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Why We Say: Don’t Drink The Cool-Aid

Updated on August 22, 2020
Kool-aid dragon 2
Kool-aid dragon 2 | Source

The saying 'Don't drink the cool-aid' is one most of us have heard before. Many of us associate the phrase with the Jim Jones tragedy in the country Guyana on the continent of Africa. It is also a saying I heard a decade before Jonestown from both my mother and my grandmother.

My mother and grandmother intended this as real warnings about accepting offers of free drinks from folks we did not know. As I grew older, I began to understand that it might also mean ‘think twice about what you hear'. Now when I hear the phrase, I sometimes wonder about which way it is meant.

North Chicago

The setting was in North Chicago, in the 60’s. Mom was being independent and taking a college class in English at one of the nearby Colleges or Universities. I say ‘being independent’ because in those days it was generally accepted that the man of the house was the bread-winner, and the woman’s role was to stay at home and take care of the kids. Mom was a bit older than your average college student of that day (I was ten, or less), and she survived the sixties. For those who did not live through it, the sixties was a time of racial hatred, religious hatred, lifestyle hatred, demonstrations, assassinations, and common every-day casual street violence. (Everyone has heard of the demonstration at the Democratic Convention in ’68, I got to visit the evening it happened).

I first heard the saying in those times, on two separate occasions. Both times I took it literally, as children do, but in retrospect it may not have been meant that way.

The first time, Mom was heading out to some student function, Mom and Dad were discussing it because it meant somebody had to be babysitter for us kids. I recall overhearing the phrase ‘Don’t Drink the Cool-Aid’ and went to the kitchen and started reading the ingredients list on the small packages of Kool-Aid we had in the house. When Mom came in to see what I was up to she responded to my question by pointing out the fancy names they used for sugar on the ingredients list, and said those are bad for you. My parents discussion ended as Mom left the kitchen, Dad saying something like ‘brainwash’, followed by Mom saying ‘big ears and little pitchers’, which left me thoroughly confused, imagining something along the lines of someone using a cooking funnel to pour cool-aid into someone’s ears.

The second time, I was going to visit a friend’s house, the vacationer I’ve mentioned before. Mom seriously warned me ‘Don’t drink the Cool-Aid’. For whatever reason, I thought of the Mary Poppins song, after all, the sixties also was the time of Mary Poppins. But I took Mom's request to heart, and resolved not to drink anything on my visit. Of course, when he visited us, I was allowed to offer HIM some Kool-Aid, which I recall he politely turned down. It seems we both had over-imaginative mothers (or maybe not).

Is Cool Aid A good Thing?

Washington, DC.

The other time was also in the 60’s, but this time the place was the southeast quadrant of Washington, DC. This was the era of the Washington riots and the fires on north side of town, DC's sad offering to the legacy of Martin Luther King. My grandfather had a row-house in southeast that he’d had for years. Their church was not too far away, also in Southeast. When we visited my grandparents, it was expected we’d go to church on Sunday, to Sunday school, sermon, and the little social afterwards that was held in the basement of the church. Grandmother always took me aside before going and would say ‘Don’t drink the cool-aid.’ I asked why, and grandma explained that ‘sometimes the folks who serve the Kool-Aid will add something to it that will make you sick’. Trusting in grandmother, I always made a point of drinking water during the little socials, and running off to bang on the piano (I can’t play) or play shuffleboard (I can't play shuffleboard either). All too often, as we returned from church grandma would sometimes have something not so nice to say about whatever was being said, us always politely nodding our heads up and down and agreeing. I paid it no attention, knowing once again to wait until we got home to get my own glass of sugary ‘cool-aid’.

Grandfather sold his house to get away from the violence of the late sixties and moved to the suburbs. In the 70’s after they moved, I’d still hear the saying before we went to church.

Either way, towards the end of the seventies, I’d pretty much forgotten about cool-aid, having graduated to more serious sugary drinks, like Dr. Pepper.

But then we heard about Jonestown.

Or Is Cool Aid A Bad Thing? (from YouTube - FireLightMedia)


The Jonestown event at the end of the 70's is the one most folks almost automatically associate with the phrase. The event became well known because it involved the mass death of over nine hundred people led to their death by a single charismatic leader. Their death was reported to be by means of drinking a cyanide laced drink.

Jonestown made many wonder, how could one person mislead so many to the point that they would willingly commit mass suicide? Had the leader somehow obtained the Pied Piper’s magic flute? Was he spiking their Cool Aid all along? Or were their minds poisoned with doctrine, long before their bodies were poisoned with cyanide. In this case, it looks like cool aid in the form of a prolonged doctrine of propaganda preceded the event. It's a sad day indeed when Congressmen drink the cool-aid.

But it did make me rethink my parents’ discussion back in the sixties, and how, as a child, I was led away from thinking about such things. It almost made me recall some of my parents (and grandparents) favorite sayings: ‘Do you believe everything you hear?’, and ‘Do you believe everything you read?’ I grew accustomed to automatically answering ‘Of course not’, and grew up questioning nearly everything, much to the annoyance of my teachers, both in Sunday school and in School.

Either way, most who have learned of this tragedy associate it with the phrase 'Don't Drink the Cool Aid'.

Modern Day

Take a moment and look back at that Mary Poppins ‘spoonful of sugar’ video. Did you notice how quickly you began to sing along? Did you notice the entranced children? I’m sure it wasn’t intended that way, but in retrospect, the children's hypnotized look seems to be a warning of things to come. Now, forty years later in the 2010s, think about the fact that those children are roughly the same age as our current leaders. Did they sing that song too? Didn't we all?

