Following are some comments on cultism in Amway. In the Forbes quote, an Amway executive admits to the problem of cultism. Phil Kerns, who was in both the People's Temple and Amway, compares the two. (The Forbes article was written after Kerns' book brought much unfavorable publicity to Amway.) Most of the other comments are from cult/mind control experts, and the last is from an ex-Amway distributor. I've saved many other similar comments from ex-distributors who said they felt as if they had been involved in a cult.
Especially noteworthy is the section from Dr. Samway's book; in the preface she states "I have mentioned the names of groups and courses only where I have heard similar and consistent stories from many separate sources."
I'm starting with some information from the Cult Awareness Network in Chicago, to help put everything else in its proper context. [Note: Since this information was compiled the Cult Awareness Network was taken over by the Scientologists and should no longer be considered a trustworthy source of information on cultism. The information here is still valid, however.]
[For more information on cultism in Amway, please see Ashley Wilkes' Amway Motivational Organizations: The Nightmare Builders, and our links to other Amway Information Sites. We also have links to a number of general cult information web sites.]
Who Are They?
Destructive cults fall into several different categories, including:
Marks Of A Destructive Cult
Techniques Of Mind Control
NOTE: Not all of these features need to be present simultaneously for a mind control regime to be operative.
NOTE: Not all of these harmful effects will be experienced by everyone who has a destructive cult experience.
"When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you've ever met, and then you learn that that cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true! Don't give up your education, your hopes and ambitions, to follow a rainbow."
-- Jenne Mills, former member of the People's Temple and subsequent victim of assasination a year following the November 18, 1978 Jonestown suicide/murders of 911 adults and children.
Submitted via email by a former distributor.
Hello Mr. Schwartz,[Many thanks to the person who took the time to write this]
Reading your pages has made me decide to also submit insight from my little experience with Amway.
It utilizes the checklist of a Destructive Cult, and then compares my recollections of that time in my life with that of the items within the list.
Marks Of A Destructive Cult
* Charismatic Leadership: Claiming divinity or special knowledge and demanding unquestioning obedience with power and privilege. Leadership may consist of one individual or a small group of core leaders.
I don't think there is one person that they have at Free Enterprise Day that isn't charismatic, just drumming one of two things into your mind. First is how successful they are, and second is that they were successful by following the examples and instructions of their leaders. Time after time we hear examples of how they ran into a problem, and ran to their leadership who solved everything. Time after time we hear how they were down on their luck, but they persevered, and made it through, and now look at where they are at. Time after time, we are reminded that if we are good little worker bees, that eventually we can be on top too…
* Deception: Recruiting and fundraising with hidden objectives and without full disclosure of the use of mind controlling techniques; use of "front groups."
Deception? Don't think there's deception in Amway? First thing they teach you about contacting new prospects: Don't tell them it's Amway. They even coach you on how to avoid the question of "Is it Amway"… some responses are "Why do you think it would be Amway?", "What have you heard about Amway?", "Why, do you know someone who has been successful in Amway?". And of course, "our group is different" from INA, or World Wide Dream Builders, or * or * or *. We support you, and bring you into our happy family. 2nd thing they teach you is not to tell anyone how long you have been in, how much (little) money you make, etc. Talk in vague concepts "because we don't want to violate the law"… which in reality to say that you don't want people to think of you as LESS successful than what you really are.
* Exclusivity: Secretiveness or vagueness by followers regarding activities and beliefs.
Again leading back to the exclusivity of follow the instructs of your upline, and don't do what INA does, do what we have done, as we know it's successful. Noneone has the miracle soap we do. Noone has the marketing plan we do (look at the FTC item that says we are a better MLM than everyone out there… (which reminds me, Steve, has anyone tried to find out about this thing? and if so, why does the FTC keep going after Amway?). Don't try anything new, just do what we tell you to. And the first few times you show the plan, someone else has to do it… you have to learn… OK, that's fine for the first few times, and then after you show the plan about a half dozen times with your upline, you can also branch on off and show it on your own, but make sure that those people see the nightly "big plan" being shown at your local hotel meeting place, or whatever, so that they can see the big picture, and learn new things that you don't know yet.
