While it may not be obvious, a great deal of what appears on this site owes a large debt to Werner Erhard, who, in my opinion, was one of the seminal western thinkers of the Twentieth Century. (1)
I’ve just kept unfolding and unpacking things he said ever since taking the est Training in 1978.
What I learned about authenticity, truth, and integrity, I learned from Werner. Now you know the source.
When we achieve a world that works for everyone, when we end hunger on the planet, we’ll do so probably not knowing that Werner was the source of and inspiration for these ideas as accomplishable social goals.
When we end gender inequality and gender persecution on the planet by 2018, a lot of the underpinnings of that, at least in my work, will have come from Werner.
Characterizations of est in particular and the growth movement in general as the “Me Generation” of navel-gazers fails to understand the path of self-awareness with its goal of Self-Realization, which is, one eventually finds, the purpose of life. It was never about self; it was always, as Werner said here, about Self and self-transcendence.
I’m so happy to hear that Werner is publicly teaching again. I owe a debt of gratitude to him that I could never repay, save by working for the ends which he so eloquently taught. Thanks to Sitara.
Peter Haldeman, “The Return of Werner Erhard, Father of Self-Help,” New York Times, Nov. 28, 2015.
The silver-haired man dressed like a waiter (dark vest, dark slacks) paced the aisle between rows of desks in a Toronto conference room. “If you’re going to be a leader, you’re going to have to have a very loose relationship with this thing you call ‘I’ or ‘me,’” he shouted. “Maybe that whole thing in me around which the universe revolves isn’t so central!”
He paused to wipe his brow with a wad of paper towels. An assistant stood by with a microphone, but he waved her off. “Maybe life is not about the self but about self-transcendence! You got a problem with that?”
No one in the room had a problem with that. The desks were occupied by 27 name-tagged academics from around the world. And in the course of the day, a number of them would take the mike to pose what their instructor referred to as “yeah buts, how ’bouts or what ifs” in response to his pronouncements — but no one had a problem with them.
In some ways, the three-day workshop, “Creating Class Leaders,” recalled an EST training session. As with that cultural touchstone of the 1970s, there was “sharing” and applause. There were confrontations and hugs. Gnomic declarations hovered in the air like mist: “We need to distinguish distinction”; “There’s no seeing. There’s only the seer”; “There isn’t any is.” (2)
But the event was much more civilized than EST. There were bathroom breaks. No one was called an expletive by the teacher.
This is significant because the teacher was none other than the creator of EST, Werner Erhard.
Pound another nail into the coffin for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notion that there are no second acts in American lives.
“I am committed to the opposite of that idea,” Mr. Erhard said a few weeks after the leadership class in Toronto. “I don’t think there’s a person who walked out of that room who isn’t a second act.” To say nothing of their instructor, who, at age 80, may be more of a third or fourth act.
[I’ve deleted the following section which, in my view, is an uncomprehending and sensationalistic putdown of everything the growth movement was about, a rehashing of Scientology’s targetting of Werner, in the face of which he felt he needed to leave the United States, etc.]
For several years before his latest professional reincarnation, Mr. Erhard consulted for businesses and government agencies like the Russian adult-education program the Znaniye Society and a nonprofit organization supporting clergy in Ireland.
[Steve: Werner is said to be the father of Glasnost and Perestroika and one of the guiding forces behind the brokered peace in Ireland.]
Enter the Harvard economist Michael Jensen. Dr. Jensen, who is famous in financial circles for championing the concepts of shareholder value and executive stock options, had taken a Landmark course in Boston at the suggestion of his daughter, who mended a rocky relationship with Dr. Jensen after taking the course herself.
“I became convinced we should work to get this kind of transformational material into the academies,” he said, adding that he considers Mr. Erhard “one of the great intellectuals of the century.”
In 2004, with the help of a Landmark official, Dr. Jensen developed an experiential course on integrity in leadership at the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester. The class was offered there for five years, with Mr. Erhard signing on as an instructor during its third year. It has since been taught at several universities around the world as well as at the United States Air Force Academy.
As far as its philosophical underpinnings go, Mr. Erhard struggled a bit to describe the course without resorting to its Delphic phraseology (“ontological pedagogy,” “action as a correlate of the occurring”).
