Is there such thing as a MLM Cult? That is a very controversial topic with a wide variety of answers. For the purpose of this article, I will do my best to provide an objective review of the “cultish” aspects of network marketing.
I’d like to preface by telling you that I am a network marketer and I have been involved with this industry in one way or another for thirteen years now. So, you could accuse me of “drinking the Kool-Aid.” And that is partially true, but I have also stepped back from the industry studying it from the outside in, as well as the inside-out. This gives me a unique perspective to cover this crazy topic. I hope you enjoy the information.
What are Cults?
According to one online dictionary, a cult is “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” Another definition I found online is “a group of people whose beliefs or practices are considered bizarre.”
If you were to take these definitions literally, you could accuse “any” religion of being a cult, to include Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Please know that I’m not personally accusing these organizations as being a cult, but it would be quite simple to argue that they are. Some common cults include the People’s Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and Branch Davidians.
Common Attributes of Cults
The two most common attributes for cults are (1) mind control and (2) the potential to get harmed. Some common “mind control” procedures include:
• Isolation from friends and family
• Getting a new identity from the group
• Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation
• A strict set of rules that all members follow
As far as the potential to get harmed, this might include damaged relationships, financial loss or even physical harm. Now that we’ve talked about some of the common attributes of cults, I would like to share my thoughts on the subject of network marketing cults.
Is There Such Thing as a MLM Cult?
First and foremost, I do not believe that network marketing industry, its companies or its leaders are cults. However, I will be the first to admit that there is some “cultish behavior” that does go on in our industry. Here are a few examples I have personally experienced:
• Many distributors are taught to get business advice from their upline (exclusively)
• Many distributors are taught that jobs are bad
• Many distributors are taught to avoid negative friends and family members
• Some distributors are taught to become a member of the “team” such as a successful distributor’s organization. The group typically has a team name, informal rules, and receives guidance from the upline.
• Many distributors are taught to flush their “stinking thinking”
• Many distributors are taught that this is the only way to build wealth
• Many new distributors are indoctrinated to the company or team at a live event
Please know that I don’t think all of these things/behaviors are bad. In fact, many of them are good things. It’s only when they are taken to the extreme that they become dangerous. For example, I think it is a good business idea to seek advice from someone who has accomplished what you are trying to accomplish.
I also think it’s a wise idea to avoid negative people who bring you down. And if you want to make it big financially, you might need to reprogram some of your thinking. Most people have only been taught to have a job. Few people have ever been taught to start their own business.
Here’s my own analysis for each cultish behavior I mentioned above.
• Many distributors are taught to get business advice from their upline (exclusively) – Many employees are taught to get career advice from their boss, family and friends (many of these folks aren’t qualified to give the advice).
• Many distributors are taught that jobs are bad – Most people have never received one hour of instruction on how to start a business or why they should start their own business.
• Many distributors are taught to avoid negative friends and family members – Why would you want to spend time with people who are negative and bring you down? I’d rather hang around people who uplift me.
• Some distributors are taught to become a member of the “team” such as a successful distributor’s organization. The group typically has a team name, informal rules, and receives guidance from the upline. This is no different than joining a civic organization or being a sporting fan. All organizations have formal and informal rules.
• Many distributors are taught to flush their “stinking thinking” – I don’t think there is anything wrong with developing a positive mental attitude.
• Many distributors are taught that this is the only way to build wealth – I don’t agree with this statement. There are many different ways to build wealth.
• Many new distributors are indoctrinated to the company or team at a live event – Most new employees receive a job orientation and are expected to follow the values and culture of their employer.
My Additional Thoughts
Most people think it’s perfectly normal to paint your face with your favorite sport’s team’s colors, put on your favorite jersey and act crazy at a sporting event. Yet, if these same people were to get excited about their OWN life and financial future, they’re considered crazy. In addition, people attend motivational seminars and events all the time to get fired up. They stand on chairs, repeat what the speaker says, and jump up and down. Yet, when network marketers do this at a company event they are considered cultish. I really don’t get it.
My Best Advice to You
Here’s my best advice for you. I don’t recommend anyone follow anyone BLINDLY. I don’t recommend that anyone takes all advice they get from someone else as “the only truth.” Ultimately, it’s up to you to evaluate the advice you are given and make your own decisions as to what is best for you and your family. I think it’s best to get advice from multiple sources.
I will be the first to admit that I have “changed” since I first started this industry thirteen years ago. I have been on a long “personal development” journey and have developed skills that have enhanced my marriage, my businesses, my attitude, and my confidence. For these reasons alone, I continue to participate in the industry. The money is a side benefit.
Ultimately, you need to decide what is best for you. If you feel that you are participating in a MLM Cult, by all means, get done. If your upline is telling you to do things that “violate your beliefs and values” by all means dig deeper and get more information before you do anything. Don’t follow anyone blindly. And don’t think that this industry is the only way to build wealth, either. It’s not.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my MLM Cult article. I would love to hear from you. If you have an experience that you would like to share with the rest of our community (about a MLM Cult Experience) please leave a comment below to share your story. Please keep it clean. I look forward to hearing from you.
20+ Year Network Marketing Professional
Top Earner & Top Recruiter
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3 thoughts on “Comparison of Network Marketing and Cults”
In my personal opinion, there are good cults and bad cults. I believe anything that a person belongs to that goes against the norm could be considered a cult. To me it just comes down to wise thoughts and actions. As I know that you are retired military, I mention this. If normal people were to take a look at basic training practices, it would be considered cult-like behavior, but these men and women come out highly trained to defend us against enemies. If a sergeant ordered you to kill another soldier because they disobeyed his orders, that would be following blindly, but if you also disobeyed, you would be not following blindly. It just comes down to using that item that was put between our 2 ears.
Interesting and though provoking post. I have had people come to me with questions about whether or not the MLM industry is a cult, and I too could see some areas (which you clearly addressed) that could appear that way from the outside looking in. But by far, the MLM industry is not designed to isolate people, control them or their way of thinking, or give them a new identity. There are guidelines in place to help you reach your goals and to fall into alignment with the overall vision of the company. But of course taking your time to research will help to determine if a company has strayed into the territory of a cult and then you can avoid it.
If it is a cult, it’s a good one!