Don't forget to rate this post down below!


Mon, Sep 06, 1999 at 18:39:27 (EDT)







Building an abuse-resistant culture
This is a long post, trying to outline an idea I've been brewing for some time now. It's serious, too - maybe Anth can lighten it up!

Several people have pointed out that it's probably a given that individuals with a proclivity to abuse will be drawn to organisations such as churches, and community groups, where they can have access to victims. That this happens can hardly be blamed on the organisation involved. However, an organisation can do a number of things to build a culture in which such individuals are unlikely to get away with abusive behaviour. How does an organisation build a culture which minimises the possibility of abuse? Although we've been talking on this forum about DLM/Elan Vital, this question is equally relevant for any organisation where people are potentially vulnerable - particularly organisations where children are about, or where there are people with reduced ability to look out for themselves, eg people with mental retardation.

As a first step, the organisation can be very careful in its selection of those who are to hold positions of power. Selection processes should be open, referees carefully checked.

Mechanisms which provide avenues for feedback in relation to those who have been selected for powerful positions can be provided, for example, performance reviews. These could routinely encompass interviews with those in subordinate positions or roles, to see how they've found working with that person. Certainly, this may not pick up heavy abuse, if it's been well-hidden e.g. through threats. But it might give the potential abuser pause if s/he knew that feedback would be routinely solicited.

Wider measures may be more powerful. An organisation can develop a culture of review, in which feedback and discussion are encouraged at all levels. This may not be as neat as its more authoritarian alternative, but it increases ownership and means that people feel free to talk about things which aren't going so well. Potentially, it means the organisation will be stronger, as it is continually able to identify problems in their early stages, and set things right. If open discussion and feedback were the norm, it's more likely that people would feel free to speak up when something really off the wall, like child abuse, happened. Of course, to develop a culture of this kind, the organisation would need to be responsive to people's input: where problems were identified, something would need to be done to fix them. We've probably all worked in workplaces where there's much talk about how valued our contributions are, but very little real listening and action from those above when those opinions are voiced.

Some ways in which such a culture could be encouraged are: upper management getting to know people at lower levels. Open door policies. Meetings where people get to participate in developing strategic direction, policy and procedures, and in making decisions. Formal reviews which encourage input from staff/members/clients eg through interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, working groups, and which result in recommendations which reflect input, and are acted upon. Those in leadership roles can make it clear that each person is valued, that clear and open communication is valued, and that people are expected to act in a way that respects the rights and needs of others.

People can be encouraged to trust their own feelings and intuition: if someone's doing something to you that feels wrong, it most probably is. This is a standard strategy for helping kids recognise and avoid abusive situations.

In more formal terms, an organisation can set up mechanisms through which complaints can be lodged. This needs to be done with care: too often the person to whom complaints are supposed to be made is the very person who is in the position to abuse. Organisations can be creative in designating people to whom problems can be brought - they might include a range of people, at different levels, and of different 'types' - men, women, professionals, non-professionals - the idea being that at least one of them will be someone whom a potential victim would trust. All would need the personal qualities and skills to know how to handle a complaint. All would need the backing of the organisation. All would need to know when it would be appropriate to involve outside authorities, such as the police.

Another safeguard which an organisation can employ to guard against extreme attitudes and behaviour, including abuse, is to make sure it is open to scrutiny by the wider community. This might involve things such as holding widely-publicised and open AGMs, inviting outside people on to governance bodies, including community members outside the group on the list of people with whom complaints can be taken, encouraging the use of community-based mediation and facilitation mechanisms when conflicts arose. External review mechanisms are a powerful way to enable an organisation to find and fix its blind spots, including those which foster abuse.

All these things are safeguards: they don't guarantee that abuse won't happen, but they make it less likely that it will begin, and more likely that it will not continue.

So how does Maharaji's organisation stack up on these kind of safeguards? I haven't been around for about four years - people are always telling me it's changed for the better (heard that for 20 years while I was still 'in'). But the Elan Vital I knew did not have any feedback mechanisms, either for individuals, nor for the organisation as a whole. At college, I routinely filled out evaluation forms at the end of each semester's teaching - not once do I recall anything similar in relation to MJ's instructors. As to having input into the 'big' issues - such as the direction of the mission, the way in which K was perceived to relate (or not relate) to other aspects of life, or how meditation should be given to people who were interested in it - there was no QUESTION of having input - MJ was the one and only person who determined how these things should be.

