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Living Inside of A Context “It Can Be Done”

“What The Hunger Project intended to do was to catalyze the global grass-roots committed movement and action that would put the end of persistent hunger into place, which means not just feeding hungry people today, but establishing the whole design, the whole infrastructure so that people can feed themselves and their children well into future generations. You see, it was a project of great faith in human beings. Great faith that if hundreds and thousands and millions of individuals took a stand for the end of the persistence of hunger, as an idea whose time has come, that they would then find an action that was appropriate to them. So if they were an engineer or an agricultural specialist, or if they were a politician, or a United Nations delegate, or if they happened to be a scientist or a professor, or the President of the High School Student Body, all of those individuals would have different actions available to them that would have a different impact. The entirety of the impact would be that child in Uganda being fed on a given day, being inoculated so as to survive disease, and being educated – of great importance to end the persistence of hunger – and that ultimately, we the global citizens of the world would be acting for the benefit of our children. And the necessary actions would take place.

So you see it was a stand based on faith and the goodness of humanity, that if human beings knew what they needed to know and lived inside of a context of “it can be done” they would take the actions that were theirs to take that would make that difference.

The Hunger Project enrolled over four million individuals who signed a paper saying “I have taken a stand. I will make the end of hunger an idea whose time has come as my personal responsibility.” The Global grass-roots educational campaign went on from 1977 and through the 80’s. Millions of people enrolled and participated and contributed money and there were many, many groups that broke off from The Hunger Project. “Results” was one that did political action in Washington, DC. Another was “World Runners” where people would do marathons to end world hunger, to get out the news, to alert people that something could be done. In those days, that was really rare, and now you see marathons for everything, which is wonderful. Walks to end breast cancer, and marathons for AIDS awareness, and in those days it was really unusual, it was new. And there was enormous participation through the 80’s and then at the end of the 80’s The Hunger Project made a transformation of its own and began to do very high level strategic work, which it’s currently doing in Africa and India primarily.

I would say in many ways it was successful all the way to the hungry people, in that millions more dollars were given and raised for organizations that were working on the ground doing relief work as well as for The Hunger Project. The Hunger Project raised hundreds of millions of dollars for other organizations as well. Infant Mortality rates fell in many countries. In some countries, due to war since then, they have again risen, The correlation between war and the infant mortality rate is a direct one. War creates the persistence of hunger and starvation. Also, really tens of thousands, if not more, of people, like me, became lifelong advocates for the end of the persistence of hunger and contribute as volunteers, contribute as donors, contribute as professionals to all kinds of organizations and vehicles and policies to help bring about the end of the persistence of hunger.

I think that once one makes a commitment with your heart and soul, I think it takes over your very molecules in a way. It becomes a very part of your personal life’s mission, and then the choices you make will be consistent with that mission. I’ve changed jobs and have participated with projects with many different countries and organizations, all of them consistent with the end of the persistence of hunger, and that will always be the case for me. And I think really for the many thousands of people who made this stand in the 70s and 80s.”

From an Interview with Catherine Parrish on The Hunger Project and Werner Erhard

Assessment of the Philosophical Significance of The est Training

by Hubert Dreyfus

“In the course of the training it became progressively clear to me that the experience underlying the training and the conceptualization of this experience have deep affinities with the phenomena presented and analyzed in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time.”

“…It is directly manifest in the training that est embodies a powerful and coherent truth which transforms the quality of the lives of those who experience it. Moreover, this truth contains radically new insights into the nature of human beings.”

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Excerpt from The New York Times article on Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard New York Times 11-29-2015For 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.

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.”

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.