* Alienation: Separation from family, friends and society, a change in values and substitution of the cult as the new "family;" evidence of subtle or abrupt personality changes.
"If they can't see the benefit to the plan, then they are just going to hold you back. This is so simple, anyone can make money at, and if they can't make money at it, they aren't worth your time." This is the sort of alienation that lost me one friend, almost lost me my wife, and also damaged other relationships. I know now that some of my friends think of me as a guy out to get a quick buck, and as a soap salesman. I left Amway over 4 years ago, and I still have this stigma over my head with some of my friends. Alienation is an understatement.
* Exploitation: Can be financial, physical or psychological; pressure to give money, to spend a great deal on courses or give excessively to special projects and to engage in inappropriate sexual activities, even child abuse.
Countless tales of the pressure to go to functions, buy tapes, be "core", read the book, show the plan 5 to 7 times a week, can show that this is exploitative. You are a loser if you aren't core. You are a loser if you don't go to FED(or the monthly seminars, or the various nightly seminars on your nights when you aren't showing a plan). You are a loser if you don't have 100% personal usage. I remember when we started to back away, we mentioned that the tape costs were killing us, and the response was not to back off, but instead, listen to the tapes more, and listen to more of them.
* Totalitarian Worldview (we/they syndrome): Effecting dependence, promoting goals of the group over the individual and approving unethical behavior while claiming goodness.
Really? "Save the world with our new ecologically safe soap, that's cheaper, and even if you don't sell it, at least buy it from yourself" It's the Business vs. the System. Nobody has a soap that is this environmentally safe. We are the wave of the future. MLM is the wave of the future. Not advertising is the wave of the future. Catalog sales are the way of the future. We know the only wave of the future, and it's not at a dead end job (Just Over Broke) in the System. We are the only people who will be selling stuff by the end of the century (the Internet wasn't all that big yet). We are the "only way you can break free from your pathetic, miserable, little lives".
Techniques Of Mind Control
* Group pressure and "Love-Bombing" discourages doubts and reinforces the need to belong through the use of child-like games, singing, hugging, touching or flattery.
I went to college for Radio and TV broadcasting, so I've heard many items on creating trances, and other sound related items. Yes, there is a lot of group pressure, and love-bombing, but what I have yet to see on your pages, Mr. Schwartz, is a comment that at both of the FED's that I went to, there was heavy usage of music, where everyone was encouraged to dance to it, sing along, etc. This sort of singing the same song over and over and over again can also be brainwashing. How many children have we heard singing the same commercial over and over again? And of course, the band that was playing there also has a bunch of albums that you can buy for listening to in-between your daily "show the plan" tapes… (When was the last time you went on out and bought a commercial?) Music at the right speed can provide a sort of trance state, where you will be more receptive to what you are about to hear, and I have no doubt that they knew this.
* Isolation/Separation creates inability or lack of desire to verify information provided by the group with reality.
Of course, going back to the "if they don't do it, they are losers", and "if they failed before, they're losers", so obviously you don't need to associate with losers, as they don't really know what they are talking about. Associate only with winners. Associate only with people who have the potential to be winners. We know who can be a winner. Trust us, those people who don't get into the Business, are all losers.
* Thought-Stopping Techniques introduce recruit to meditating, chanting, and repetitious activities which, when used excessively, induce a state of high suggestibility.
Yep, here we do with the songs that were played at FED, which say the same things over and over and over again. And they also have some "chanting" as well… "What do you do?" "SHOW THE PLAN" "How often?" "EVERY DAY"
There's a song that they have, and I don't recall any other lines other than "We're gonna Party in Paris, Jam it in Jamica. We're gonna boogie in the Bahamas, hang loose in Hawaii". Repeat 20 times, or something like that… all I knew was that this annoying simple set of tunes stuck in my mind for weeks afterwards. UGH… But yes, they got "interactive" in that everyone was demanded to respond, you felt really out of place if you didn't respond. And you had to respond loudly, and sound convicted to that, especially when you have someone right next to you who is brand new. By the time you have been in this Business for a couple of months, it is poor form on the behalf of your upline, if you haven't seen a plan done at least 10 times. Every function I went to still included showing the plan, drumming the circles into your mind with a sledgehammer.
