Lots of good stuff going on this month, and signs of Fall are beginning, including an uptick in my blogging. My summer vacations included a lot of reflection and philosophical discussion with family and friends. One of those discussions was about something I did half a lifetime ago, the est training. If you don’t know what it was, you can look it up. I don’t really care which opinion you get. It’s an ontological discussion and experiential group experience designed to expand self-awareness. It’s now called Landmark, and that’s a story in itself.
What I want to relay today is a bit of wisdom from a friend of mine from college. All of my friends could see I got something out of this two weekend seminar thing I did, but due to its complexity and my own lack of eloquence at the time, they weren’t sure what it was. One friend in particular said something that I had no response to, and has held up as true. I don’t remember the exact words, basically it was; there are truths about life, about our human condition, truths that are discoverable. There are many paths to those truths, but when they are illuminated by a particular source, some people tend to attach those truths to that source as if that source is the exclusive source.
I’ve asked several psychologists if there is a name for this phenomenon but no one has given it an ID. A colloquial phrase for it might be “he drank the Kool-Aid”. If you don’t know that one, please, look it up. It implies a cult nature to the group, something I’ve argued strongly against, even after I quit endorsing the organization. You should be able to find many discussion on that too. I’ve never found anything but a basic accusation of their cult status, never any real evidence.
I was involved with est during the decade or so when they went through the name change and reorganization. Before that they relied exclusively on word of mouth advertising. That’s a nice way of saying they used the graduates of the programs to sell it to their friends and family. It was creepy. I’m not proud of it. In the 90’s and since, they started to appear more on talk shows and eventually they started releasing what was once secret to the internet. Look up “Werner Erhard” and you can see for yourself. There’s everything from 3 minute promo spots to 3 hour seminars.
Here’s a sample, titled the “best ever”, make of that whatyou will. He starts saying that you make your own purpose in life. Keep in mind this started in the 1970’s, so that was a fairly big deal back then. The 60’s were over and meaning was not being found at a Grateful Dead concert or in a Disco. Billy Graham had found his way into the White House and the word “fundamentalism” was just coming into popular use.
He then talks about how people will react when you declare your purpose and start acting like you think you might accomplish something with your life. He doesn’t need to be specific about what people will say, because we all know. We all know people who don’t have enough of a life of their own and feel the need to crush everyone else’s dreams to make themselves feel better. What we don’t talk about as much is how we suppress ourselves just to avoid those public conversations. So, he gets a good laugh and it seems like maybe he’s said something profound.
But, as we used to say in est, sometimes what shows up is what’s missing. What’s missing from this conversation about setting goals and finding meaning is how you build relationships that will support you in getting there. It’s funny that we listen to the negative people around us and let them affect our decisions. We shouldn’t listen to those voices. But ignoring others is not a recipe for success either. There were other seminars and other talks, but the creation of community was mostly mechanical, reciprocal exchanges of support, timed listening exercises, things like that.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I regret my experiences with this organization. I’m not going to try to sell it to you, but if it sounds interesting, I certainly wouldn’t talk you out of it. I would say that there is a limit to how much you can learn about community by paying to be part of one, but that’s actually one of the things that sets est apart from cults, they encourage building your own life, to get whatever you get form them and move on. They want you to apply what you learn there but come back with questions or additional “coaching”. It’s a fine line.
Some get overly enamored with the programs and make it into something it’s not. Those are probably the ones you know about. Others see it for what it is and make good use of it. If you met one of those, you might not even know it.