People appreciation

This week I’ve contemplated bravery.  Almost always the brave person is the one feeling most afraid.   Have you heard or read about the 1977 Jonestown tragedy? I am almost finished reading survivor Debbie Layton’s account in her escape.  She had to be secretive and clear headed.   Like in Nazi Germany, those who reported on others were rewarded.  “Regular” people joined this cult unwittingly.  Intelligent people can be fooled by demagogues too often.  Debbie, her mother, and brother Larry were looking to live lives of meaning when they joined the Peoples’ Temple, a socialistic-style society with promises that weren’t kept.  Jonestown was a prison, punishments were severe, but now near the end of Debbie Layton’s account, she’s figuring out a way to escape and help others.

In 1977 when I’d heard about the sorrowful mass suicide (actually, at gun-point 900 people were forced to drink a kool-aid product laced with cyanide) I can remember how anyone could surrender their body and soul to a charismatic egomaniac, Jim Jones.  But sometimes they do.  Debbie Lawton did, and her life and lives of family and friends were either lost or shattered.  Jonestown is a bygone tragedy, but it has relevance to terrible events we see unfolding today.  Like Jim Jones, Osama bin Laden is a dangerous demagogue.   Jonestown is a universal tale about an ideology gone awry.

Deborah Layton, a survivor, wrote “Seductive Poison”
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11 thoughts on “People appreciation

  1. Mary Alice Tallmadge

    Kathleen, Debbie Layton’s account was required reading in a Critical Writing class, and I reacted just like you– how could these people actually join this cult?

  2. An added thought– it’s good when we as individuals create a positive social network. Humans are meant to be somewhat clannish. Churches (as long as they aren’t too fundamentalist) and other organizations can offer support. Socialistic organizations do not strengthen the family bond– they weaken it because alliance must go to “the state.”

  3. Janessa Breckinridge

    Debbie Layton suffered from paranoia for years after her escape. After being told by Jim Jones how she would be hunted forever by cult members, she was always looking over her shoulder.

  4. Mary Alice Tallmadge

    Of course– she’d been brainwashed for seven years. Her older sister Analisa who was against this cult from the beginning managed to get her out along with the American Embassy (who didn’t actually believe how bad it all was in Jonestown) helped her escape.

  5. Kathleen Rowland

    To an outsider, the frightening details would sound ludicrous. Jonestown was a hard labor prison camp. The lack of protein, lack of sleep, and indoctrination made them fearful.

  6. Reba Studebaker

    People join self-help groups, churches, and political movements to become part of something larger than themselves. Sometimes they walk blindly into something dangerous. There are warning signs, aren’t there?

  7. Mary Alice Tallmadge

    When family and friends are used as a weapon to force someone to stay in an organization, something is terribly wrong.

  8. Kathleen Rowland

    Kidnapped persons are brainwashed in a similar way. Threats of retribution, fear, abuse, severe punishments, and lack of protein make cult members weak. Also, Jim Jones convinced people that they would be attacked and tortured by various governments. In truth Jones sent his own riflemen out in the jungle to fire shots, scaring people into believing they were going to be attacked.

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