* Fear and Guilt induced by eliciting confessions to produce intimacy and to reveal fears and secrets, to create emotional vulnerability by overt and covert threats, as well as alternation of punishment and reward.
The fear that "if you don't do this, then what will you do?"… no alternative is given, except of course the occassional negative image of working at your "J(ust) O(ver) B(roke) job", only to have to live on Social Security, be a burden to your family and society for the rest of your pathetic miserable life. How can you let your family down? How can you not support your family in the coming years? You won't have money, your family will be living like trailer trash, and your world will fall apart if you don't succeed.
* Sleep Deprivation encouraged under the guise of spiritual exercises, necessary training, or urgent projects.
* Inadequate Nutrition sometimes disguised as special diet to improve health or advance spirituality, or as rituals requiring fasting.
* Sensory Overload forces acceptance of complex new doctrine, goals and definitions to replace old values by expecting recruit to assimilate masses of information quickly with little or no opportunity for critical examination.
Sleep deprivation? Inadequate nutirtion? Sensory overload? Really? FED is one big huge bundle of all of this, and it's horrible… OK, first off, you get there Friday… "We started late, so we need to stay a little later tonight… no big deal, right? Cause we all want to be successful, right? Don't want to be a loser, right? Wanna party in Paris, right?"… Friday is not all that bad, we just spent 4 hours driving there (mind you, after leaving work 2 hours early)… It's like a long "plan". But then Saturday, you have to get up, to hear this great person speak first thing in the morning… you might even get a chance to meet *, as he's going to be tied up with helping the big guy out, and you have to meet him. So you get up, 7:30 or so, after being awake til midnight or so (12:30 by the time you get back to the hotel), and run out the door to make it there on time. You go until noon, when they give you 30 minutes or so for lunch, but you have to hurry back, as they are going to introduce * who is one of the greatest people you will ever hear speak. Yep, sensory overlead starts filling in here, as you have assimilated a bunch of information already, and you need to see everyone, and hear every word, as they are somewhere you are not… Successful. So you drag yourself on back after shoving some horrible combination of fast food. You then are expected to jump up and down, dance and sing for another however long. You are exhausted, and your body wants that Siesta, but you can't afford to miss a single word… your energy starved body starts to slow down, you mind starts to fade a little, and they get some monotone person up there who drives his point straight through your brain, telling you how to show the plan, how to overcome objections, and you sit there, your mind soaking it up as you have no way to think for yourself. Dinner time rolls around, and it's the same thing all over again… Tonight is going to be great, though, you can't miss a single second, as the speaker tonight is the leader of your organization, and he's the man who knows the secret, and he's going to share it with you, as you are all special to show up for this. (His secret… trust your upline, and let them make any decisions for you, but you don't know that yet). So they keep going.... and going.... midnight rolled on by, and we still hadn't heard this guy yet… 12:45 he gets up and he starts to spout this sexist drivel that upsets your wife, and if you have any concern for your wife, you as well… He goes on for 30 minutes, and imparts only two bits of wisdom (many times, many ways, but it's only two, and they are his tidbits)… 1. Trust your upline to think for you… 2. The man is the one that needs to bring home the money… the wife is insignificant, she's only good enough to order the supplies, and keep the house clean. So 1:15 in the morning has rolled around, and we head on out… my wife is so agitated, that I have to spend the next 30 minutes calming her down, and then another 15 to get into bed. Ergo, 2:00am. Being a Christian, I wanted to attend the service in the morning, another 8:00am thing, so I'm working on about 5 1/2 hours of sleep… naturally, I'm bleary eyed as the service ends, and Sunday begins with more of the brainwashing. We endured through 6 more hours, of course, the big guy was given time for lunch, and we were even told "hey, go ahead and get lunch, but you have no idea what you'll be missing… It's gonna be great…"… our upline urged us to stay, and we did. We finally got out of there, and headed back home, probably leaving around 7:00 or so, so we arrive at home around 11:30, having effectively been brainwashed…
So, is it a cult? Yep, I'm sure of it. There is not a doubt in my mind. We were running a little tight on funds, so someone in our uplline suggested that my wife drop her part-time job, and work full-time on Amway. We were told not to bother with the people who didn't have enough drive to succeed, as they would bring us down with them. We were told that my wife was to be subservient, and do all that I say (she didn't like that one).
