashing.                       

After briefly chatting about the history of these expressions, Jon explains why Open Minds has decided to default to the legally recognized term of undue influence.

Jon and Susan then liven things up by sharing scientific research which shows how easily the human mind can be swayed, and how predatory, abusive groups use undue influence to regulate their members’ thinking, dehumanizing outsiders and creating barriers between people.

Jon expertly explains why it is so important to educate young people to make up their own minds, rather than having their emotions manipulated by someone else. They also discuss what educational conventions actually work to prevent healthy personal autonomy, and share the latest news about some amazing reforms in education geared to create engaged, curious, and independent learners in our schools.

Among some of the fascinating topics discussed are:

  • What is undue influence, and how does it work?
  • How is it different from coercive control and exploitative persuasion?
  • What is manipulation? Where does the term come from?
  • What is brainwashing, and why has the term become inaccurate as we use it today?
  • What does social psychology teach us about influence?
  • What is personal autonomy?
  • How does our sense of infatuation lead to manipulation, and why is it so important to be careful with our love?
  • Why does chocolate taste so good?
  • What is the best way to avoid a scam?
  • Just what did Mrs. Mattel say when she first saw the Ken doll?

What do you think about this interview? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s book? Do you have a story about undue influence that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

And be sure to check out Susan’s YouTube channel, too!

Video – Liminal Thinking and the Elephant

This light-hearted whiteboard animation discusses liminal thinking – the part of our reasoning which happens just below the threshold of conscious thought. This phenomenon is demonstrated with the classic tale of the blind men and the elephant: one man, grasping the animal’s trunk, declared the elephant to be a rope, another, feeling the elephant’s leg, disagreed and said it was a tree.

The liminal thinking that we each rely on to construct our unique version of reality is similar, employing a pyramid of factors: our experiences inform our needs, which in turn inform our assumptions, which inform our conclusions and finally our beliefs, each step relying on the one before it – all of which we unconsciously accept as “obvious” reality, but is, like the different parts of the elephant, actually just a fraction of the overall picture.

Author Dave Gray, assisted by animator Michael Keay, demonstrates the necessity of bringing our liminal thinking into our conscious thought, to examine the pyramid of our belief structure, and compassionately explore the beliefs of others with different worldviews.

Keeping the Internet Free From Undue Influence

We have seen how the giants of Internet platforms mine and use our data; most of us view our dwindling privacy with concerns – predatory groups, political parties, and abusive individuals can buy, steal, and use our information against us, swaying our views and luring us into a multitude of traps. Fortunately for us, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, is also concerned, and has come up with what he hopes will be a solution, according to a recent article in the online journal FastCompany.com.

Last week, Last week, Berners-Lee launched Inrupt, a startup backed by Glasswing ventures. Its mission is to decentralize the web, by keeping our private information private, allowing users of the platform to control their own data – and who gets to see it.

Read the full article here.

Jon Atack on ‘Sensibly Speaking’ podcast

Our Review Board Member Jon Atack is interviewed by Advisory Board member Chris Shelton on his “Sensibly Speaking” podcast. They dive deep into talking about cult education and recovery efforts in Europe and some of the need for historical perspective and understanding in fighting destructive cult behavior and biases.


Hercules and the Monster

Hercules, travelling along in between his famous trials, came across a foul-looking creature the size of a small rat, blocking his path, snapping and spitting at all who passed by. The demigod raised his club and gave the creature a sharp crack upon its ugly, shriveled head. Instead of falling injured, the creature spat flame, shaking with rage and swelling up to the size of a large dog.

Undaunted, the famous hero swung his club again, only to find himself facing a monster twice his size, a giant hulk of twisted flesh and bone, spitting bile and making the surrounding countryside tremble with its deafening roars.

He raised his club again, preparing for an epic battle, when his sister Athena appeared at his side. “Lower your club, brother,” she told him gently.

Hercules lowered his weapon, watching in amazement as the creature grew smaller again.

“What is it?” he asked, his brow wrinkling.

The Goddess of Wisdom smiled gently. “It is Spite; the more you battle with it, the larger and stronger it grows. If we leave it behind, it will no longer trouble us.”

Spite is often used in abusive groups and relationships – and can even become their identifying feature. Inciting rage by provoking indignation at some perceived wrong can countermand all our critical thinking, leading us to act without engaging our intelligence.

Rage, however, is not limited to predatory people and groups: those of us who work to expose and end the systematic human rights violations caused by undue influence are often indignant – and rightly so – at the abuses we see around us. Too often, what we see is maddening, the stories we hear terrifying. Our indignation can even become a defining point when we ask ourselves why we have chosen this path.

Historically, righteous indignation has provided valuable fire to act against such injustices as slavery, intolerance, poverty, sexism and war. However, we must remember, while we are travelling along upon our Herculean task, not to allow our indignation to become poisoned by Spite, and let our anger turn us against each other, or, worse, those who need our help the most, the people still caught in the grasp of a high-control group or relationship.

