Saturday, January 7, 2017

est training and other cults

If you think that you can "transform your life" in 60 hours, you're pretty gullible.

When I was a young Associate attorney, I went into the office one Saturday to catch up on some work.   Mark was working 50-60 hours a week as a store manager for Sutton Place Gourmet so we drove in together and I went on to the office.

Unlike regular law firms, Patent firms at the time had no huge billing requirements forcing young Associates to work long hours.   So the place was pretty deserted on the weekends.   One of the partners, though, was using our conference room, which was a spectacular glass-box "bridge" that spanned the atrium of our office building.  I could see it from my office which looked out over the atrium (a big upgrade from the windowless box I had in our old office!).

Anyway there were a lot of people in the conference room, and while on the way to the photocopier (remember those?) they all came out and started running around and going to various workstations and manning the phones to make calls. They were laughing and giggling and it didn't seem like they were lawyers or whatever.

I asked another associate what was going on, and he said that the partner was into est and they were having some sort of est seminar or session or something.  I am not sure why they were calling people - maybe to get them to sign up for more est?  Raise money?  What?

I had heard of est in the past - one of those "California cults" we all heard about second-hand but never knew anyone personally who was sucked in.   I was quite intrigued that this partner, who was a nice guy and all, was into this sort of thing.  He was also a pretty smart attorney, too.  So my opinion of him dropped a couple of notches when I heard he was into it.  A good lawyer doesn't need motivational training to find his inner zen.

And since he was more of a "baby boomer" than I was, I guess I could see how things like "est" would resonate more with his generation.   Our generation, being raised in the post-Manson, post-Jim Jones, post-Scientology era, tend to be more skeptical of "movements" particularly those that promise to "change your life forever!" (which they often do, to your detriment) and that are run by a charismatic leader.

By the way, the Wikipedia link to est above illustrates why Wikipedia is not a really good source for information in this "post-truth" age.   The page was clearly edited by an est cheerleader, and attempts to fix it obviously were deleted.  Sadly, this seems to be the trend in Wikipedia as of late - where truth often is deleted as being suspicious, while advertisement puffery is deemed "neutral content".

You might have to go to this Wikipedia page which discusses how est is parodied in popular culture, or this page, which discusses a critique of est - although the Wikipedia page is a critique of a critique, so to speak.  At least this Wikipedia page doesn't appear to be too vandalized - discussing another book critical of est, but again, sort of softened around the edges.

This should be the first tip-off that something is amiss here - when Wikipedia pages are edited by the "faithful" to sanitize any critique of their belief system, it pretty much telegraphs that something is seriously wrong.   When dissent is not allowed, run quickly in the opposite direction!

At least Mother Jones isn't putting up with any of this bullshit.  The est seminars are out of business, but have apparently resurfaced under a new name.  The strict "rules" of est seminars - including no bathroom breaks - strike me as odd and controlling.  Going 13 hours with only one meal serves only to insure low-blood-sugar and a euphoric feeling (which is why car salesmen try to keep you in the showroom for five hours without food or drink).  It sounds more like a timeshare sales seminar - they keep you in the conference room for hours, until any likely bullshit sounds plausible.  Pretty soon you are saying, "Gee, this is one way we can buy our own vacation!"  and before you know it, you're locked into a set of monthly payments that will never end even when you are dead.   At least est isn't selling that.

Self-help gurus have been around for ages.  They are a form of the motivational speaker who posits that all you need in life is the right attitude and everything will be fine.   Or they push some pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo wrapped up in a neat package as being the pat answers to life.

Simple answers to complex questions are almost always the wrong answers.   I don't know where I heard that before, but it sounds about right.

By the way, if your company hires a motivational speaker or forces you to go to one of these "seminars" you should spend your time updating your resume and finding a new job.   Self-motivated people don't need seminars or motivational speakers - and companies that rely on such mystic hoo-doo are usually headed for the trash heap in short order.

Of all the gurus out there, of course, est (or its successors) are probably the most benign.   They may not let you use the restroom, but they won't make you drink the Kool-Aide, either.   The worst that can happen, is that you will spend waste a weekend and $500 listening to a lot of new-age crap.   In those terms, they have Scientology beat - at least on price point.

I guess what sort of turned me off to the whole thing was that the partner involved, while a nice guy and an excellent attorney, had a personal life that was a train wreck.   Whether est or whatever they called it back then was working for his career or not I do not know.   I think his career was advanced more by his hard work and great legal mind - but that's just my perception.   I am not sure that his "interpersonal relations" were helped by the seminar.

Why are seminars like this - all types and flavors and brands - a bunch of hooey?  For the same reason most religions are.  No other human being on this earth has more insight into life and living that you do internally.  And certainly no other human being has more insight into your life than you do.

In a way, it is like Leo Buscaglia's bedtime story, Freddy the Leaf.   In that book, Freddie asks another leaf on the tree what the meaning of life is, and why leaves blossom, grow, and then turn brown and die (and fall off the tree).   For some reason, the "wise old leaf" knows all the answers to life, but of course, that leaf is the same age as Freddie and has basically the same life experiences.  How does he know all the answers?

The same is true with Gurus, or priests or Popes or Imams or whoever.   These are people not much older than you are, and their life experiences, in many cases, are less than yours (what does a Priest really know about getting a job, paying bills, or dealing with a spouse or children, anyway?).   And for that reason, many Gurus love to grow their hair long and wear long beards to make themselves look wise and older and mysterious - because if you saw them clean-shaven with a haircut, you'd realize they were just some dumb kid, not much unlike yourself.

Find your own answers - and they are not answers you can pay $500 to learn at a seminar.   For sure, read and study and explore and analyze what others have to say - critically.   But don't assume what anyone else has to say is somehow handed down from on high.   Even what I have to say in this blog - especially what I have to say.  What the fuck do I know, after all? 

Be your own guru.  Not only does it save you a lot of time and money, you get to go to the bathroom when you want to.  And quite frankly, that is one reason I could never be admitted to a cult or buy a timeshare - I simply would not be able to put up with pissing my pants while sitting in some seminar. Maybe having a weak bladder and diverticulitis is what has saved me from a life as a cultist!

I do have some modicum of self-respect.  And letting someone else dictate my bowel and bladder habits is just not in the cards.  And quite frankly, being trapped in conference rooms is one reason I got out of the law business.