Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

A Film by Robyn Symon
Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard
Film preview - Purchase DVD - Watch film now


The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard

Oakland, California, USA

June 28, 2007

"The reason I took on this project is I saw the ideas and programs Werner and his associates created had a powerful impact in the lives of many people and still do, though many people aren't aware they're still in existence today in a big way.

I wanted to make these transformational tools available, unfiltered by the news media. Journalists do research by gathering other news stories, and those stories feed on each other. So there's agreement about certain facts taken from those 'sources'. But that agreement does not necessarily represent the truth.

This documentary is an opportunity for Werner's work to speak for itself, and for you to experience him as more than a charismatic seminar leader or a subject of a sensational headline. Rather, it's an insight into an extraordinary mind and a compassionate man. And perhaps more importantly, it's an opportunity for people to walk away with a powerful possibility in their own lives."
  ... Robyn Symon, Emmy award winning producer of Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard
This essay, Transformation: The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard, is the companion piece to
  1. South Africa Premiere
  2. San Francisco Premiere
  3. Legacy II
  4. A Legacy Worth Leaving
in that order.

It is also the third in a group of seven Reviews: It is also the fourth in an open group on Transformation:
  1. Transformation
  2. Nelson Mandela And Transformation
  3. The Way Of Transformation
  4. Transformation: The Life And Legacy Of Werner Erhard
  5. Moment Of Truth
  6. Transformation II
  7. No Line
  8. Transformation Is Timeless
  9. Transforming Life Itself: A Completely Started Inquiry
  10. Transformation Is Accountability Plus Committed Speaking
  11. Not One Size Fits All
  12. Transforming Disciplines
  13. What It Also Comes Down To
  14. Transforming The Untransformable
  15. Who You Might Be Really
so far, in that order.

I am indebted to Robyn Symon who inspired this conversation.

A Day With Robyn Symon

Photography by Christine Mercado - 3:12pm Thursday June 28, 2007
with Robyn Symon
When Emmy award winning PBS  ie Public Broadcasting Service producer Robyn Symon accepted my request for an interview, I told her I wouldn't be bringing a tape recorder, and neither would I be taking notes. Rather, what I had in mind was to just be with  her, let whatever was going to happen happen, then transcribe and share the experience on the internet.

I knew there would be many reviewers and critics, for better or for worse, of her new film Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard. So I didn't see writing a review or a critique of her film as the opportunity at hand. As it turns out, I eventually did write a review of her film for which she set up a private screening for me. But the prospect of doing that wasn't my purpose in flying to meet with her for a few hours, and then turning around and flying right back again. It was to get to know who Robyn Symon is. Who is this relatively late comer to Conversations For Transformation, this at first skeptical  (as I had heard) late comer who has out of nowhere created what some, fans and begrudging naysayers alike, are now calling "the best thing done on Werner - ever"?  Who is Robyn Symon like a possibility?  Would her exposé  be like the evening news: simply a conduit for historical fact? (and biased  historical fact, at that). Or could her work actually impart the possibility of transformation, the work of Werner Erhard?

I wondered how her vision for her film could possibly succeed. If she says anything great  about Werner, his staunchest critics will cry foul. If she says nothing  great about him and his work, well ... we don't need another  one of those, I mused dryly. And all that aside, she is, after all, a journalist in a medium in which the reputation for objectivity, truth, and integrity weighs heavily. She works in the realm of the television documentary. If she does a hatchet job, by now that's not even original. And if she does something great, wouldn't she then be characterized simply as an award winning journalist who got influenced by a cult? Aside from which, how will she deal with the already attack  mentality that to one degree or another taints many peoples' listening for Werner and his work even if they've never had anything to do with it? It was clear to me whatever her approach was, the woman had a formidable task ahead of her. Her work was clearly cut out  for her.

I don't have that concern for my own work. My Conversations For Transformation website has been viewed nearly eighty thousand times. As modest as this is by internet standards, my stand for Werner and his work is clear and unabashed. Whatever I say, I've not got a reputation at stake. Robyn does. Would she trade truth  for notoriety? Would she simply create a puff  piece that titillates a ready audience with promises of Werner but doesn't really deliver? What's she like? And more important, what's her relationship with Werner?

When the flight landed, I was an empty shell - mildly curious, yet not attached to having her be any particular way.

Her single story home is neat, cozy  I thought as I drove up her street, immediately recognizing it even though I'd never been there before. "That's Robyn's house!" I said to myself. She greeted me with a warm smile that spoke depth, accomplishment, and a quality which, for want of a better word, I'll call satisfaction. This is someone, I thought, who's living a life she loves, living her talent, and for whom the edges between work and play are completely blurred. She's in great shape. She obviously works out. There may also be a yoga  regimen in the mix, I guessed. She glows and looks me dead in the eye. I like that. She radiates health and body tone and confidence in her physical being which clearly didn't get that way by accident nor by genetic predisposition. A well used kettle sits on a stove, and she offers me tea. We talk easily. She seems to have all the time in the world to be with me.

