August 3, 2012: True Confession (7 of 10): I Did est

          Look, I was 17 years old, and it was the Seventies. I was anxious to join all the touchy-feely grownups who were “getting in touch with their feelings,” which was de rigueur back then. A puka shell choker; Laverne and Shirley, and The est Training.

          The Training, founded by a guy named Werner Erhard in the early 70s, was a non-psychotherapeutic “transformative experience” that proposed to “transform one’s ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change, or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself.” Two hundred and fifty people sat in chairs while a “trainer” talked all kinds of nonsense (hey, it was 33 years ago—I don’t remember the specifics) and sometimes yelled at participants, calling them assholes.

“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground!” Enlightenment, Werner Erhard-style.

est Trainings took place in a giant hall at a place called The Center, and lasted for four days—20 hours at a stretch over two consecutive weekends. There were all these ridiculous rules, like you couldn’t wear a watch and you couldn’t leave the room, even to go pee, and you were expected to applaud after anyone “shared,” which I refused to do. At the end, you achieved some kind of breakthrough by “getting it,” which I also refused to do. This made me enormously unpopular with the other 249 people in my Training, since no one was allowed to leave until everyone “got it.”

I finally got tired of trying to understand what “getting it” was about and, wanting to go home, I lied and said, “Okay, I get it, I got it, whatever,” and everyone cheered at my deception and we went home. Only to be telephoned daily for months afterward from salespeople at the Center whose job it was to continue our transformation by selling us pricey seminars with names like “About Sex” and “About Money.”

What really bugged me most about est was all the bullshit lingo that est-holes used. (That’s what est people used to call one another: est-holes. We thought it was clever.) No matter what you said to an est-hole, he or she would reply with “Thank you for sharing.” Which always sounded like a polite “fuck you” to me. Est-holes never got angry; they got “on it.” And they used a lot of extraneous prepositional phrases, besides. Instead of just saying, “I’m mad at you,” an est-hole might say, “What it is that I want for you to get is that I am really on it with you right now.” Drove me crazy. Just get to the damn point, already.

The last time I heard from est was about six months after my Training. I’d just gotten home from work and was rolling a joint when the phone rang. It was one of the Center zombies with my nightly you-should-really-do-a-transformative-seminar-with-the-word-“About”-in-the-title call. I listened for a few minutes and then said, “Leslie, what I want for you to get is the fucking hell off my back.”

They left me alone after that.

Thing I Hate Today: Free verse

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3 Responses

  1. I never knew that was where “Thank you for sharing” came from. Outside of est, no one ever, ever intended it sincerely, as far as I could tell.

  2. Ha! Love it. Est holes. Must work that one into some dialogue today.

  3. It’s quite clear that you didn’t get any value from taking Est which, incidentally, was the best thing I’ve done in my life. I received so much value from it that every member of my family including their spouses have done The Landmark Forum.

    The value of applauding after people shared was to acknowledge people for the courage it took to talk about their life in front of 250 others. I remember that at the beginning I tuned people out, but as the training went on, I began to feel more empathy for others and it was a turning point in my life.

    One question, during the opportunity to leave on the second day with a full refund, why didn’t you? You could have saved yourself (and your ego) a lot of aggravation.

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