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"He made a lot of mistakes," Jerry adds. "Heh, heh. Don't we all? Heh, heh. But he learned from his mistakes and was awake to it."
It? What's "it"?
To learn that, Jerry says, you need to attend The Forum. "Do you have ten minutes to answer a few questionsE?"
erner Hans Erhard was born in 1936, and for the first 24 or so years of his life went by the name of John "Jack" Rosenberg. His own accounts describe a stress-filled childhood in which he was often told that he was an unwanted child.
Rosenberg graduated high school and married his longtime sweetheart with whom he promptly produced four children. He found his true calling in life--as a salesman--at a Philadelphia car lot. Handsome and charismatic, he is said to have used those traits to both sell cars and seduce women.
One of those women was named June Bryde. In 1960, at the age of 25, Rosenberg walked out on his family and Philadelphia with June. Leaving his past behind--a concept that would become a fundamental aspect of his future teachings--he chose a new name gleaned from the pages of a magazine article about West German officials: theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg and then-economics minister Ludwig Erhard. June took the name Ellen Erhard.
Erhard sold cars in St. Louis, then books door-to-door in the Pacific Northwest. But he and Ellen soon moved on to San Francisco, where Erhard formed his own book-selling company, motivating his sales force with rousing speeches and group sing-alongs and dabbling in Eastern mysticism, Dale Carnegie and the Church of Scientology.
From there it wasn't far to his next venture: what Erhard called the "mind business." In 1971 he founded Erhard Seminars Training, or est.
Erhard claimed to have reached his own enlightenment while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, when suddenly he realized that he knew everything and knew nothing and didn't know what he didn't know--psychobabble phrasing that would become scripture in est. Whatever the epiphany, Erhard also recognized a sales opportunity when he saw it.
From its start in San Francisco, est spread quickly from coast to coast and then overseas at two-weekend seminars given by Erhard-trained clones. At its peak in the late Seventies, est was attracting more than 50,000 new customers each year and generating tens of millions of dollars in revenues.
The participants came from all walks of life, although est's primary appeal was to white, educated liberals in their twenties and thirties. Enthusiasts of est included housewives and corporate executives, athletes and entertainers--John Denver, Diana Ross, Valerie Harper.
"What if you were committed more often and upset less?"
"What if your future was a function of your creation, rather than an extension of your past?"
"How would you like to increase your effectiveness in relating to others, your personal productivity, enhance your confidence and ability to make the right choices in pursuing what's important to you?"
Est promised to deliver all this and more. But there was a price to pay beyond the tuition.
Est seminars were brutal. Trainers shouted and swore at participants. The days were long; participants went with little sleep and weren't allowed to use bathrooms during training, where they were encouraged to disconnect from the past (just as Erhard had). No matter what their past problems had been, they had to get over them and take personal responsibility for their own happiness.
The seminars often reduced participants to tears--which were then rewarded with smiles from trainers and applause from their fellow attendees, because they "got it."
Meanwhile, Erhard was getting rich off his creation. But with his success came increased scrutiny, including press reports about Erhard's past and some of est's excesses. Participants were expected to volunteer for the organization in a variety of capacities, such as setting up seminars and recruiting. Former employees and volunteers reported that Erhard treated his followers like slaves; one man said his job was to massage the feet of The Source, as they were encouraged to refer to Erhard. (Some disgruntled former workers claimed he'd referred to himself as God.)
But even its critics conceded that a healthy--mentally and physically--adult was in no real danger from est, except maybe potential damage to the checkbook. The concern was for people who really needed professional psychotherapy or psychiatry but turned to est instead.
There were reports of suicides and psychotic breakdowns. Families complained that they'd been torn apart by the zealotry of the newly indoctrinated to bring in brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. Psychologists warned of the danger of refusing to resolve very real problems by pretending they no longer mattered.
In 1984 Erhard decided to rename his venture. Cynics said he did it in part to avoid paying Ellen, who was divorcing him, a percentage of the money gleaned from est. Others said it was an attempt to divorce himself from est itself.
After a couple of false starts, Erhard transformed est into a kinder, gentler program. He gave it an innocuous new name--Landmark Education Corporation--and called its introductory seminar The Forum.
Although Erhard remained popular in some sets, he continued to attract bad publicity. One story concerned the Hunger Project, which he'd helped found (earning a 1988 Mahatma Ghandi Humanitarian Award in the process). The Project's stated goal was to put an end to hunger before the millennium, and at first it was welcomed with open arms by relief agencies as Erhard followers took to the streets, getting people to pledge money toward the cause.