Sitting in front of a bank of computers in his hotel room, he read excerpts from the 1,000-page textbook he is working on, such as: “As linguistic abstractions, leader and leadership create leader and leadership as realms of possibility in which, when you are being a leader, all possible ways of being are available to you.”
[Steve: I’m excited to hear that Werner is completing a book on leadership.]
Briefly, the course, which owes ideological debts to the Forum and to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, takes an experience-based, rather than knowledge-based, approach to its subject. Students master principles like integrity and authenticity in order to leave the class acting as leaders instead of merely knowing about leadership.
Its promoters believe the course has broader applications both within and outside of academia. “They should take it to government,” said Paul Fireman, the former chairman and C.E.O. of Reebok, who has consulted with Mr. Erhard on his recent work. (Mr. Fireman says that Reebok’s stock price jumped “from the $6 or $7 range to the $25 to $30 range” after he introduced his employees to the Landmark training.)
Landmark, for which Mr. Erhard continues to help develop new programs, is far more mainstream than EST ever became. Currently, according to Harry Rosenberg, 130,000 people a year participate in its offerings, which are available on every continent except Antarctica. It has a stronger corporate presence than EST or the Forum; in addition to Reebok, clients include Microsoft, NASA and Lululemon.
Still, Mr. Erhard’s emphasis on personal responsibility, on being rather than knowing, is embedded in the Landmark workshops. “All of the Landmark programs are based on the ideas and methodology that Werner developed,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “The basic intent has not changed.”
In fact, Mr. Erhard casts a fairly long shadow in the culture at large. His influence, wrote Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times, “extends far beyond the couple of million people who have done his courses: there is hardly a self-help book or a management training programme that does not borrow some of his principles.”
Whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends on one’s attitude toward such books and programs.
[Another section of putdowns deleted.]
In his ninth decade, he is consumed with his latest mission, putting in 10-hour days lecturing and teaching three courses a year in addition to completing the textbook.
His recent health challenges include a battle with septicemia that left him having to learn to walk again (a timer in his suite reminded him to stroll around every half-hour), but he still works six days a week.
While he writes, he listens to music: Renée Fleming, the Serbian composer Stevan Mokranjac, Sérgio Mendes. “You’re going to get a kick out of this,” he said, scrolling through the playlist on one of his computers. “Gonneke! Where’s ‘Brasileiro’ on here?”
His wife, a stylish platinum-haired woman whom Mr. Erhard leans on to negotiate the more mundane demands of life, helped him find the album by Mr. Mendes in question. The surdo-drum thumping of a batucada band filled the room.
In their downtime, the couple likes to travel. Tokyo, Amsterdam and London are favorite places, along with Hawaii and the West Coast, where Mr. Erhard’s seven children live. He now enjoys a very strong relationship with four of them, he said, and a good relationship with the other three.
He also has 11 grandchildren, and one of his current preoccupations is the numbing effects of digital technology on millennials. Warming to the subject, he read aloud another passage, this one from a dense Heidegger essay calling for a “comportment toward technology which expresses yes and at the same time no.”
”The cost to this generation is enormous,” Mr. Erhard said. “They are losing access to their humanity.”
Maintaining access to his own humanity may be Mr. Erhard’s biggest project. Floating around the screen of another computer was the word “impeccability,” a reminder, he said, “to deal with whatever I touch with care.” If he learned his lesson the hard way, maybe there is no easy way.
“Here’s how it is for me,” Mr. Erhard said, leaning in, giving his vocal cords a break. “When my integrity is lacking, I am clear that I just got to be a bit smaller as a person. And the thing you have to remember about integrity is it’s a mountain with no top.”
The clock chimed. He stood and stretched. Time for another few laps around the room.
(1) See “est Dictionary” at https://goldenageofgaia.com/spiritual-essays/the-path-of-awareness/est-dictionary/.
(2) Distinctions are one important way of ending our confusion in many matters. Archangel Michael is constantly making distinctions like there is no “either/or.” Distinguishing the ability to distinguish is an obvious first step in making distinctions.
Again, only the one Subject exists if one takes matters back as far as one can go. Only God is real, Sri Ramakrishna would have said.
We tend to say “he is greedy” or “she is jealous,” using “is” as if it says something eternally true. We leave out the fact that we’re simply stating our opinion and, without owning the statement, our words are not true. In the end, our “is” is shown to be an illusion. Only God is. Everything else is impermanent and hence … isn’t.