I'm sure that you are deluged with similar letters, and I must commend you for putting up this site. I don't know how often I'll drop by again, but I wish you luck. I only hope that more people can realize what they are getting into before they make the jump into Amway.
In his book Fake It 'Til You Make It, Phil Kerns compares Amway to Jim Jones' People's Temple.
I remember the telephone call I received from a woman in Salem, Oregon. She was calling me about my book on the Jonestown tragedy. I was new in the [Amway] business, having been in only a week.
"I hope that I am not disturbing you, Mr. Kerns. I got your telephone number from your publisher in Plainsfield, New Jersey. I read your book on the People's Temple, and I just wanted to give you my condolences on the loss of your mother and sister in Jonestown." Towards the end of our telephone conversation, she asked, "Oh, buy the way, are you aware of the Amway business?"
"Yes," I replied, but I did not tell her I was in the business.
"You know, every time I go to one of their meetings, it reminds me so much of your book--al the chanting and the way they malign and twist the holy scriptures for gain. I feel that this business is a cult. I think you need to tell the world about this company."
Inside I was chuckling to myself. "This is so far from the truth," I thought. "This is just a soap business--an opportunity."
I dismissed her statements from my mind because I felt they were unfounded and drifting somewhere between "Star Wars" and the "Twilight Zone."
However, today I know better; I wish I had not shunned this woman's notion to abruptly. I hope that if she read this books, she will call back so I may apologize.
Could this organization be classified as a cult? There are, without a doubt, many different characteristics utilized within this integration of salespersons which could lead many individuals to arrive at the same conclusions this lady did.
Now I realized there was more to this business than just soap and spinoffs. There was POWER!
From Cleaning Up?, Forbes 3/25/85:
"Last year DeVos and Van Andel brought in William Nicholson, former President Gerald Ford's appointments secretary, to reorganize Amway. Nicholson says the firm is cleansing the sales force and there is a new approach, downplaying evangelism and cultism and emphasizing real sales training instead."
From Avon Shuns Acquisition Overtures, Washington Post 5/4/8:
David Bromley, a Virginia Commonwealth University sociology professor, called Amway "a religiously sectarian social movement." As in many religious organizations, he said "membership is fairly closed, people believe the group is a unique means to salvation, there are ideological clashes within the mainstream, members believe the rest of the world has fallen from grace and the organization is restoring the proper order, and the group is led by charismatic leaders."
Sociologist and cult expert Jack Levin, from American Journal segment on Amway:
It does exactly the same thing on an economic level that a lot of other groups, like cults, would do on a religious level, or maybe on a self- actualization level. But it uses many of the same techniques. It gets people together in a common cause; it surrounds them with social support; it provides charismatic leadership that gives them guidelines for living…
From Hidden Persuaders, Time Out (U.K.) June 22 '94:
It was two days after he had been seen on national television, helping a young girl break away from a religious sect, that the call came through to Graham Baldwin's office.
The former university chaplain who now runs Catalyst, a counselling and therapy service for those affected by cults, listened carefully as the man explained how the group he had joined a year earlier was slowly taking over his life.
There were the huge monthly meeting at venues like the Wembley Conference Centre where he and thousands of other followers were worked into a passionate frenzy and then told to go out and find as many new recruits as possible; the powerful doctrine that frowned on television, newspapers and other "negative" influences; there was the strict dress code and the advice on how to bring up children and relate to loved ones; there was the fear that to quit would mean giving up all hope of a happy future.
However, having seen the television show featuring Baldwin, the man now alleged that he was being subjected to mind control techniques and being manipulated by those above him. He wanted advice on making a possible break. Baldwin asked which cult the man was in.
"It's not a cult. It's not a religion. It's something called Amway."
Support groups headed by senior distributors within the Amway organization are adopting cult-style tactics to recruit and motivate those below them. Help groups such as Catalyst, the Cult Information Centre and Family Action Information and Rescue (FAIR) are increasingly receiving calls from worried Amway distributors and their families, concerned about the techniques being used to keep them in the organization.
