For those of you too young to remember, "Drinking the Kool Aid" is an expression dating back from the late 1970s when followers of Reverend Jim Jones blindly and naively drank Kool Aid laced with cyanide, a collective action that resulted in many deaths and great trauma.
So, although nurses' experience in no way compares to what happened in Jonestown in 1978, the notion of drinking poison from a particular collective well certainly sounds familiar to me. Having said that, what Kool Aid do nurses drink?
Nurses are a hearty and thoughtful bunch, and like any group of human beings, we can at times fall under the spell of the latest news or collective thinking, no matter how erroneous or callous it may be.
The Poison of Bullying
For instance, some nurses buy into the notion that bullying and "lateral violence" are the norm within our profession and there's simply nothing that can be done about it. There are nurses who witness bullying or intimidation and speak out against it, and then there are those who, perhaps out of fear of reprisal, stand idly by as their fellow nurses are intimidated and harassed.
When we accept something like bullying as the norm, aren't we, in essence, drinking the Kool Aid that has poisoned us against righteous action? Isn't our silence then complicity? We may say to ourselves, "Oh, it's always been like that and I can't change it", but what kind of cowardice is that?
Bullying is an excellent example of how "group think"---a term often associated with George Orwell's novel, 1984---can literally hypnotize the individuals within a group, causing them to turn a blind eye to egregious actions or behaviors that they might otherwise never have condoned under normal circumstances.
The Desert of Pessimism
The news does its best to frighten us, and the barrage of reports about the nursing shortage, the lack of jobs, and the diminishing opportunities for nurses can make even the most optimistic nurse begin combing the classified ads for a job at the mall.
Sure, there's data from the federal government and labor groups that may deliver a pessimistic employment prognosis, but we can also choose to listen to those who advise nurses to think outside the box, let go of their attachment to hospital nursing, and explore a plethora of alternative career options for nurses that are growing by the day.
Group think can hypnotize us and cut us off from our intuition, stranding us in the desert of pessimism. Is that where we want to live?
Thinking For Ourselves
We need to think for ourselves, and sometimes our thoughts will lead us to inspired action (like confronting a bully, for instance). Choosing our own path and rejecting the opinions that we're told we "should" adhere to is an important step in taking ownership of our lives and careers.
When we think and act for ourselves, we actively reject the Kool Aid, instead choosing to quench our thirst at the fountain of independence.
Nurses, don't drink the Kool Aid, no matter how simple, refreshing or easy it may seem. Of course, everyone wants you to do things their way and to think like them, but you don't have to. Bullying? Reject it. Negative projections and prognostications? Reject what feels pessimistic and deflating.
Trust your gut. Speak out. Act from your heart.
Don't drink the Kool Aid.