What got me sitting up and taking notice was her saying she had no idea  there was any connection between Werner Erhard and the Landmark Forum nor with the erstwhile est  Training. And what got me really  interested was when she finally did find out about the connection, she was mildly irritated that the Landmark Forum could even remotely  be connected to "that  cult", a phrase she punctuates with twinkling laughter.

Nonetheless she is, after all, a journalist. So when an opportunity arose for her to consider doing a documentary about Werner Erhard today, she was intrigued. Who is he? What's he been up to lately? How would he answer questions so many people would like to ask him: Why did he leave the USA? What exactly  is the deal with that dreadful 60 Minutes  episode? How would he respond to its accusations? But more to the point, I got clear Robyn couldn't and wouldn't risk her reputation by producing a piece that was merely a song of praise, an ode  to Werner. That would be nice, but that's not journalism. Robyn is first and foremost a journalist. She's also, I thought, a nice  person. But in this context, that's totally irrelevant.

She told me how she knew Werner would have to go to  places in recounting his past, especially given the 60 Minutes  episode, where he'd not been in public before if he wanted to be believable. Robyn, I could tell, wasn't going to stop at the epidermis. She was going directly to the marrow. She had Werner's very heart and soul unerringly in her crosshairs.

As a producer, Robyn is as relentless as she has integrity. The mixture is disconcerting. If a segment clarified what happened  but wasn't spoken by Werner in a way that came across as real  enough, Robyn said she persisted, filming it again and again and again, not stopping until he got real.

It's her dogged determination to get to the heart of the matter of her subject, no matter what, that made me realize Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard  could not have been produced by anyone else but  Robyn Symon. This is a work she was born to produce, just as Pablo Picasso was born to paint Blue Nude.

As a journalist she recognizes she's got a job to do. She's not glibly packaging news that sells. Her job is telling the truth. She also sees the possibility of bringing Werner's work out into the open in a whole new way, bang in the middle of the media's brightest and harshest glare, in a way it's never been brought out before. It's a huge risk with no foregone conclusions. She's not simply playing it safe. Given her high profile in the media, she risks getting too  close and being feathered with the same tar brush as her subject has been. Yet she doesn't flinch. She is, as Werner might say, an extremely rare social commentator who is both "in the stands" and  "on the court".

I wasn't simply impressed with Robyn's willingness to take such a risk and, given the subject matter, put her entire professional reputation on the line. I was profoundly moved.

The time to leave came way too quickly. When she embraced me to say goodbye, I realized she is someone I care about deeply. That surprised me. I'm not known for getting that way, that fast, about anyone. What Robyn Symon epitomizes for me is how we human beings, all of us alive now, all of us yet to come, and all of us who have ever trod the surface of this planet for which we, whether we want to or not, hold the custodial keys, are all inter-related simply by the ongoing conversations we're all generating all the time. Inside of these conversations in which the future of all mankind and our success or our failure on Earth will ultimately play out, telling the plain truth  is of the essence.

In Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard  Robyn Symon has finally set the record straight.

Film Review

Photography by Screen Media Films - © Symon Productions and Screen Media Films - 2007
A Film by Robyn Symon
Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard
Film review - Film preview - Purchase DVD - Watch film now
One of the many remarkable aspects of Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard  is its unbiased approach. It pulls no punches. It hides no skeletons. It opens all closets and allows you free access with almost voyeuristic  freedom and intensity to Werner's private, personal, and family life. It also has extensive coverage of Werner's work over the last thirty six years from the est  Training to his ideas which are the basis for the Landmark Forum. It features many figures who have worked with Werner over the years, celebrities who have participated in his work, and titans from established academia and the blue chip  business world who have incorporated Werner's ideas into their methodologies with enormous yet unheralded impact.

But the microscope here, the scrutiny of the project, is on Werner Erhard himself. And a question I asked myself as I watched is this: Will it work? Will it create an open, evenhanded forum in which Werner's magnum opus  and its current form such as it exists in the world today, can be evaluated? Or will this approach backfire and fry  its subject, like an ant caught by a child unceremoniously in the sun's intensity focused through a magnifying glass?

This is an approach which takes courage, brass, and boldness. It could succeed, or it could quickly devolve into a total embarrassing fiasco. This isn't a feel good  hymn to a man who has in transformation created, some say, the most powerful, moving experience of their lives, and for others is nothing less than a slick snake oil salestype charlatan  who's simply in it for the money. This is documentary film making at its very best. The depths it probes of simple human foibles as well as sheer heroism are difficult to watch, arduous to take in at times. I noticed two mantras  meandering through my mind as I watched, not knowing what to expect next, fascinated. The first was: "He who is without sin cast the first stone". The second was: "There but for the grace of God go I". It's riveting viewing which is sure to be as controversial as it is brilliant. It will be talked about for a while yet to come.

The fire is held unflinchingly to the soles of Werner Erhard's life and work. The unspoken questions the movie poses are quite clear. Is what was said about Werner Erhard on 60 Minutes  true? If not, why wasn't it ever fully recanted? Also, why did Werner Erhard leave the USA? What's he up to these days? And, arguably the most pertinent question, what's the validity of Werner Erhard's work and legacy today and for the future if even some small fraction of what's been said about him in the full frontal attack were true?