From Combatting Cult Mind Control, by Steven Hassan, M.A., cult Exit Counselor:
Commercial cults believe in the dogma of greed. They deceive and manipulate people to work for little or no pay in the hope of getting rich. There are many pyramid-style or multi-level marketing organizations that promise big money but fleece their victims. They then destroy their victim's self- esteem so that they will not complain.[Keep this one in mind when you hear Amway distributors criticizing anyone who decides to get out as a "loser," "quitter," etc.]
From Dangerous Persuaders by Louise Samways, Penguin Books Australia, 1994:
Blurb "Louise Samways is a Melbourne psychologist who is a recognized expert in the fields of psychological healing and health. Following the publication of her last book, "Your Mindbody Energy," in which she gave a brief outline of how cults manipulated people by misusing psychological techniques, she was contacted by many victims and their families. The evident need for more widespread information about how cults manage to recruit people, and how to escape from their influence, led her to write this book."
Preface "Dangerous Persuaders" has evolved not from an academic study of cults and personal development courses, but from thousands of personal stories told to me over many years by my patients and people attending my seminars and lectures. I have mentioned the names of groups and courses only where I have heard similar and consistent stories from many separate sources.
There are at least a hundred known cults operating in Australia and it has been estimated that there are over one thousand operating in the United States. Personal development courses alone are currently attracting a turnover of one billion dollars annually in Australia. Nobody knows exactly what the financial turnover in cults is worth, as large-scale tax avoidance is common.
For this reason it should not be assumed that the groups, courses or individuals mentioned in this book are necessarily the worst or the biggest. I have only mentioned those that are well known and where my own patients have shared their personal experiences with me.
"Multi-Level Marketing," page 52
Sales people have been among the first to start using psychological techniques to manipulate people. … Usually you know if someone is selling a product, so you are prepared and therefore cautious. Increasingly people are being maneuvered into joining very large group gatherings where they are processed through powerful psychological techniques to sell them some thing, when they thought they were just attending an "information evening." One marketing group used group hypnosis to make people fire-walk and then immediately afterwards, while they were still in a highly aroused state, got them to sign expensive business contracts to learn to become teachers of fire-walking themselves!
One of the best known multi-level marketing organizations is Amway. This hugely successful company started selling soap powder and now in some countries even sells cars. In order to make the most money in Amway, or to be truly "successful," it is necessary to move "upline" by recruiting more and more distributors like yourself, who themselves recruit distributors and so on. You make money not just from the goods you sell but by getting a percentage of what the distributors you have recruited sell as well.
As with all sales and marketing jobs, this requires extremely hard work and high motivation. Increasingly, Amway is adopting similar techniques to many cults in order to attract recruits, then to keep them involved and committed to the cause. For instance Amway distributors are instructed not to tell you they are selling Amway up front. Usually you are asked to attend a meeting about an "exciting new business opportunity." In fact Amway's name may not be mentioned until after a good hour of sales pitch.
The approach of the marketing organization is usually quite evangelical. It asks if there is something missing your life, and offers all sorts of emotional inducements: "reach your full potential," "find the real you," "gain greater meaning and more meaningful relationships in your life." In many ways Amway is more like a fundamentalist religion than a direct marketing business, with money as the god. Joining Amway is often described, by its distributors, as like a religious or spiritual experience.
Distributors are encouraged to recruit first among their family and friends, an action that can very quickly put open, trusting relationships on very shaky footing as friendship is exploited for financial gain. Amway distributors become aware of where a potential recruit is emotionally most vulnerable by asking questions like "What do you want out of life?" or "What is missing from your life?" Friendships and relationships are further abused when the target tries to say no. The Amway distributor may turn this into a personal rejection of himself, and the recruit can be made to feel guilty that he or she is turning down a friend.
Many people have told me about relationships they valued highly that were never quite the same after they tried to recruit a friend or family member to Amway. A side effect of this is that a new Amway distributor very quickly becomes dependent on other distributors "who think the same," for friendship as well as business relationships.
