Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The 25 Percent Rule

Let's try a thought experiment, she said.

When I first heard her say that, I thought my sister had gone off the deep end. My worry grew when she started to talk to friends and neighbors. But eventually she had a few followers, and they talked to their friends and neighbors. At 300 strong, a local reporter caught wind and interviewed her.

After the article was published in our local newspaper of nearly 50,000 circulation, mostly what I heard around town was derision and laughter. But her followers actually grew by another hundred or so.

I got angry when I read the article because it was a chop job, totally unfair, and calling my sister deluded and her followers a hopefully harmless cult. But I thought some of my sister's quotes were downright brilliant, and so I joined up.

Mostly I wanted to observe how she did it, how she listened to people and incorporated what she heard into what she said. The old and the young were the first she attracted, one because it gave them something tangible to believe in and the other because it gave them something palpable to do.

Around 1000 followers, the nearest large-city prime-time news channel sent a reporter and film-crew who followed us around. They talked to her, talked to me, talked to various staff and followers. The reporter went away smitten with my sister, and the film at eleven was actually quite positive. Shortly after, that reporter became my sister's Communication Director.

In the meantime, the hubbub caught the eye of the state's attorney general, and my job got a bit harder. I filed a 501(c)(3) and we became a religious organization. My sister wanted us to be an educational organization because she did not want to be associated with those whose belief is more concerned about the collection of money. But, we simply couldn't qualify as any other type of nonprofit.

Of course, how does one get an important message to the people unless you have money. In this age of the internet, it's the young who made it happen. They took her message and plastered it everywhere.

"Let's Try a Thought Experiment!" and "What Can It Hurt?" became logos on tee shirts and sweatshirts, and money flowed in from that. My sister was livid when she saw the first ballcap with our motto and rainbow brain logo circling around front to back, with a $20 price tag. But our Communications Director thought it was genius. And as her accountant, so did I.

When our growth reached into the tens of thousands, across multiple states, quite a few of her followers were disappointed that it wasn't time to do the thing, to actually do the experiment she had been talking about for over two years. Some of those followers wanted to break off into an opposing faction, and I worried that their rebellion would prevent the very thing my sister was trying to achieve.

But somehow, she pulled them all together, sat them down, and convinced them to stay. I don't know how she did it, I wasn't invited to that gathering. Perhaps I wasn't invited because, for awhile I'd been making remarks here and there about my own misgivings. I realize now that you can't convince others if you're not convinced yourself.

Having reigned in her detractors, our "church" grew. And grew, and grew. She appointed ministers from her most devout, who spread the word farther and wider, and she would travel all over the country talking to small and large gatherings. We began to reach across borders, which caused a lot more complications for our non-profit that needed more of my time and attention.

Even then, I don't think I was a true believer. Yes, I loved my sister and I truly believed that she believed, I just didn't think she'd ever get 25 percent of the world's population to believe.

It was the cataclysm that caused our numbers to explode. What do people do when they are frightened for their future, and for the future of their children? They search and reach out to find what they need, and my sister's simple but potent message was just that. Our subscriptions and pledges exceeded far beyond what I thought we could ever achieve.

I don't know if we actually had two billion followers, but the chorus across the globe, in this time of virulent need, could not be ignored. Could not be talked away. And so, my sister finally set a date and time, and told her followers to be ready.

I am chewing my nails waiting for that date to arrive, while her communications staff prepare the stage, the background music, her costume. Others send out daily practice meditations, and ministers prepare various locations around the globe for people to gather.

I've gotten cease and desist orders (and ulcers) from governments who threaten injunctions and fines, and some threaten military force.

Yet other, smaller governments seem to be helping. They're allocating land that will let those who gather to stand four feet apart. They say, it cannot hurt more than when all your country is already hurting so much. Let us come together and try this thought experiment. We may succeed. And if we don't try, we will certainly fail.

Are you ready?

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