While it is important to stand against predation and undue influence wherever we find it, we must not descend into attacking people, instead of opposing abuse. It is not only possible, but necessary, to expose and work to end injustice, without giving in to Spite, as those who invoke it or act on it rarely have anyone’s best interests in mind. If we fight just to fight, then no one can ever truly win.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree?  Have you read Spike’s dystopian novel?Do you have a story about Spite that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!


Blink, Think, Choice, Voice – Teaching Children to Say ‘No’ to Predators

Teaching children how to protect themselves is a priority for all parents: we all know the dangers that predatory individuals pose to a child. So, of course we teach our children about “stranger danger.” But what if the predator is someone we trust?

That is why we should be teaching children intelligent disobedience – saying ‘no’ to a direction when it’s not the right thing to do. Regular readers of this blog will know about Ira Chaleff’s sterling work in the area of intelligent disobedience; we were pleased to hear that he has released his new workbook, Intelligent Disobedience for Children.

This must-read manual gives an easy-to-follow, common-sense approach to teaching children what to do if an adult tells them to do something that isn’t right, such as hurting someone, stealing something, or even submitting to sexual advances. In his handbook, Chaleff explains the best method for teaching children the four easy steps to resisting a “wrong” direction: taking the time to blink, then thinking about the direction, making a choice, and then using their voice to assert themselves.

By following the clear, coherent steps in this handbook, parents can coach their children, deliver positive feedback, and engage them in the process of learning this important prevention technique. The advice Chaleff gives is sound and presented in simple language, with helpful tips on how to present this vital information to children of any age, from toddler to young adult.

An important part of healthy skepticism is the courage to stand up and speak truth to authority, and teaching children intelligent disobedience is a vital way to foster this courage in the citizens of the future. We hope that this handbook finds its way into as many homes, schools and offices as possible, and that the phrase “Blink, Think, Choice, Voice,” will empower future generations of children to stand up to predatory behavior and undue influence.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Ira Chaleff’s book, Intelligent Disobedience? Do you have a story about intelligent disobedience that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 


Ira Chaleff – a Champion of Courageous Followership

Our friend Ira Chaleff has had a very successful three weeks spreading the word about intelligent disobedience and courageous followership. He is a well-known, international advocate who encourages people to do the right thing, even when ordered to do the wrong thing by people in authority.

In his most recent newsletter, Chaleff recounts his stellar success at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where more than 600 officers and enlisted personnel showed up to hear him speak about the importance of intelligent disobedience. He also discusses his vital and important work for the International Leadership Association, presenting workshops for the European School of Administration, which stresses the importance of courageous followership.

We salute Ira Chaleff, and encourage everyone to check out his sterling work in teaching people how to think for themselves through courageous followership and intelligent disobedience!

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Ira Chaleff’s book? Do you have a story about courageous followership that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

When Intelligent Disobedience Saved the World

Since nuclear weapons were developed, intelligent disobedience has averted global catastrophe on more than one occasion. In 2001, documents were released that showed that the three submarines on a mission into Cuban waters during the missile crisis in 1962 were all armed with nuclear tipped torpedoes. The commanders of the vessels had orders from the Kremlin allowing them to use these nuclear torpedoes without further consultation.

After the USSR sent nuclear missiles to Cuba, the submarines had entered Cuban waters before the US blockade on the island was in place. As John F Kennedy’s secretary for defense Robert McNamara said, in the nuclear age, “One mistake will destroy nations”.

Captain Ketov, who commanded one of the submarines said, “If one of my friends would deploy nuclear weapons, I would deploy them too.”

Once the US surface vessels became aware of the submarines, they chased them in a cat and mouse game. The submarine crews were exhausted, tolerating temperatures over 100°F/38°C. Hemmed in by the US ships, Commander Valentin Savitsky primed his nuclear torpedoes for launch. Each had the capacity of the Hiroshima bomb – powerful enough to vaporize even the largest US vessel. Above them, a US ship launched grenades and depth charges to show that they knew the submarine’s location, and to make it surface.

The crew of the submarine had no way of knowing whether the explosions they were hearing were warnings or were intended to sink them. Some crew members were convinced that they were under attack and must retaliate. At this point, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov spoke to his commander and persuaded him to surface rather than to launch the nuclear missiles.

US Navy Captain Charles Rozier is another hero of this very near miss. As he later said, “My view, all along, from the beginning of the time that I got contact with this submarine, was that I didn’t want to start World War III.” Of course, he had no idea that the submarine was carrying nuclear-tipped torpedoes.

At one point, a US sonar operator erroneously reported a torpedo in the water, heading towards them. But commanders on both sides kept their nerve. When the first Russian submarine surfaced, the nearest US vessel signaled to see if she required help. The Russian submarines were courteously escorted out of the blockaded zone, and World War III was averted. The Cuban Missile Crisis led to the creation of a “hot-line” between the US president and the Soviet premier.

On 26 September 1983, Stanislav Petrov was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when it was reported that five or six missiles had been launched from the United States. At the time, NATO was engaged in exercises on the borders of the USSR’s satellite Warsaw Pact countries, which made the situation even worse.

