We had our first conversations about what would become the Open Minds Foundation back in 2014. Our first formal meeting was in the Spring of 2015, when we began to gather people from different disciplines to start a conversation about the commonalities of high-control relationships.
I first thought about a foundation of this type back in 1991, and, over the years, I pitched the idea to whoever would listen. But my idea was fairly vague: it was evident from my experiences in undoing the behavioral modification of high-control groups that the few of us engaged in that work had acquired skills that might apply to any true believer or fanatic. Even before 9/11, I was keen to apply our ideas to hinder radicalization; after reading about gang formation and supremacist groups, it was apparent to me that the same dynamics exist in all forms of destructive cult group.
Through conversations with principals of the Open Minds Foundation, my thinking has continued to develop. When we began, we hoped to create a website, publish a primer about manipulation and go on to sponsor projects that fitted with our mission: to proof society against manipulation, coercive control and undue influence by whatever names they are known.
I wanted to bring together experts to discuss the possibilities, rather than imposing my own ideas, and we have created a new dialog between therapists from different fields, social scientists, health professionals and cult experts. This wealth of diversity is reflected in our blog section.
My first project was a review of the similarities between various high-control groups and relationships. The first edition of Opening Minds was published in 2015, with a revised edition in 2016. From the outset, it was obvious to me that my expertise is limited and that there was much for me to learn. That is still the case, and it will always be the case, because we cover such a wide range of topics, and because new work is being published all the time.
I started work on the new website in November 2016. One of our concerns in exposing the tricks and traps of manipulators has been to avoid using those same tricks and traps ourselves. We didn’t want to use ‘PR’ or spin our subject; we didn’t want to seduce people with anything remotely subliminal. I had the great good fortune to work with two seasoned professionals, who showed me that it is possible to communicate with a broad public without resorting to manipulation.
The creation of the website proved to be both very challenging and very rewarding. It took us three weeks just to arrive at a structure, or taxonomy, because we had to integrate different needs and different perspectives.
Although it has attractive graphics, the website was primarily developed for a reading audience. There is still some text to be added, but basic material about human predators and their seduction and recruitment techniques is now available free of charge to anyone who has access to the Internet and can read English (or is willing to trust Google Translate). Now we need to make the website attractive to younger people who are less willing to read, so, for the last six months we’ve been developing animations that we hope will appeal to school children and stimulate their curiosity in this profoundly important subject.
At first, we conceived the website as simply an introduction to our mission, but as time has passed it has become evident that the website is actually the core and foundation of that mission: we want to provide information free of charge to as many people as possible. Books are no longer the main tool of education. With the emergence of such sites as the School of Life, the Kahn Academy and Crash Course, the world of education is changing, and changing rapidly.
Some schools have already adopted a method called “flipping”, where pupils first watch online videos, and teachers then facilitate those who have understood the material in helping those who have not. Online material is no longer the future: it is the present; and we are working in that present.
We want to illustrate all of the fundamental principles of manipulation on our site, so our existing material will be highlighted with animations, video and audio clips, games and quizzes. We hope that some of this material will go viral, encouraging kids to access our site directly, and schools to use our material as part of their curricula.
We will also provide an audio version of all of our pages, and offer translations into as many languages as possible. The template exists for those translations, and the Dutch version of the site is almost ready.
We hope to present the new animations by the Spring of 2018, and from there we will develop courses, games, and even graphic novels to better protect society against human predators and their methods.
Yuval Laor, PhD, has been working on a leading-edge vector graphics presentation of his model of awe and fervor, which we hope to make available on the site in the next few months. His ideas are vital to the understanding of commitment to destructive groups and relationships, and I’ve had the pleasure of being his sounding board while he has developed the presentation.
I want to express my gratitude to the core group at Open Minds who have worked so hard to create the foundation and to educate me in their own disciplines, to the donors who have made this work possible, and to those who have publicized our work through social media: thank-you!
It has been a fascinating ride. Hopefully, by the end of 2018, we will have a fully-functioning, interactive website capable of changing attitudes towards manipulation and manipulators. Please do everything you can to support this work!
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Do you have a story about undue influence that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!