Sunday, 7 December 2008

Join Me pt I (or, "I Belong to a Cult")

"HAVE fun this weekend, you big weirdo."

I have a confession to make. I belong to a cult. Well, more of a collective.

In truth, it used to be a very big and important thing in my life, and so if I had had this blog three years ago, you would have known about it from day one. But now, well, part of me has moved on. I still find it a very entertaining and important movement, but I've been away from it for a long time, and I'm just not quite extroverted enough to dip in fully. However, yesterday was the annual London cult meet-up, so I went along and had a good laugh.

Perhaps I should explain.

There is a man called Danny Wallace. At the funeral of his great uncle Gallus, he discovered that Gallus had once tried to set up a commune, tired of the constant aggression and nastiness of World War II. He wanted to get one hundred people to live together on his Swiss farm, in harmony and happiness. He wanted one hundred, but he got three.

The rest of the family laughed this off, but Danny, bored, unemployed and liable to undertaking stupid challenges, was inspired. He returned to London, determined to get Gallus his one hundred people. He was going to get one hundred people to join him. What for? He had no idea, but that didn't really matter.

He placed an advert in the London newspaper Loot, inviting people to "Join" him, and to send him a passport photo as means of commitment. By the power of word of mouth and the Internet, slowly people began to join.

Skip forward several years and a book. There are now thousands of "joinees", all doing the bidding of Danny, their "leader".

Now, all of this sounds terrifyingly cultish: strangers, meeting over the Internet, doing the bidding of a man who likes sitting around in his flat, in his pants, scratching. They call him "leader".

But it's not sinister. Because Join Me is a happy, and in no way scary, collective of like-minded lovely people. As numbers grew and became restless with a lack of direction (after all, Danny had no idea why he wanted people to join and why indeed they were joining), Danny had to eventually find a purpose for the group. And it's purpose was to be to make people happy. To go out of your way to perform a random act of kindness (RAoK) each and every Friday.

And the reason why it works is this: for some reason it has become a taboo to be nice. Not nice in a 'be pleasant to your neighbour' way, but nice in a way that means that you go out of your way to do something exceptional for someone you don't know, just because you can. Once a good deed is done, everyone sees how wonderful it is, but it's the doing that most people refrain from. It's all too easy to walk past the homeless person without stopping to help or chat, because that is what everybody else does and it is almost what is expected of you. You wouldn't buy a stranger a pint in the pub just because it is nice, because people will think that it's strange. But given an excuse, like being a joinee (although there are many other excuses of course), all of these things are possible. Join Me tapped in to the desire of many to belong to something, and the desire for people to do amazing things, given some kind of excuse. And those doing the deed benefit too, receiving the warm, glowing feeling that comes from being a helping hand.

I am a joinee. I have been for 5 years. For reasons I won't go into at this juncture, my joinee name is, officially, Silver Rainbow Joinee Bish-Bish. Through Join Me I have raced rubber ducks down public fountains, raised money for charity and been on television, line dancing. I have many friends within Join Me, and it's the most marvellous bunch of disparate lovely people who came together for really silly reasons. But I've drifted away. I don't perfom RAoKs every Friday - I just try to generally be nice, and not because Danny told me to, but because I am just generally nice. Or at least I hope so. Until yesterday I hadn't been to a meet in years, having missed last year's London meet for the beaches of Fiji. Before that, I'm not really sure when the last time I got involved was.

So I decided to go to yesterday's meet to see what had become of Join Me. It is now seven years old and many have moved on, but would there be a new lease of life, new names and renewed enthusiasm? Boy, what a bizarre day it was...

I really recommend you buy the book. If nothing else it will make you laugh. But it might just change your life.

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