Report on the est Training by Humberto Maturana

“The training is a set of interpersonal interactions that lead to emotional and intellectual experiences that provide a circumstance and an intrument for self awareness, self observation and reflection on the circumstances of the subject trainee, both in his individual life and as a social being.” – Humberto Maturana   Read more

Warren Bennis on Werner Erhard

“I’ve known Werner for almost 4 decades and with a variety of lenses and different angles. He is an enormously gifted person, singular at that, and sensitive as I like to think I am, it took me awhile and a leap into the unknown to get the fullness of him. I’m not talking about my admiration for the lives he’s illuminated the paths for and the concrete steps his educational programs have achieved to serve as guides for the thousands… It took me about 6 months…until I understood him. At that moment, coterminous with understanding him, I understood myself… It was Werner who was instrumental in my coming to the understanding of what I mean by authenticity.”  Warren Bennis

warren bennis

Warren Bennis: Former Chairman, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Center for Public Leadership

Peter Block on Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard has created thinking and learning experiences that have affected millions of people’s lives.

The power of language.

Werner understands the primal creative nature of language. Many of us have focused for years on improving conversations. We have known that dialogue and communication are important tools for improvement. Werner takes it to a whole new realm by asserting that all transformation is linguistic. He believes that a shift in speaking and listening is the essence of transformation. If we have any desire to create an alternative future, it is only going to happen through a shift in our language. If we want a change in culture, for example, the work is to change the conversation–or, more precisely, to have a conversation that we have not had before, one that has the power to create something new in the world. This insight forces us to question the value of our stories, the positions we take, our love of the past, and our way of being in the world.

The power of context.

Another insight is in the statement, “The context is decisive.” This means that the way we function is powerfully impacted by our worldview, or the way, in his language, “the world shows up for us.” Nothing in our doing or the way we go through life will shift until we can question, and then choose once again, the basic set of beliefs–some call it mental models; we’re calling it context here–that lie behind our actions. Quoting Werner, “Contexts are constituted in language, so we do have something to say about the contexts that limit and shape our actions.”

Implied in this insight is that we have a choice over the context in which we live. Plus, as an added bargain, we can choose a context that better suits who we are now without the usual requirements of inner work, a life-threatening crisis, finding a new relationship, or going back to school (the most common transformational technologies of choice).

The way this happens, (made too simple here) is by changing our relationship with our past. We do this by realizing, through a process of reflection and rethinking, how we have not completed our past and unintentionally keep bringing it into the future. The shift happens when we pay close attention to the constraints of our listening and accept the fact that our stories are our limitation. This ultimately creates an opening for a new future to occur.

The power of possibility. Changing our relationship with our past leads to another aspect of language that Werner has carefully developed. This is an understanding of the potential in the concept and use of possibility. Possibility as used here is distinguished from other words like vision, goals, purpose, and destiny. Each of those has its own profound meaning, but all are different from the way Werner uses the word possibility. Possibility here is a declaration, a declaration of what we create in the world each time we show up. It is a condition, or value, that we want to occur in the world, such as peace, inclusion, relatedness, reconciliation. A possibility is brought into being in the act of declaring it.

Werner described this with more precision in recent personal correspondence:

I suggest that you consider making it clear that it is the future that one lives into that shapes one’s being and action in the present. And, the reason that it appears that it is the past that shapes one’s being and action in the present is that for most people the past lives in (shapes) their view of the future.

…it’s only by completing the past )being complete with the past) such that it no longer shape’s one’s being and action in the present that there is room to create a new future (one not shaped by the past – a future that wasn’t going to happen anyhow). Futures not shaped by the past (i.e, a future that wasn’t going to happen anyhow) are constructed in language.

In summary, (1) one gets complete with the past, which takes it out of the future (being complete with the past is not to forget the past); (2) in the room that is now available in the future when one’s being and action are no longer shaped by the past, one creates a future (a future that moves, touches, and inspires one); (3) that future starts to shape one’s being and actions in the present so that they are consistent with realizing that future.

