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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A World that Works

We can choose to be audacious enough to take responsibility for the entire human family.  We can choose to make our love for the world what our lives are really about. Each of us has the opportunity, the privilege, to make a difference in creating a world that works for all of us.  It will require courage, audacity and heart.  It is much more radical than a revolution – it is the beginning of a transformation in the quality of life on our planet.  What we create together is a relationship in which our work can show up as making a difference in people’s lives. I welcome the unprecedented opportunity for us to work globally on that which concerns us all as human beings.

If not you, who?
If not now, when?
If not here, where?”

 

Werner Erhard, 1977

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

Werner Erhard in The New York Times

…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.

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.”

excerpt from The New York Times, November 28, 2015

New York Times 11-28-2015(2)

Werner Erhard Interviews Robert Reich – 1988

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

Access To Being A Leader and The Effective Exercise of Leadership

The ontological methodology gives one access to being a leader and exercising leadership effectively as it is lived and directly experienced on the court.

You get left being a leader and exercising leadership effectively as your natural self-expression. When you think about what it is to perform on the court it really does need to be your natural self-expression. I like to watch Nadal play tennis or Federer play tennis. I don’t think they are remembering how to play. I don’t think that they learned something and then remembered it. No, for them the game is a natural self-expression and as such they become extraordinarily powerful players.

We allow people to discover for themselves that their way of being and their actions, or if you like, their way of being when being a leader and their actions when exercising leadership effectively, are a match, a natural match, or as we would say it in the course a natural correlate of the way what they are dealing with occurs for them. So we could say that being a leader and exercising leadership effectively as my natural self-expression depended on the way what I am dealing with as a leader occurs for me. How does it show up for me, what I am dealing with?

Now the question is – how am I going to get whatever it is I am dealing with to occur for me such that my natural self expression is one of being a leader and one of exercising leadership effectively? The question is –  where am I going to get my being and action now? And for the most part we get our being and action right from the contents of our brain which is what’s happened in the past. But if I am standing in the future, what my brain has to draw on is its imagination and its creativity. If I am standing in the past looking at the future, it’s difficult to see the pathways. It’s kind of like looking from the bottom of a mountain up to the top, it’s difficult to see how I might get there, but if I stand on the top of the mountain and look down the mountain I’m probably going to see more than one way to get there. Leading from standing in the future reveals a lot more possibilities for realizing that future.

My experience with really outstanding leaders is that they never come up with the future to be presented to the people that they are leading. They find a way to get that future created from the people they are leading. If you are leading me and you come to me with, “Well Werner, this is the top of the mountain. This is where we are going to get.”  I have to buy in to it.

But if I participate with you in creating which mountain is going to be the top of the mountain, then it doesn’t require buy in. Getting there belongs to me equally as it belongs to you. You may have had a lot to do with shaping the conversation so I could see which mountain was going to make it. I think that being a really good leader one wants to keep in mind the critical importance that the people who have to act to realize the future that you are committed to realizing, that that future really belongs to them. They are moved touched and inspired by what that future is, both its accomplishment but also by seeing that along the way they are going to be able to fulfill their concerns. They are going to find an opportunity for self expression and finally they are going to see that they can make a contribution, a noteworthy contribution that really made a difference in realizing that future.

Over the 40 years and the impact that I’ve seen people engaged in this work have on their own lives you have a sense that there is something truly valuable here. I am sure that there is a lot more that’s beyond my reach and I’d like to leave it so that people standing on whatever it is that my colleagues and I have created that they can get to that more that is beyond our reach.

– Werner Erhard

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.

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