Open discussion? Any suggestion of criticism, particularly of MJ, was labelled 'negativity' and immediately dismissed. One of the final 'drips' for me was hearing MJ make it clear that if you had a problem with ANYTHING to do with his trip, you should not raise it: his exact words were 'if you have a but, sit on it.' I must say, premies did discuss, amongst themselves, the problems with particular instructors, many of whom were very strange human beings (though I never heard anything about Jagdeo and children). However these concerns could not be raised with MJ, whose instructors they were. There was just no avenue to do this. If I'd been g's mom, I wouldn't have known anyone close to MJ to inform. Letters were not answered, who knows if they were read? And anyway, we all knew that letters to MJ should not be 'negative', they should be full of praise and appreciation.

There were those question and answer sessions, occasionally. Not that they were discussions - the premies were the beggars, those sunk in confusion, MJ was the one with all the answers. I can remember - and this is in the 90s - MJ waving a bunch of premie questions around, explaining how silly people were to have questions. Anyone who did so had to be very brave: first, everyone could tell how confused you were just by the fact that you asked a question - MJ said people only asked questions if they were confused and not sufficiently in touch with the real thing - the big K. Secondly, you ran the risk of public ridicule.

Open door policies? Top management in touch with the people? During the 20 years that I followed MJ, making every effort to make him my primary relationship, I think he spoke to me twice. I have no idea if he knew my name, or anything about me. As someone who DID have issues about some things, I tried for years to get to have some sort of dialogue with him - never happened. There was no way for me to make contact. And no sign from him that he would want me to do so.

Acting on feedback? That's the major issue re Jagdeo and MJ. It seems he had the feedback, but didn't act.

Were there messages that people were valued, that respectful interaction was expected? Sometimes. But at other times, MJ's line did not encourage premies to treat each other well. I can remember him saying 'you can't trust the premies'. The whole three-legged stool analogy made it clear that there wasn't room for other people in the equation - they were really just a distraction. I also remember him talking about how we needed to be opportunists. Maybe he meant taking the opportunity to meditate, but he didn't make that clear, and many premies seemed to take it to mean they should fight their way to the top of the service ladder, stepping on whoever's head was handy. There were the times when the whole idea of community was denigrated. And relationships, we all knew, were doomed to failure, as they represented such an imperfect form of love. No, I think any sense of community and respect - and I know it was there at times - was the product of the humanity of the premies themselves, rather than ofMJ's encouragement.

Were we encouraged to trust our own feelings and intuition? On the surface, the answer is yes: MJ talked all the time about following your feelings (heart as opposed to mind). But then, he also defined what constituted 'heart'. I, for one, came to profoundly distrust any feeling I had about MJ and his world which was not gratitude, bliss, uncritical love. In the ashram, there were times when I felt very uncomfortable about what was going on, and my intuition told me to get out fast. I stayed because it was agya to stay, and because I 'knew' I should be grateful to have the wonderful opportunity etc etc. I had friends living in premie houses which were much more open, loving, and tolerant places - I longed to be with them, and in retrospect, I would have been much better off. What I learned in the ashram was that my feelings and perceptions were not to be trusted. Later, when things started going wrong for my family, I was again repeatedly told that I wasn't seeing things right, and that my feelings were incorrect. It has taken me a long time to learn to feel comfortable with my own perceptions and feelings - to apply appropriate levels of questioning to them, but not to judge them by external criteria: eg MJ wants it this way, so it must be right.

Formal complaints mechanisms? I never heard a whisper of such a thing.

Scrutiny from the wider community? The Elan Vital I knew was a very inward-looking organisation. With the exception of the short DUO phase, there was little involvement in the outside world, except as a source of recruits or dollars. While non-devotees might have been called upon for technical advice, I do not recall their expertise being sought in 'people' areas. The organisation's books weren't open; membership of Elan Vital, in a legal sense, was strictly limited; I was never invited to an AGM, let alone their being open to the public; conflicts were supressed, certainly never taken to community-based conflict resolutions mechanisms; the idea of external review was a million miles away from EV culture.

The bottom line, to me, is that the kind of culture which encourages the openness in which abuse is unlikely to thrive, is a democratic culture. MJ's world is authoritarian, anti-democratic at its core. MJ is IT, what he says, goes. I find it amazing, at this distance, that intelligent, liberal-minded people - like me and you - accepted such an authoritarian set-up without question. It could only have been because we believed MJ was the one person who had a right to play the role of an authoritarian ruler - he was the Perfect Master. Premies still believe this. Premies who would be appalled at the idea of dictatorship in any other context, still accept it in Maharaji's world.


5 Brighter than 1000 suns as seen through night vision goggles
4 As bright as the lights on Maharaji's jet
3 As bright as a 60 watt light bulb
2 As bright as a pile of burning ghi on a swinging arti tray
1 As bright as the inner light as seen by the third eye