Peter Block, excerpted from his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, 2009

J.L Moreno on Werner Erhard

From the book, Impromptu Man,  by Jonathan D. Moreno

“Erhard Seminars Training, known as est, epitomized the Great Crossover. In the 1970’s, as hundreds of troubled hospitalized patients were daily being released for their involuntary commitment in vast institutions, hundreds of “normal people” were voluntarily entering hotel ballrooms in the hope of transforming themselves. The attraction was a handsome and charismatic young man named Werner Erhard, who had undergone his own “transformation.” The word has a nearly technical significance for Erhard, who uses it to refer to his realization that what stood between him and his completeness as a human being was within his control. A critical part of “the training,” as practitioners refer to it, is freeing oneself from the past, accomplished by “experiencing” recurrent patterns and problems rather than repeating them, where “experience” again has a technical significance. To fully experience the pointless repetition of old, burdensome behaviors is to “experience them out.” An early biography of Erhard explains that:

“The Training provides a format in which siege is mounted on the Mind. It is intended to identify and bring under examination presuppositions and entrenched positionality. It aims to press one beyond one’s point of view, at least momentarily, into a perspective from which one observes one’s own positionality… The setting for the training is arduous and intrusive, …In the training ordinary ways to escape confronting one’s experience are- with the agreement of the participants-sealed off in advance. On the concrete level this means limited access to food, water toilets, bed. Alcohol and drugs are forbidden. There is limited movement, there are no clocks or watches by which to tell the time; one may not talk to others; nor may one sit beside friends. Internal crutches and barriers to experience – such as one’s own belief systems – are also challenged by means of philosophical lectures and exercises in imagination.”

Participants might have been surprised how both physically and emotionally challenging and how philosophical the training was…Erhard struck a chord among many, partly because it was simultaneously original and familiar. Erhard brought a uniquely American voice to the themes of the fading human potential movement, and est training was in the American tradition of Great Awakenings and motivational programs. He had a way with pithy, often spontaneous observations about life and living. Evan as the spirit of the 1960s lost steam, there was a powerful lingering desire among many for personal exploration and for more authentic connections to others. In many ways the training was the most important cultural event after the human potential movement itself seemed exhausted, with elements of theater, therapy, and social networking.

Somewhere along the line the clunky term “large group awareness training” had been coined in reference to experiences like est that were on a bigger scale than Lewin’s T-groups, but still aiming at Maslow’s peak experiences. Crucially, est workshops took place on a stage before dozens or even hundreds of people. That was a departure from the usual encounter group size of a dozen or so participants, and further still from the analyst’s couch. Erhard also confronted participants one-on-one, challenging them to be themselves rather than playing some role that had been imposed on them, a form of Socratic interrogation reminiscent of J.L.’s story about mounting the stage to confront the actor in the “legitimate” Vienna theater. Erhard was sensitive to the aspect of theater in the training; his biographer even calls it “a new form of participatory theater,… Like most drams, it has catharsis as one of its aims. Unlike most drama, it also aims to bring the participant to an experience of him or herself which is tantamount to transformation.” In the early years of est Erhard cited psychodrama as one way of “rehabilitating the imagination in the attempt to bring people to their potential.” And he plainly had enormous charisma and self-confidence, qualities that J.L. also didn’t lack. Erhard sold his company in 1991; it survives as Landmark Worldwide and its basic program is called the Landmark Forum. Erhard now travels and lectures on leadership education and integrity. Referring to a book he is completing with a friend, Erhard says that “I’d like to live long enough to get the ideas down.”

From Impromptu Man: J.L. Moreno and the Origins of Psychodrama, Encounter Culture, and the Social Network, by Jonathan D. Moreno

Jonathan D. Moreno is an American philosopher and historian who specializes in the intersection of bioethics, culture, science, and national security, and has published seminal works on the history, sociology and politics of biology and medicine.

Paradigm Thinking and Productivity

PARADIGM THINKING, properly applied, leads to tangible results.

JMW Consultants, a New York based management consulting consulting firm, helps companies boost productivity through paradigm shifts with an approach called “Productivity Breakthrough Technology.  They were called in by a major computer manufacturer to help deal with a crisis.