Petrov decided that the reports were a false alarm, and prevented a nuclear attack on the United States and its NATO allies that probably would have caused World War III. It was later found that the false alarm had been created by the reflection of sunlight on high-altitude clouds above North Dakota that had been interpreted by Soviet space satellites as a missile launch.

Petrov had to make a judgment call. He decided to make no report, as there was no verification from ground radar, and that a launch of so few missiles by the US was unlikely. Even so, he later said that he was not completely convinced. He believed that if he had made a report, his colleagues might have initiated full-scale retaliation. Soviet leaders would have had only minutes to decide whether to respond.

ira chaleff's book, intelligent disobediencePetrov was at first commended by superiors, but then disciplined for failing to properly record the incident. He would eventually be rewarded with two World Citizen awards, the Dresden Prize and the German Media Award. He also became the subject of the documentary The Man Who Saved the World.

As Ira Chaleff says in his seminal text on the subject: ‘Intelligent disobedience is about finding the healthy balance for living in a system with rules and authorities while maintaining our own responsibility for the actions we take.’ These are just two instances of the power of intelligent disobedience: doing right when what you are told to do is wrong.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Have you read Ira Chaleff’s Intelligent Disobedience? Do you have a story about intelligent disobedience that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Healthy Skepticism and Freedom of Belief

Healthy skepticism has always been an important part of my life; I was raised to be a skeptic while still in a religious family, and consider myself to be spiritual, while not accepting magical thinking or false conclusions in order to have “the answer”. Yes, it is smart to be skeptical, but healthy skepticism still leaves room for those of us who want to have transcendent moments, a sense of spiritual connection, and religious beliefs.

To me, having an open mind means leaving the door open to the possibility that there are many answers to the same question, that there is no one correct belief; you have the freedom to choose which answer feels right to you at the moment, without being pushed in one direction or another, by anyone. I say “at the moment,” because I know that some people want and need certain answers, but these answers can change over time as their lives change and as their emotional needs wax and wane.

Some former members I speak with feel embarrassed that they still believe in God, or follow some non-mainstream beliefs like astrology, Tarot, or psychic ability. Sometimes, these people feel they need to hide their belief from me, or even from others at my former-member support group, as though this belief is a sign that they haven’t made enough “progress”. Just like before they left their controlling environments, they live in fear of being found out, of having their secret revealed: they feel they can never be truly open about themselves, that they are different from the others around them. These worries about being seen as different or gullible only reinforce the alienation, secrecy, shame and isolation they already feel because they were involved in a cultic group or abusive relationship.

The whole point of recovery from a high-control situation is to be free to be genuinely yourself, without someone telling you how to be and what to believe. But many people are still stuck in an unfortunate mindset: they often think that if they left that “one right way to believe” because it turned out to be false, they now have to make sure to only believe the “right” way, as though there is still a wrong or right way to believe. This maintains the black and white thinking of cults. Beliefs come in many forms, none less valid than the next, but the important part is to be able to choose your belief, the ability to change your belief if you wish, and the freedom to believe differently than those around you without fear.

For more on this topic, check out Jon’s blog on science versus religion. -ed.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about healthy skepticism and belief that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!



Don’t Make Trouble! – A Parable on Being Assertive

There’s an old, old joke about the two elderly men who, for undisclosed reasons, have been brought in front of a firing squad to be executed.

The soldier in charge hands the first man a blindfold. “Put this on!” he orders curtly.

The old man dashes the blindfold to the ground. “No!” he says, crossing his arms. “I won’t take your filthy blindfold.”

The blindfold is pressed into his hands again. “Put this on!” the soldier barks.

Once more, the old man takes the cloth and throws it to the ground, this time grinding it under his heel. “I said NO!” he shouts defiantly.

His fellow prisoner, however, speaks up. “Ernie,” he pleads. “Put on the blindfold! Don’t make trouble!”

“Don’t make trouble” is one of the cardinal rules of civilized existence. We all have seen – and despised – those entitled individuals who do, indeed, make trouble. They’re the impossible-to-satisfy customers at the deli counter complaining about the ham being sliced too thickly, the officious man shouting: “I’ll have your job!” to the hapless sales assistant for refusing to accept his return without a receipt, the parents who scream bloody murder at the little league coach for benching their less than athletically gifted child in the last half of a championship game. In short, they are the bane of anyone who, through vocation or chance, has been called upon to serve their fellow human.

However, as with many actions we take in life, it is not what we do but the reasons for why we do it – making a loud, noisy fuss about the thickness of one’s sliced meats is not civilized behavior; making a loud, noisy fuss at a public demonstration to highlight an injustice and bring a voice to the marginalized is a conscientious citizen’s duty, and part of the evolutionary grit of an adaptive society.

don't make trouble quoteIt isn’t necessary to be aggressive, loud or rude to make a point, but it is often very important to assert ourselves – patiently and politely – to stop confidence tricksters and bullies in their tracks. In short, sometimes it’s good to make trouble. Organizations like Dr. Zimbardo’s Heroic Imagination Project and Ira Chaleff’s “Blink, Think” campaign are shining examples of this important lesson.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this parable? Do you agree? Have you read Spike’s dystopian novel? Do you have a story about courageous followership that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

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