There's an interesting moment in the film when a noted San Francisco Chronicle reporter confesses to and addresses what we all know: the media delights in making  heroes, and then delights equally in crucifying  them. Open season. No hunting license required.

What's also interesting is how the film poses questions without fully answering them. This is not an oversight. It's deliberate. You're left with no choice but to come to your own conclusions based on coverage of Werner's work bringing the possibility of transformation to the religious deadlocked conflicts in northern Ireland and the Middle East, to Madison Avenue advertising, to mainstream business, and to the political arena. Werner's work is now, as he promised when he started it in March 1971, melded and merged with where we come from  in our thinking and principles today in these key areas of life. While no attempt is made by the producer to credit  Werner with this enormous impact, Robyn Symon leaves you making up your own mind whether or not this legacy is authentic. You're left to decide for yourself whether or not what's been absorbed by colleges, business schools, and corporate management teams, et al  are indeed the results of ideas derived by Werner and made available through his seminars. No claim is made by Werner that this is true. And yet clearly the odds against it not being true are extremely high. Mainstream technology and terminology like this doesn't simply arise by coincidence or by accident. One hundred monkeys bouncing around on one hundred typewriters for thirty six years will not  write Macbeth.

It would have been too easy for the producer to find people who would only say great things about Werner Erhard. But to her credit, Robyn Symon gives free rein and total access to some of Werner's harshest critics. This, I thought, is the mettle of Robyn Symon. Committed as she is to a true documentary, she doesn't simply provide one side of the story. Far from it. It's oddly difficult to watch the hospitality and grace with which she gives a platform to those who would totally negate Werner's contribution to humanity. You watch, fascinated, as his harshest critics get to speak, are never interrupted, are well lit, and are shown in their  best possible light - a favor they themselves have denied Werner on so many occasions. Again, you're left to make up your own mind.

What I personally made up when I watched this approach, intrigued by its boldness, audacity, and sheer bravery, is how Werner himself would say it doesn't mean anything, and it doesn't mean anything that it doesn't mean anything. Based on that, even critics, even opponents, even enemies  get the opportunity to express themselves with dignity and in honor. How big is that? I thought. And what, then, could be the response from such enemies? "You did me a terrible disservice: you made me look too  great."? In this way, the film creates an open forum - for everyone - and totally extinguishes any suggestion of bias.

We see Werner tirelessly covering the planet. We see him at home. We see him at a sidewalk bistro  in Paris. We see him at the Eye  in London. We see him in Japan (and listen to him, with great dignity and compassion, shred the myth that the Japanese people are staid). We see him with his mother Dorothy, just a boy and his Mom - the love between them is tender and palpable. We see him sitting cross legged, yogi-like on a beach (I liked that touch particularly). We even see him, Gary Cooper-like, walking off alone into the sunset.

Essentially what Robyn Symon presents us with, over and over and over, is the humanity of Werner Erhard, and you  get to decide: Are the foibles of his life simply the results of a colossal ego run amok? Or are they the results of carefully made priorities and choices when, given the limit of twenty four hours only in every day, we each have to choose what our lives will be about?

Watching Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard, you get to be with  Werner and to stand with him intimately in soul baring nakedness as he speaks candidly about his choices, his failures, and his successes. The truth isn't always palatable - not Werner's, not yours, not mine (ie especially  not mine). Yet in the space of Werner's bone numbing heroic honesty, transformation comes.

This film moved me to tears. See it. And bring your friends.

Ten stars.

What's Next?

What's next, now that the legions of people who love Werner and have gotten so much from participating in his work over the last nearly four decades but have not spoken with him in many, many years, finally have the opportunity to have all those difficult  questions answered by him - fully, unflinchingly, and head on?

What's next, now that those who are outright hostile to Werner have an opportunity to watch him close up in lip quivering detail answer the questions they've also long wanted to ask him?

What's next, now that people who've not seen their way clear to participate in Werner's work because of all the half truths, lies, and innuendo  which have littered the landscape and have never been adequately addressed in the wake of the 60 Minutes  episode, have now been fully addressed?

And what's next  for the full recognition which will finally be afforded Werner for his role inspiring the Landmark Forum? If you've been in Landmark's programs recently, it's never clear exactly what role Werner plays if any, even though he isn't an owner or involved in the management. There's nothing sinister about this. It's simply because Werner has totally selflessly stepped out of the picture so people have a chance to listen to Landmark's conversations newly without being blindsided by, say, the toxic fallout from 60 Minutes. But the downside of this generosity is until now, people today, while discovering extraordinary value for themselves in the Landmark Forum may graduate without having a clue who Werner Erhard is.

Well ... the genie's clear out of the lamp now. Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard  leaves no doubt  whatsoever. Personally I'm very glad and deeply indebted to Robyn Symon we've finally gotten to this point.

Around this particular bend, in my view, it's been a very slow train coming.

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