Amway encourages more and more dependence on the Amway family and its values. For instance, a distributor told me about Amway's recommendations to deal with problems in marriage (because of the demands Amway places on a partner's time and priorities!). He said Amway suggested it was not a good idea to consult a professional marriage counsellor, who would probably not understand how Amway worked. Instead marriage and personal problems should be dealt with in-house by going "upline" to an Amway distributor at a higher level!
This deliberately restricts a distributor's emotional resources to Amway and its particular value system--one which sees wives only as their husband's assistants, and regards men as being the sole decision-makers in marriage. Books and tapes are produced targeted directly at Amway wives and the role they are expected to play.
To keep distributors involved and active, weekly meetings are held where people are encouraged to talk about personal as well as business difficulties. The "upline" distributor--the one who has recruited others and therefore takes a percentage of their sales--functions as a priest, to whom failures to fulfill Amway commitments and expectations can be confessed and absolved, and further commitments made as a way of paying penance.
Extremely large gatherings are held regularly (sometimes as often as monthly) and at these many of the techniques used by traditional cults are employed to reinforce values and enhance commitment, for instance, confessions, success sharing and singing. Participants are expected to conform to a strict dress code--jacket and tie for men, smart dresses and jackets for women--no pants!
Many people hearing about the deliberately manipulative techniques used by multi-level marketing groups shrug their shoulders and say "So what?" Unfortunately dropping out of Amway and similar groups may not be simple or totally harmless. In the present economic climate people who have been retrenched are turning desperately to Amway to find some kind of income. Because of their situation they are often extremely vulnerable emotionally and Amway uses this mercilessly. A typical recruitment pitch would include the phrases "Do you have the courage to make significant changes in your life?", Do this for your children's sake," "Our only failures are quitters," and "Doesn't your family deserve what Amway can give them [materially]?"
Such highly charged language, when aimed at vulnerable people in large groups and backed up with a constant stream of audio tapes which "those who are truly committed to success will use conscientiously and diligently," can be extremely effective. But if you are not a whiz-bang seller, consider personal relationships above money, and everybody you know was signed up for Amway long ago, this it is very easy to "fail" at Amway. Coming on top of retrenchment, the resultant self-doubt and the guilt that Amway plays on can cause great distress and real depression. One ex-Amway wife told me: "My marriage, which was struggling along on a minimal income due to Joe's [husband] retrenchment, couldn't survive a dose of Amway as well."
…If you are introduced into a direct marketing scheme that does not demand control of your lifestyle, relationships and values, then maybe it can be a satisfying job. But beware those that offer "not just a career but a way of life."
From Top direct-sales companies are called a 'quasi-religion', Miami Herald 11/27/86
Amway, Herbalife and Mary Kay Cosmetics are among U.S. direct sales companies that capitalize on the fundamentalist idiom of "gospel prosperity" and are in fact a "quasi-religion," two sociologists concluded here at a meeting of social scientists.
Drawing on deep religious metaphors and explicit spiritual references, these companies "sell hope as much as soap, motivating their grass-roots sales forces to labor not merely for remuneration of commissions but out of a conviction that theirs is a sanctifying, empowering activity," said Anson Shupe of the University of Texas and David G. Bromley of Virginia Commonwealth University.
What is sociologically important about these companies' ideologies, Shupe and Bromley said, is not their ability to reconcile profit-making, wealth and materialism with spirituality. Indeed, they said, American Protestants have long ago done just that.
Instead, the significant factor, the sociologists said, "is the power of these ideologies to motivate individual sales persons far beyond the scope of their actual remuneration or realistic prospects thereof."
"Root metaphors"--the most important of which are family, pioneering, service to others and world transformations--underlie the ideologies of Amway, Herbalife, Mary Kay Cosmetics and Fuller Brush, the direct sales companies analyzed by Shupe and Bromley. They said the metaphors have the "motivating, commitment-building power into which social movements-- religious or commercial--try to tap."
Posted on Genie by ex-Amway distributor:
Greetings. I have been lurking here for quite some time and have read all the postings in this topic. I have firsthand, long-term experience with Amway, having been involved for about 3.5 years. My wife and I are currently Amway distributors but are in the process of deciding if we will continue in Amway, and if so what our approach will be. My opinions of Amway and its distributor networks are mixed but predominately negative. My wife has generally been a staunch believer in the potential Amway holds for us and the methodologies promoted by "the system;" I have generally been skeptical.