Now that we are well into the twenty-first century, I recall Dad saying 'brainwash' that first time that I heard the Cool-Aid phrase, over forty years ago. But now, I've got a little bit more experience behind me, and can't help but wonder if my parents were aware of the extracurricular education that was occurring at that time in Chicago. I now believe their usage of the phrase really had little to do with drinking the drink, and had much to do with being exposed to the subliminal subterfuge that is so widespread in that area. Perhaps other children growing up in that time took it literally enough to allow a Jonestown to happen.

Now today, we hear the voices of some Congressmen with the apparent attitude “not to worry, we’re only doing what’s good for you”, as if they know best. I look back at the Disney video and I think ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s a good thing’, then I look at the Jonestown video and I think ‘‘I don’t know, but to me that looks like a bad thing’, and I wonder if the path we follow is just too sweet for us to stray.

And so, I leave you with this thought: Beware the offerings that poison the mind, for they affect even the best and brightest. Know your own values and don't let someone lead you away from them with sugary promises of an easy path.

Authors Note

The author has taken care in this article to distinguish between Kool-Aid as a product, and the use of the term 'cool-aid' when referring to people who may unwittingly subject themselves to subliminal subterfuge. While it might be tempting to change the title of this article to 'Don't Drink The Kool-Aid' in order to conform to a notion of a higher standard, to do so would mean the author would have to 'Drink the Cool-Aid', and worse, be misguided into offering an unwarranted recommendation regarding the goodness of Kool-Aid (the product). If the makers of Kool-Aid chose to take offense because of the new title, it would be the author and not the holder of the higher standard they would seek to hold accountable.


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    • FitnezzJim profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Thank you for reading Dahoglund. As I get older, I lean more toward the metaphorical interpretation, and I believe it was the inexperience of youth that led me to a literal interpretation.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I am not sure it really makes much difference which it refers to. In both cases it refers to the drink being possibly contaminated. I don't recall Jonestown enough to recall if the people knew they were being poisened. I don't think they were. At the socials you mentioned,, I, assume ,the drink was spiked with alcohol or drugs.

    • FitnezzJim profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Thank you for commenting. Thinking back, my grandparents lived in DC, and mom was raised there. My guess it was a locals reference to the various points-of-view and teachings that are shared so freely at political gatherings. I do know I heard it in both the 60's and 70's, long before Jonestown happened. The folks at Jonestown drank the cool-aid for the mind long before they drank the more infamous cool-aid for the body.

    • SotD and Zera profile image

      SotD and Zera 

      8 years ago

      I had no idea that phrase predated Jonestown- I read somewhere that it started as a very poor joke referencing the poisoned Cool-Aid. Learn something new every day.


    • FitnezzJim profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Thanks for the comment JT and belated thanks to vrajalava. Beware the cool-aid.

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 

      9 years ago from Florida

      Yes I have always heard this as well. We need to preserve our minds and indiviudality. I completely agree.


    • vrajavala profile image


      9 years ago from Port St. Lucie

      There are a lot of folks who drank the "hooey change" Kool-Aid, and are now really throwing up. And talking about it.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Huh. I drank every bit of Kool-Aid I could throw down my throat and never even hear the saying (despite Jonestown) until I joined HubPages.

    • pinkdaisy profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      The Jonestown mass suicide was a horrible tragedy. Hopefully, it never happens again.

    • FitnezzJim profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      Agree that there are few people in the world as evil as portrayed here, and would also agree that huddling under a tree afraid of the sky would not make for a free lifestyle. However, I see nothing wrong with learning from the lessons of history ... beware the cool-aid.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      No, only Jim Jones is that evil, and maybe a few other people in the world. Most people are not as sinister as that. You can either look for the good and keep working for the best you can do, or sit in the shadows under a tree and worry about pieces of the sky falling like chicken little. I prefer to be out in the sunlight myself.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Worth thinking about, Jim. I don't recall hearing the phrase as a youngster--though we had plenty of the original Kool-Aid around, especially during the heat of summer haying season.

      Maybe my own refusal to believe another's opinion was automatically more informed than my own came from the politics of my parents, though. For 52 straight years, they cancelled out each other's vote in every election. Since I could neither rely on their wisdom nor rebel against their parental authority politically, guess I had to start thinking for myself....

      Jim Jones in Guyana blew my mind when it happened. Not now; I've gotten way too jaded since then.

    • ElderYoungMan profile image


      9 years ago from Worldwide

      @Pete-I disagree. I honestly think that the congress has "Drunk the Kool-Aid" of bribery and sold us all out. That's why the laws don't make sense to anyone anymore. The point is that our government no longer represents the people regardless of political affiliation. I think the Jim Jones comparison above if very appropriate to illustrate the state of things today.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      9 years ago

      Great hub Jim. I don't think people in Congress on either side of the aisle purposely lead us down a wrong path. I'm sure they believe their way is the best way. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. When people look at an issue, how do they look at it? Do they simply look at it in terms of how it affects them or do they look at it in terms of what is best for the entire country? Doing the latter can be difficult when what is best for the country will leave you paying more than you did before.

    • FitnezzJim profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      ElderYoungMan, thank you for the kind words.

      H.P.Roychoudhury, all too true. You also sent me a great question, one to which I think only history can write an answer. I hope it does not take too long for me to offer up a perspective for discussion.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 

      9 years ago from Guwahati, India

      One has to learn how to believe himself.

    • ElderYoungMan profile image


      9 years ago from Worldwide

      Great Hub! You are spot on and it is almost like something in the food or the drinks that seems to dull us down to the point of not questioning anything at all. Keep Hubbing!


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