Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Define: Cult

My family belongs to and trains at a martial arts dojo. For some reason this makes some people who do not participate in the martial arts uncomfortable.

It's often said that how we train and what we do is akin to being in a "cult". Even fellow members of our martial arts dojo sometimes refer to our group as a cult. Normally I laugh this off...but it usually sticks in the back of my mind for days after hearing the comment. Recently however, it has started to stick in the forefront of my mind.

Yesterday, while putting an inordinate amount of time into thinking about this concept, I started to get somewhat annoyed that people label what we do at our dojo in such a negative sense:

Define: Cult - The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. [American Journal of Sociology 85 (1980), p. 1377]: "Cults[...], like other deviant social movements, tend to recruit people with a grievance, people who suffer from a some variety of deprivation."
If you think of any sort of group/organization that people commit themselves to, you could label them all cults...especially religious organizations, since the definition of a cult is usually specific to religion. But seriously...think about it for a minute. People who "religiously" follow any sort of group or ideas could be labeled as being part of a cult.
Those who follow specific music groups - ie: Phish-heads, Deadheads, The Dave Matthews Band followers, etc.

People of socially acceptable faiths - ie: Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, Baptists, etc.

Participants or Supporters of specific Sports - ie: Soccer Moms, Hockey Moms, NASCAR Dads, etc.

Social Servants - ie: Police Officers, Fireman, EMTs, etc.

...really this list could go on and on...

These examples are socially acceptable though...right?! So no one really refers to them as "cults" ... even in jest...well...maybe the religious examples, but not really because those listed are socially acceptable religions...right?!

So now why is my dojo and martial arts affiliation looked upon as "cultish"? Do we join and try to recruit others? Sure...but does that make it a cult? Followers of DMB are constantly trying to win me over. Christians regularly preach their beliefs in my general direction. All athletic groups recruit regularly. Why don't I call them "cults" or "cult-members"?

In our dojo we are "preached to" about:

Modesty: the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one's abilities

Courtesy: the showing of politeness in one's attitude and behavior toward others

Integrity: being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness

Perseverance: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success

Self-Control: controlling of one's emotions, desires, or actions by one's own will

Indomitable Spirit: having the spirit, courage and determination when meeting challenges head on

...hmmmm...none of that sounds "deviant", "negative", "abnormal" or "bizarre" (well...maybe "abnormal ;)

What it does sound like to me is positive and progressive groupthink as define by Paul 't Hart: "collective optimism and collective avoidance". Sounds good to me. I'll take it! :o)