Because of this, I have probably looked deeper at various aspects of Amway than many present or former Amway distributors. I also have had exposure to four different lines of sponsorship (locally, there are no other distributors under our upline diamond except for ourselves and our downline, thus we have attended meetings hosted by various other groups in the area.) From my experience, most of what has been said in this topic is right on target.
My opinions on Amway could probably fill a book. In this posting I will throw my two cents into the current discussion and address the cult-like aspects I have encountered (even so, it is apt to be lengthy |-)). In the past, I have noticed many similarities between Amway distributor groups and religious cults and remember terming it a "secular cult." The handful of books I have read on cults give somewhat different definitions of the term, and different explanations of what consitutes a cult. Below are some characteristics I have encountered in Amway that IMO are cult-like.
1) Discouragement (elimination??) of creativity and individuality-- Everyone is told exactly how to prospect, how to dress, how to present the plan, how to follow-up, to use the support system, etc. What really made my stomach turn, though, was the behavior of people at all the meetings. They could have all been clones. Regardless of the line of sponsorship, everyone recited the verbatim the same rhetoric ("Free in '93…Go Diamond!…get plugged in!…I am *really* excited about this… The Business…The System…I am getting free"), sprayed Sweet Shot in their mouths every two minutes (lets face it-- *nobody* needs that much breath freshener), talked about the latest promotion (always a sponsoring-related promotion, BTW-- never a product-related promotion), and dressed alike. Most people were sure they would reach their next pin level by the end of the next month, too. People rarely exchanged business ideas or sales tips, as might be expected at a "business meeting." Rarely did distributors discuss their hobbies, current events, or outside interests. Sex role stereotypes prevailed as well. I guess some people are not bothered by such an environment, but I need to be given some allowance for creativity to feel like I have accomplished something. This brought back memories of "905" ,an early 1980s song by The Who about a futuristic society where people are conceived via artifical insemination and fill a predefined role in society. Here is an excerpt:
"…My name is 905
and I have just become alive.
I am the newest populator
of the planet they call Earth…
The knowledge of the universe
was fed into my mind…
Everything I know is what I need to know.
Everything I do has been done before.
Every sentence in my head,
someone else has said…
Now I'm to begin the life that I'm assigned
A life that's been used before--a thousand times…
I have a feeling deep inside that something is missing.
It's a feeling in my sole, and I can't help wishing
that … I'll discover
that were living a lie.
And I'd tell the whole world the reason why
but until then all I know is what I need to know...."
2)Discrediting any information sources outside the group-- The standard line for this is "If you want to be successful, listen to those that have been successful in this. Don't listen to those who were unsuccessful, quit, or have not tried because they only know how to quit or be unsuccessful."
3) Careful control of information within the group--The sidelining aspect has been discussed extensively here before. The justification given is "Only your upline has a vested interest in your business, so sidelines won't know what works best for you, or will have a different approach that will not mix with ours." Of course, every line of sponsorship I have observed uses substantially the same approach and everyone is told to do the same thing anyway. Distributors are also told not to discuss any negative aspects of their business with their downline, and not to ask about the details of their upline's business (number sponsored, etc.). Finally, distributors are told "until you reach diamond, only talk about the basics" (the support system, showing the plan, $200 of personal use per month.) Collectively, all this puts a significant limitation on the exchange of information.
4) Dependence on arguments from authority--Cult leaders invariably claim to have some special gift, knowledge, or divine inspiration. Whenever a cult member encounters anything that does not make sense, he is told something like "It is not for you to understand all at once; only the privileged comprehend it--in time, it will be clear." In Amway, there are lots of canned answers to the most common questions and comments--some true, some half-true. But the default answer if none of those apply is "This is an unconventional business. It often does not make any sense; but it works." This statement is often emphasized with the stories told by the higher pin levels, all of which at some point say "We made many mistakes and did not want to listen to our upline. Once we did everything we were told everything fell into place and we were successful. Now look how wonderful our life is."
