In 1984, after a long period of depression, family problems, and problems with college, I enrolled in what was then still EST. I took The Training, as it was called then. I couldn't afford it, but did it anyway.
I had heard that they didn't let you go to the bathroom during the course. This was completely false, and I had no problem with the schedule of breaks given us by the leader. I guess I must have been looking for someone to sort out a lot of confusion for me, because he really got "in my face" about my life. Yes it was threatening. Yes it was scary, and yes it was demeaning to be brow beat in front of 300+ other participants. However, the result was a more self-confident me, at least temporarily.
It's true that the seminars are "selfish". I felt that if more people knew themselves better, maybe the world would be more responsible out of self-responsibility. However, I did see many people use their education as a weapon to get others to do things they wouldn't have done on their own. The point is that the seminars work as long as the person taking them has perspective enough to see that individual responsibility is the primary message. The power to say No and have the other person "get it" was another thing.
Since that training I participated through the San Diego Area Center in many "empowerment" seminars, a program called "The 6 Day" (a backwoods physical challenge seminar), and other "advanced" programs. Indeed, I was an "EST'y" for a time. However, during that time I didn't have the need to make promises for guests, forcibly try to enroll people, or perform emotional surgery on them to get them to enroll.
The hardest part of continually resisting the "guest game"--was while I was part of the "Sales Squad" affectionately called IFLP (Introduction to the Forum Leaders Program). This 12 week "volunteer" agreement was essentially intensive sales training. To be certified to lead Forum introductions you had to enroll a specific number of people into the Forum seminar. We learned techniques for enrollment, room layouts that supported enrollment, and perfected the art of table displays with a myriad of advertising brochures.
I found it no problem to simply ask my friends if they wanted to do the program, which had supported me in getting a great new job, new friends and a great place to live. They mostly came and didn't take the course because they felt threatened and didn't see value.
For me it was not a problem that they didn't enroll, however, it was for the course supervisor. I was spoken to about my "statistics"; guests came to an "Introduction" vs. guests enrolled. I didn't care what they wanted I was there for my education and so what if they didn't like my numbers, after all they didn't pay me to be there, I was a volunteer.
I took courses for about 6 years leading up to the Seminar Leaders program and Forum Leaders program. During that time my experiences led me to believe that there was much more going on behind the scenes than I first knew. Leaders were in competition with each other for post-Forum enrollment statistics, Forum leader candidates were expected to do anything the leader asked (and I mean ANYTHING!). It seemed as if the people who were "On Staff" were revered as gods. Indeed, they acted like it. Although being in front of the room was very rewarding and taught me how to speak in public, I never could shake the queasy feeling that dealing with the upper management of the company gave me. It was like intense Real Estate training where the message is Sell! Sell! Sell! I wondered, "Sell what?" The seminar was a choice people could make if they wanted to. Phrases like "convince them", "work around their issues", "just get it and move on", "everyone benefits from an enrollment", and "go get them" were very disturbing. Eventually, I had an experience that made leaving more obvious.
Several times I assisted Forum Leaders with seminar administration. I can't tell you how disappointed I was when during a seminar break for fifteen minutes [my supervisor] yelled and screamed at me for a misplaced comma in a handout document. It was so inappropriate and unnecessary that I left the room, walked out of the building and went home.
For weeks I had my answering machine screening calls. Hundreds of calls from Forum "friends" bid me to come back and "clean it up", some even asked if I would assist again at an upcoming event. My real friends, some of whom were still participating in the programs, let me know that they were supportive of my leaving. [My supervisor] never called to apologize.
Many of the leaders are amazing charismatic people who are simply doing their job, others were just nasty prima-donna individuals who were used to getting their way. Since the incident 8 years ago, I've gone back periodically expecting some "kinder gentler" shift to have occurred. It's now clear that I must have been hoping for a miracle.
Recently, I went to assist at a Forum where I now live. I was appalled at the condition of the building, the obsessive [behavior] of the staff and the filthy carpet. Nothing had changed. Their statistical management was still lousy, the still used reams of paper to no end, and the phones were incessantly being used to "enroll" people. They take in millions, pay only 5 or 6 staff members, rent cheap space, and still the courses reiterate same drivel.
Now it seems that more and more recovering addicts, alcoholics, and sex offenders are frequenting the program. The program seems to be attracting depressive types of people who are looking for a quick fix to feeling emotionally broken. That's how I felt when I first took the course. Whether through living life or through the wake up call abuse of the programs, I've become a successful individual. Although I sometimes recommend the course to people who are struggling with direction in their lives, I offer it only as an option. They ultimately have to make the choice on their own without abuse.
The technology Werner/Jack Rosenberg designed/discovered wasn't that different from self-discovery over time. He wanted to sell a quick fix. He did and it didn't. Although I credit the Forum with introducing me to myself and assisting me in not being a victim in life, I wonder whether I could have discovered all this on my own through my own experiences, without all the yelling, life drama, and verbal and emotional abuse. I guess some people need to be figuratively slapped to get their attention.
Copyright © 1999 Rick Ross