The manufacturer was trying to get an important product out in order to take advantage of a rapidly closing marketing window. If the team of software developers responsible for the project continued the development process at their current rate – a rate that was in line with industry standards – the product would not be ready on time. If the company hired more programmers to speed up the process, they would exceed their budget. Clearly, a breakthrough was needed.

After working with JMW, the software team began to double their previous productivity. The breakthrough enabled the company to get the product out in time – and save more than $100 million over the next three years.

JMW did not teach the team new techniques for developing software. Instead they helped them shift their paradigm. In their old paradigm, the rule was “X (the predictable) amount of work in X amount of time.” The new paradigm was stated as a possibility – “Y (the required) amount of work in X amount of time.”

“The shift was to create a future – the one they needed – as a possibility, not as a prediction,” says Werner Erhard, who founded a national affiliation of management consultants with which JMW is associated. “At that point, no one knew how to do it, but they could still create the possibility.

Because there was now a new paradigm in which to see the work, the team began seeing the job of developing software differently. They then were able to generate a commitment to that possibility.”

Erhard points out that when a breakthrough is needed, what is often called for is the development of a new paradigm.

“Changing the paradigm does not negate the need for realistic, hard-headed thinking, ” he says. “In ‘business as usual’ we get clear about the situation to determine what we can do and what we can’t.

But to produce a breakthrough, you have to stand the usual approach on its head.”

The process begins with inventing a new possibility, without regard to whether you know what to do to realize it. You then look back at the situation from the standpoint of that new possibility.

“That is what gives you the new perspective and what allows you to see the situation in a way you haven’t seen it before,” says Erhard. “That is the beginnings of generating a new paradigm.” At some point in the process, he says, it will be evident that you have come up with the best paradigm for a breakthrough in that situation.

“Productivity breakthroughs are a product of seeing something in a new way, which enables you to see new opportunities and new openings for action that you couldn’t see before,” he adds. “Breakthroughs come as a result of shifting your commitment from the predictable future to a possible future.”

 

Reprinted from the Fall 1989 issue of Benchmark Magazine, a publication of Xerox Corporation

est: A Philosophical Assessment

Michael E. Zimmerman
March, 1982

Est: A Philosophical Assessment

Introduction.
The purpose of this report is to provide a philosophical assessment of est training. I first took the training in New Orleans in January, 1981, and reviewed it as an observer in Sacramento in February, 1982.
My analysis of the training is guided by my understanding of the philosophy Of Martin Heidegger, existential psychotherapy, and Eastern religions. The following appraisal arises not only from my theoretical training as a philosopher, however, but also from my own personal experience. This report is by no means exhaustive; much more could have been said about the topics covered below. Moreover, many more
issues could have been dealt with. Because of my own philosophical expertise and personal interest, however, I chose to focus my attention on those aspects of the training that bear on the topic of authenticity. I hope that this report will prove to be of some help in resolving whatever problems remain in what is already an excellent training.

My analysis of the training addresses itself, in part, to four questions posed by Jack Mantos:

1) Can the authenticity of the training be established more directly and explicitly at the start of the training?

2) How can one speak more effectively of the Self as emptiness or nothingness?

3) How is one to understand the notion of resoluteness i.e., the notion that the authentic Self takes a stand on itself as the context of contexts?

4) Is there too much subjectivism in the idea that we “create” our own experience?

Answers to these questions will be found in the body of the text, a summary of which follows.

Summary of Findings:

1) The “authenticity” of the training may be more firmly established initially if the trainer explicitly asserts that the trainer and support team are prepared to enter into agreement with the trainees. The agreement would be that everyone give 100% of himself or herself to the training.

2) There is a tendency to speak as if the training will provide more “satisfaction” in life, but if satisfaction is made the goal by trainees, they will never find it. Satisfaction ensues; it cannot
be pursued. At times, the training conveys the impression that the reason for keeping one’s agreements is to gain satisfaction. Such a utilitarian view of behavior is inimitable to the fundamentally sound view, expressed elsewhere in the training, that the key is to act impeccably: from this, everything else–including satisfaction as well as unhappiness–follows.

