The meeting has gone on for just a few minutes when a perceptible shift occurs: the audience is no longer fidgeting.
In five minutes on stage, John de Ruiter has said nothing. Initially, some in the audience seemed uncomfortable or merely bored. But now, they seem enraptured.
A man asks de Ruiter to analyze a dream. De Ruiter waits for a full minute before saying anything. Then de Ruiter asks a question. Then another. Then another, with prolonged silences between each.
The man’s answers become disjointed and he starts to analyze the dream himself, occasionally pleading to de Ruiter to accept his analysis as correct.
Each time, de Ruiter answers with another question or vaguely refers to the man’s need to answer from his truth within. His voice is cavernous yet soft, reverberating across a sound system controlled by three technicians at computers.
“The silence enables the followers to attribute superhuman status to de Ruiter,” he says. “They create their own illusion of him during these times. He says something esoteric and the silence gives them time to reinterpret it in ways specifically relevant to the particular needs that they have.
“I also noticed it being used as a punitive function. Someone would challenge John or call him out on these esoteric things and say, ‘Please explain this, I don’t know what it means.’
“Then he would remain silent and he would glare. And if the person in the chair breaks down and starts pleading for answers, then it becomes a demonstration to everyone in the room that wow, this guy is amazing and powerful.”
There’s research to support the contentions, he says. “Another controlling factor is the intimacy of silence. You know how when you just meet someone, it’s very awkward to have silence with them? When you’re used to them, you’re comfortable with it.”