5) Unconventional interpretation or definition of common terms-- I have read that many cults take conventional theological concepts and redefine them, thus enabling them to give the appearance of accepting conventional doctrine while in fact holding unconventional beliefs. I have noticed in Amway that profit in the traditional sense is rarely mentioned. Instead, when talking about their success, or when presenting the sales and marketing plan, they give their gross profit of $X and say "I (or you) have made $X." Personally, the primary metric I use to measure success is net profit. Not so in the world of Amway, though. Success is measured by sales volume, by the size of your group, by sponsoring rate, by the frequency of sales & marketing plan presentations, or even by the quantity of distributors on Standing Order Tapes and in attendance at functions.
6) Sanctity of leadership--Invariably, distributors are repeatedly reminded what *wonderful* people their upline emeralds and diamonds are. In my experience a common reward for achievement is simply to be able to spend some time with them (a group dinner or lunch, for instance). All of them are said to be altruistic, caring people that have the greatest concern and love for each distributor in their downline *personally*. To be fair, I have seen evidence that this concern is to some extent genuine (then again, with the amount of money they make from us, why shouldn't they love us ).
7) Emphasis on Proselylization--Sponsorship is the focus above all else. The retail sales aspect is ignored entirely, and even distributor use of products is not stressed as much as one might expect.
8) Claimed unique ability to offer some form of salvation--In Amway, this takes the form of financial independence or simply "getting free." This is the most important aspect to stress when prospecting and developing new distributors. (As a parenthetical remark, IMO being a typical Amway distributor is the antithesis of freedom. I have never felt such entrapment in my main occupation.) As the sales and marketing plan is typically presented, over 50% of the presentation is not devoted to the marketing plan at all, but rather to talking with a prospect about what they want to do in life. A skillful presenter lets the prospect talk about what they do to earn a living, and some of their hobbies and interests. Ideally, the presenter already knows much of this information. The presenter then guides the conversation until the prospect gives specific details on what they find lacking in their life. When the presenter finds a few items that are specific and obtainable by additional time or money, he asks the prospect to write them down on a piece of paper. The purpose in writing them down is to make them more concrete, and so your sponsor can later say something like "You came up with the reasons to build this business, not anybody that not only can you not live without them, but the only way you will ever get them is to be an Amway distributor and follow the "success pattern" exactly.
9) A few other similarities: Commonly when the marketing plan is presented the line of sponsorship will be recited and the presenter will comment on what a "fine line" or "fine thread" it was that brought him this business opportunity. He will further state how lucky he was that he was shown the plan, and how fortunate each member of his audience is to have been invited to see this opportunity. I have heard similar comments from cultist missionaries. Distributors are told that when presenting the plan they are not selling anything but rather are simply "sharing a business opportunity" or "sharing an opportunity for freedom." Soon after sponsorship, it is revealed that this business is "not about the money" but rather about "helping others." This instantly conjures up the euphemisim that missionaries and evangelists are not trying to sell anything or convert anybody--they are just "sharing the good news." I also found it interesting that after our upline found out that we were not plannng on attending the next major function we received several notes and postcards telling us how much our presence would be missed, how important it would be to others to see us and our progress, and how much they loved us and were praying we would reconsider our decision. Finally, physical exhaustion of members is a technique cults employ, and is present in some sense in Amway as well.
One final note. I have seen quite a lot of anger expressed toward people's upline in this topic. I can't blame them. Still, I feel our upline (at least the lower pin levels) are sincere believers in what they are doing. They really do feel that overall they are improving their lives and that of their downline group. I have heard Amway called a cult before, but have not from anyone as well- informed as this group here. This discussion fascinates me, too.
Posted on Usenet by an ex-Amway distributor:
I'm going to add a comment here that many people will feel is off topic, but I don't care, because I think it's important. My wife and I spent five years in the International Churches of Christ, an international cult that uses extreme techniques to convert and retain members. Wives had to submit, men had to submit to men higher up in the church…you get the idea. Well, a couple of days ago, a fellow played an Amway motivational tape for me. (Of course, not even once was the name Amway mentioned - as if they were ashamed of it.) I swear, I felt like I was back in the church, listening to the rhetoric of getting close to others and forcing friendships, "learning" from imitating others, and the like. Bottom line: If Amway works for you, fine. If the ICoC works for you, fine. Just don't expect me to join in.