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Popular name for Erhard Seminars Training, a system of experiential philosophy developed by Werner Erhard. Through the 1960s Erhard explored a variety of self-help courses and spiritual disciplines, including Dale Carnegie, the Church of Scientology, Subud, Zen Buddhism, and Mind Dynamics. In 1971, he had an enlightenment experience, during the time he was a mind Dynamics instructor.

Erhard concluded he must take responsibility for his life. In the seminars, through lectures and various activities, he tried to assist people to understand that they were not the labels put on them by others, but the product of their own decisions. This act of insight was termed "getting it."

The est basic program consisted of some 60 hours of training over two weekends for which attendees were charged $250.00. Some 500,000 people took the course from Erhard or his assistants between 1971 and 1984. In 1984 est was discontinued and replaced with The Forum. In 1991 Erhard sold his corporation to a group of employees and retired from public life. He was at the time under attack from several points, including the IRS and a former employee who was suing him.

Sources:

Bartley, William Warren. Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, the Founding of est. New York: C. N. Potter, 1978.

Hargrove, Robert A. est: Making Life Work. New York: Delacorte Press, 1976.

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est

est. An acronym for Erhard Seminar Training. Established by Werner Erhard in 1971, seminars provide ‘a sixty-hour educational experience which creates an opportunity for people to realize their potential to transform the quality of their lives’. The Centres Network, as Erhard's organization is now called, aims to eradicate hunger (The World Hunger Project), transform what it is to work, and in general make a difference to social life.

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est

est / est/ • n. a system for self-improvement aimed at developing a person's potential through intensive group awareness and training.

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EST

EST • abbr. Eastern Standard Time (see Eastern time).

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EST

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est.

est. establish(ed)
• Law estate
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• estimation
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est

est

Werner Erhard's est (Erhard Seminar Training and Latin for "it is"), established in 1971 in San Francisco, has come to epitomize the "me decade," a time when people began to focus on self-improvement and the articulation of identity. One of the more successful motivational therapy groups to spring from the "human-potential movement," est used strict training within a group format to build self-awareness and offer individual fulfillment, while training people to get "It." Est is an example of what psychologists call a Large Group Awareness Training program, in which dozens of people are given intense instruction aimed at helping them discover what is hindering them from achieving their full potential. Although est no longer exists in its original form, its offshoot, the Landmark Forum (launched in 1984), continues to attract people who have a growing need to see themselves in a new way, while capitalizing on the past success and popularity of est's teachings.

Like most people, Jack Rosenberg was interested in human development and potential. Confused about his own identity, Rosenberg, a used car salesman, walked away from his family and his life in 1960, in search of answers. Changing his name to Werner Erhard (taken from theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg, and Ludwig Erhard, the West German Minister of Economics), he went to California to dabble in various human potential disciplines and Eastern religions. He became very interested in L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology's practices, concluding that "the course was brilliant," and progressing through five Scientology levels. That exposure catalyzed the birth of his own teachings, which caused some controversy with the Church as to their origins, though Erhard insisted the two were different: "Ron Hubbard seems to have no difficulty in codifying the truth and in urging people to believe in it… in presenting my own ideas … I hold them as pointers to the truth, not as the truth itself." Scientologists continue to accuse Erhard of having stolen his main ideas from Hubbard, while Erhard claimed the Church was behind attempts to discredit him, even hiring hitmen to kill him. An avid reader, Erhard used a mixture of ideas culled from existential philosophy, motivational psychology, Zen Buddhism, Alan Watts, and Sigmund Freud, among others, to build est. His own proverbial "enlightenment" occurred while driving across the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, where he says he was "trans-formed" into a state he described as "knowing everything and knowing nothing." The result was est.

The militant sessions (trainees were not allowed to speak to each other or take bathroom breaks) took place rigorously over two consecutive weekends. People were egged on by confrontational trainers who told them flatly "your life doesn't work" and to "wipe that stupid smile off your face, you a-hole." But the goal was "to get rid of old baggage" and to learn a "more profound sense of responsibility, a sense of potency," said Erhard in a 1988 interview. "My theory is that a person's vitality will generally equal their commitments, and if you'd like to have more vitality, make bigger commitments." Besides personal fulfillment, another benefit touted by the seminars was strengthening relationships. Although est helped many couples, Erhard couldn't do the same for his own two failed marriages.

Part of the controversy surrounding est (besides whether or not it should be classified as a cult) is its offering of quick-fix solutions in a psychologically manipulative setting, and its overly aggressive approach, which often continued after people finished their sessions, in the guise of persistent phone calls haranguing them to sign up for "follow-up" seminars, and forcing them to become recruiters. Er-hard and est have had their share of lawsuits related to the seminars, but many who went through the program (an estimated 750,000 over the last 20 years, with centers in 139 cities throughout the world) maintain their loyalty. However, the organization, its lingo, and zealous followers were often satirized as self-obsessed cultists, who sported glazed, exuberant demeanors that made people uncomfortable. Characteristic of other similar movements, est attracted its share of celebrities who became public advocates of the program, such as actress Valerie Harper, singer John Denver, and artist Yoko Ono, which helped to bring the organization and its beliefs more into the public eye. Est and its buzz words started to become more a part of popular culture when advertisements capitalized on its popularity; for example, an ad campaign for Master Charge used "master the possibilities," one of Erhard's famous aphorisms.

Erhard saw himself as a strict but passionate coach for people receptive to exploring life's possibilities through self-awareness and "transformation." Est "transformed" Erhard's life, making him a rich executive/guru who reigned over his self-help empire. But after it began to crumble in the 1990s, he vanished amidst reports of tax fraud (which proved false) and allegations of incest (which were later recanted), lurid details that continue to keep him alive in popular imagination.

—Sharon Yablon

Further Reading:

Ayella, Marybeth F. Insane Therapy: Portrait of a Psychotherapy Cult. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1998.

Carroll, Robert Todd. "Werner Erhard and est." The Skeptic's Dictionary.http://skepdic.com/est.html. January 1999.

Forum Graduate Association. The Forum Graduate.http://www.mnsinc.com/fgainc/tfg25.html. January 1999.

Krasnow, Iris. Transformation of est Founder Werner Erhard. http://www.inlink.com/^dhchase/irikra.htm. January 1999.

MacNamara, Mark. The Return of Werner Erhard: Guru II. http://www.inlink.com/^dhchase/marmac.htm. January, 1999.

Streissguth, Thomas. Charismatic Cult Leaders. Minneapolis, Oliver Press, 1995.

Termayer, Charlotte Fal. The Best of est? Time Magazine, March 16, 1996, 52-53.

Yalom, Irvin D. The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. New York, Basic Books, 1995.

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