Inaccuracies in the Media About Werner Erhard and The est Training

 

MYTH: No bathroom breaks in the est Training

THE FACTS:
This is “a story” kept alive by the internet.  The facts are there were no locked doors but there were guidelines for est participants that encouraged people to stay in the room throughout the course. Much like when you attend a movie, theater production, opera, or any live event, you are encouraged not to leave as you would miss the “great performance”. In the est Training you were encouraged to stay in the room, not prohibited from leaving, during the course.  And, there were regularly scheduled breaks in the est Training where people were welcome to use the bathroom, eat, make phone calls, etc.

 

MYTH: Est was a cult

THE FACTS:

The est Training was a ground-breaking educational program founded in the 1970s.  Neither the est organization nor its program, the est Training, is or was a cult. 

The late Dr. Margaret Singer, one of the world's leading experts on cults and author of the book Cults in Our Midst, studied est and observed the est Training.  In a sworn deposition, testifying as an expert adverse to est's interests, Dr. Singer stated that in her expert opinion, the est Training and the est organization were not a cult.

Eminently respected psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, academics and other qualified professionals who participated in or observed the est Training gave their opinion that est and the est Training were not a cult. These professionals also gave their opinion that the est Training was effective and valuable.

Among these professionals is Dr. Edward Lowell, M.D., certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, an expert in thought reform and former consulting psychiatrist to the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, who said:

''In the est training there was no point-of-view or indoctrination that was inculcated into participants, and indeed, repeatedly it was stated that nothing said in the course was 'the truth'.  Quite the contrary, the est training fostered and produced an enhanced capacity for people to think for themselves, and to participate in their own families, culture, jobs, religions, etc.  I have also carefully evaluated est on the issue of its having been a cult or cult­ like. Categorically I can report that it was not."

Far from being a cult, est has had a lasting and significant influence in business and popular culture beyond the decade of the 1970s.  As stated in The Financial Times, April 28, 2012:  "Erhard's influence 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."

 

MYTH: The est Training damaged people mentally and emotionally

THE FACTS:
The est Training was studied by numerous social scientists and none found any evidence of harm.

A study prepared in 1977 by Professor J. Herbert Hamsher of Temple University in Philadelphia surveyed 242 mental health professional workers - psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers - who are graduates of the estTraining and who have worked with 1,739 patients who have graduated from the est Training.  In a survey of these professionals, 95% reported that the est Training had a positive impact in their own lives.  In a survey of their patients that had participated in the est Training in every case there was no negative effect and in 93% of the cases there was an improvement.  In this high risk population (namely patients in therapy) the fact that there was no evidence of any detrimental effect of the training argues very strongly that the training was a safe, beneficial undertaking.

“Psychiatric disturbances associated with Erhard Seminars Training”, Leonard Glass, M.D. et al, The American Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 134, Issue 3, March 1977:

This study is frequently pointed to by people who assert harm, probably because of the name of the paper.  However harm was not the finding of these scientists, who point out in their paper that the case reports do not establish any cause and effect relationship between est and a psychotic episode.  In fact, the lead scientist from the study, Leonard Glass, stated in a New York Times interview in 1977:  “We don’t know if more people become psychotic after est than after riding on the F train.”

“Observations on 67 patients who took Erhard Seminars Training”, Justin Simon, M.D., The American Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 135, Issue 6, June 1978.

Abstract: The author describes the effects of Erhard Seminars Training (est) on 67 patients--49 who took est during the course of psychotherapy with him and 18 who were seen for evaluation, consultation, or treatment after having taken est. Responsiveness to est was assessed in terms of individually predefined psychodynamics and treatment goals. Of the 49 patients who took est during therapy, 30 were judged to show some positive response and 19 were rated unchanged. The author believes that est often has a strong influence toward psychotherapeutic movement in patients with good ego strength who are motivated to change.

Finkelstein, Wenegrat and Yalom, Department of Psychiatry, Stanford University (Ann. Rev. Psychol. 1982):   “There is no proof that est causes psychiatric disorders, nor that it compromises the long term mental health of those already ill.”

Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, writing with an historical perspective in 2014 stated:
“As to the training itself, so far as I could tell not only were est participants consenting adults, none had credibly experienced harm and many asserted they had learned useful lessons for their personal or professional lives.”