3) More explicit treatment of death, and the attendant phenomena of anxiety and guilt, are needed to provide a more complete account of human existence. Anxiety is constriction of the self that occurs in
the face of the disclosure of mortality, but only such disclosure enables us to make the leap from mechanicalness or inauthenticity to aliveness or authenticity. Guilt is the ontological self-corrective
that reminds a person that he or he is failing to repay the loan of life by experiencing everything there is to experience. Guilt and anxiety call the individual to the resolution or decision to live.

4) Resoluteness refers to the decision of the individual to experience whatever there is to experience. Resoluteness (Entschlossenheit) is authentic openness or disclosedness (Erschlossenheit). The decision in favor of being openness is a free choice to be the freedom that we already are, ultimaletly, freedom is not a human possession, but instead the openness or no-thingness into which we are thrown. Human existence or Dasein constitutes the clearing or openness in which the Being of beings manifests itself.

5) While the training currently makes some reference to time and temporality, a more thorough discussion is probably in order. Such a discussion would show that the leap from inauthenticity to authenticity
involves a transformation in temporality: from linearity to the circling temporality called eternity or “Now.” Linear time arises from the constriction of human openness to that of the ego/mind, which reveals things merely as objects to be exploited for human ends. Circular or eternal time arises when human existence opens up and lets beings be just what they are.

6) The training needs to define more .carefully what it means by the notion that I am responsible for all my’ experience.’ that :r am God in my universe. Apparently derived in part from Hindu doctrines of Atman or the Transcendental Self, this conception of responsibility is too easily confused with more ordinary notions. The notion that I somehow create my experience is metaphysical speculation that cannot be verified. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to redefine creating. Instead of speaking of creating as a kind of producing or making, we could say that creating is a letting-be. The former notion of creating
is masculine and typically Western, while the latter is feminine and more in line with Eastern views of reality. We could then say that I am responsible for all of my experience in the sense that I am called
on to experience whatever it is that manifests itself within the openness that I call me.” The true “I,” of course, is not ego/mind but the temporal-historical clearing called Dasein.

7) While the training speaks of everything/nothing, Heidegger speaks of Being/nothingness. Although what both parties mean by nothingness or nothing is similar, they differ considerably on what they mean Being and everything. For Heidegger, Being does not mean the totality of things, but the presencing or self-manifesting of beings. To identify Being with every thing to make a category-mistake.

8) Although the training currently emphasizes the importance of participating and sharing with other human beings, the implicit idea of the training is that we humans should share ourselves with all
beings. Hence, the Hunger Project should naturally lead into the Planet Project designed to save the earth from environmental destruction.

9) Heidegger claimed that everything great happens from within a heritage or tradition. Perhaps it is time for est to acknowledge that it is part of the great wisdom traditions of East and West. One goal of est would then be to empower people to revitalize their own traditions.

10) Miscellaneous Observations.

11) Conclusion.
12) Appendices.
A) Michael E. Zimmerman, “Heidegger’s ‘Existentialism’
Revisited.
B) Michael E. Zimmerman, “Towards a Heideggerean Ethos
for Radical Environmentalism.”

Read the Full Paper

est Outcome Study

In early 1974, an exhaustive survey “A Self-Report Survey: Preliminary study of Participants in Erhard Seminars Training” by R. Ornstein, C. Swencionis, A. Deikman, and R. Morris was completed by 10.5% of the est graduate population. The survey asked graduates to report their experience of health and well-being after the est training and their experience of health and well-being the year before the training…. Respondents reported strong positive health and well-being changes since taking the est Standard Training, especially in the areas of psychological health and well-being.

Est Outcome Study, by Ornstein, Swencionis, Deikman & Morris

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