 

MYTH: Est was a religion or “new religion”

THE FACTS:
This is inaccurate and often a classification made by the uninformed.
Est was not a religion or religious in nature. It wasn't contrary to religion and did not interfere with the religious beliefs of the participants.  Est provided no theology, dogma or doctrine to believe in and follow, there is nothing to worship and there are no practices to repeat.
 
J. Gordon Melton, Distinguished Professor of American Religious History at the Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, and the Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, and author of Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions stated:  "A religion deals with ultimate life questions beyond the limits of science that we need answers to and Scientology qualifies - but not, for example, Freemasonry or Werner Erhard's est training."

George D. Chryssides in Exploring New Religions concluded that est was not a religion or “new religion”:  "In conclusion, we can say that est made no claims to be religious, and has not attempted to change its participants’ religious allegiance, participants pursue their own religions simultaneously with undergoing the seminar."

Otis Charles, quoted in Footnote 89 of Steven M. Tipton, "The Moral Logic of Alternative Religions", Daedalus, Vol. 111, No. 1, Religion (Winter, 1982):  "As a former Bishop and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, I have participated in the Forum and, while I have never known the program to deal with God, worship, divinity or theology, each person’s religious preference and practice is considered his or her private concern and is completely respected.”

 

MYTH: Est was part of the “Me Generation”

THE FACTS:
This is a media generated story.
Dr. Jerome Rabow, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UCLA, conducted a study on this subject in 1979, which study was peer reviewed and published.  Rabow has this to say about the results of the study:

“There was a lot of very critical commentary about est in the literature.  People … had talked about it as a very narcissistic, indulgent kind of training.  So I decided to do this study.  The surprising finding was that the graduates of est were much more concerned with the welfare of other human beings.  Here was a group of people that basically were being maligned by the media for being narcissistic, self-indulgent, self-centered, egoistic, and it turns out that they weren’t.”

MYTH: Est was part of the Human Potential Movement

THE FACTS:
This is a common mischaracterization with a label that was coined during the same time period as the est Training
.

Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D., Professor at the University of Pennsylvania says:  “Erhard told me that he doesn’t consider himself to have been part of the human potential movement, but he agrees that his concept of the training was part of the confluence of ideas that emerged during that period.”  “In many ways the training was the most important cultural event after the human potential movement itself seemed exhausted…”

Erhard said in an unpublished interview with David Kaiser, Ph.D. (MIT):  “While it happened during the same period, est was really not a part of the human potential movement. It was a lot more rigorous in its thinking. At that point the human potential movement was that anything from the neck up is suspect, and you’ve got to rely on from the neck down.  And that certainly wasn’t the way The est Training functioned. It was a logical unfolding that brought people to insights that they found valuable in supporting themselves regarding the quality of their life, and their effectiveness in life.”

Most telling, however, is the fact that the “father” of the human potential movement, George Leonard, is quoted as saying he disagreed with what Erhard did in the est Training.

 

MYTH: Werner Erhard was a used car salesman/encyclopedia salesmen

THE FACTS:
It is inaccurate and denigrating
at this point in time to label Mr. Erhard a “former encyclopedia salesman” or “former used car salesman”. Yes, in fact Erhard sold automobiles, new and used, as his first job in his teens, and his boss was Lee Iacocca. Erhard never sold encyclopedias; but again, early in his career, he sold the Great Books Program (published by Encyclopedia Britannica) to professionals for two months as training, and was immediately promoted to the position of training manager for the program. Erhard went on, while still in his twenty’s, to become the youngest vice-president in the history of Grace & Company, a Fortune 50 Company. To characterize Mr. Erhard as a “former used car salesman” is akin to characterizing an accomplished restaurant mogul as a former waiter or an accomplished attorney as a former clerk.

 

MYTH: Tax evasion/abuse

THE FACTS:
Allegations of tax evasion and abuse are false.  Werner Erhard became the focus of a personal media attack that culminated in 1991 in an unfounded character assassination on the TV program, 60 Minutes, which included false claims of abuse and tax fraud. The claims were later proven false as reported and confirmed in numerous publications including Time Magazine in 1998 and the London Times in 2000; and CBS News has repudiated their reporting in 60 Minutes and has made the tape and transcript of the program unavailable.  And, as reported in the Los Angeles Daily News, September 12, 1996, Erhard won a settlement of $200,000 against the IRS for false statements made about him to the media by IRS agents.  IRS spokesmen admitted that statements attributed to them about Erhard's supposed tax liability were false, and they did not ask the media to correct the statements.

 

MYTH: Werner Erhard was a Scientologist; est was based on Scientology

THE FACTS:
Mr. Erhard is a lifelong Episcopalian
, and has never been a Scientologist, as confirmed by his biographer, William W. Bartley III, Ph.D. and religious writer Dan Wakefield.

In fact, as reported in a December 1991 Los Angeles Times article, the Church of Scientology engaged in a 20 year campaign designed to destroy Werner Erhard's reputation.  At the heart of Scientology's campaign was Mr. Erhard's refusal to have any association with Scientology.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, whose "hatred" of Erhard was passed along to his followers after Hubbard's 1986 death, was jealous of the meteoric rise of est in the public perception in the 1970s.  The allegation that Mr. Erhard was a Scientologist originated from Scientology itself as part of this campaign in an attempt to defame Mr. Erhard personally and co-opt Mr. Erhard's work as Scientology's.

Neither the est Training nor any other work of Mr. Erhard's was based on Scientology's beliefs, principles or ideas.  His work is not religious in nature and in fact contains no belief system.  The est Training and the rest of Mr. Erhard's ideas are a product of his own independent thinking and it is inaccurate to attribute his work to any particular group or body of ideas.  Like all original thinkers, Mr. Erhard owes a debt to those thinkers who came before him.  For example, you would find harmonics between Mr. Erhard's ideas and those of twentieth century philosophers Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Journalists and publications have been misled by Scientology's campaign to claim Mr. Erhard's ideas and successes as their own, and after research have immediately corrected their statements; retractions are published in Le Matin in Zurich, The Press and Salient Magazine in New Zealand, BC Business, The Calgary Herald, The Vancouver Sun and L’Express du Pacifique in Canada, International Examiner in the United States, The Huffington Post found everywhere in the world.

 

MYTH: Werner Erhard fled the US

THE FACTS:
In 1991 Erhard retired from business.  He reluctantly left the US in 1991 at the advice of his lawyers who had uncovered a plot to harm Erhard personally, but that was not an exile.  Erhard worked pro bono in Ireland in the area of conflict resolution, and started writing, and lecturing and teaching pro bono at universities around the world.  Erhard has lectured and taught at several US universities since 1991, Harvard University, UCLA, Yale University, Dartmouth University, MIT, University of Rochester, Texas A&M, to name a few.

 

MYTH: Werner Erhard owns/manages/controls Landmark

This is patently false, and demonstrably false (a story told only in the blogosphere on the internet).

Landmark is wholly and completely owned by its employees.  Erhard is not an employee of Landmark and has no legal or financial relationship with Landmark.

The Harvard Business School conducted a case study on Landmark and published its findings in the Harvard Business Review in 1998, stating explicitly that Landmark is owned by its employees.  Harvard doesn’t get it wrong.

 

MYTH:  The est Training was a “hodge-podge of philosophical bits or pop psychology”.

THE FACTS:  The est Training was a unique program that was not easily classified.  Respected by health and education professionals around the globe, est was a unique educational experience that played an integral part of the 70's culture.  Est was not group therapy, psychotherapy, an encounter group or pop psychology, and was not based on any religion or belief system.  Regarded as a breakthrough in its time, Fortune Magazine’s 40th Anniversary issue (May 15, 1995) in examining the major contributions to management thinking recognized Werner Erhard’s creation of est as the major innovation of the 1970s in shaping modern management thinking toward empowering people.  The Financial Times stated "Erhard’s influence 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."  The vast majority of the reporters who mischaracterized the est training relied solely on random opinions of people with no credentials, had no direct knowledge of the course itself, and they had not reviewed any of the scientific studies on the Training.  The late Warren Bennis, Ph.D., Past Chairman of the Leadership Institute USC Marshall School of Business and former Chairman, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Center for Public Leadership, in speaking about Werner Erhard and the est Training said  “Werner’s genius is his contribution of the technology that takes an abstraction and changes people’s lives.  I was impressed with the structure and foundation of est.  He created a technology that has unleashed the possibilities of being human - that’s a legacy.” 


 

WERNER ERHARD