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


Werner's Space

1945 Franklin Street, San Francisco, California 94109, USA

January 27, 2007



This essay, Werner's Space, is the companion piece to It is also the second in a septology on Workability: I am indebted to Laurel Scheaf and to Paul Roth who inspired this conversation.


Werner Erhard
Werner's space, as his friends will tell you, is as much a physical place as it is a context, a way of being. Alternatively spoken with another degree of rigor, it's the result  - almost magical - of a particular way of being. Not everyone is going to have access to the physical place. That's to be expected. Not everyone is going to have access to my physical place either. But that doesn't imply any exclusivity. It's simply the way the dice roll in our associations with one another. Everyone, on the other hand, has equal and unrestricted access to the context, to the way of being.

There's nothing that's not immaculate in here. This is the place where being impeccable  is the bottom line. Ordinarily that's above us, unreachable, even sterile. But in here it's the norm. In here it's the epitome of joy, radiance, and it defines and provides the platform for who we really are. This place isn't cleaned traditionally with brooms and mops. In here we clean by taking who we are  and putting it into the space. That's the way this place stays pristine.

There's a deep respect for the arts in here. The library is well stocked (and well read). Sensible works of art, many of them in the minimalistic Zen style with sweeping thick bold brush strokes, strategically hang on clean bare walls. Occasionally Italian opera and the best of today's rock 'n roll  resound from superfine Bose  speakers. Even the log in the fireplace is carefully aligned.

The shag rug is raked a certain way. That's right: raked!  The pillows on the sumptuous leather armchairs are arranged exactly. And it doesn't matter why  the pillows are arranged this way. Arranging them this way works. If you can't arrange pillows this way, you don't get to arrange pillows at all - at least, not in here. But what's more interesting than why  shag rugs should be raked or why  pillows should be arranged exactly  is the way you  have to be in here to rake rugs and to arrange pillows. There's no margin in here for expediency. There's no margin in here for going through the motions. In here you get to be impeccable and you get to be immaculate because the rules of this space have been set up to demand you be this way. In here, being impeccable and being immaculate aren't chores. They're opportunities.

When you come into this space you won't need any of your baggage. None of it is required in here. You can leave all of it, all your drudgery, all your effort, all your complaints, and as much of your ego as you can possibly bear to be without outside the door. The price of admission into this space is to leave all your stuff  outside. Then, when you leave, it will still all be there waiting for you just where you left it. You can pick it up again or you can discard it permanently. The choice is yours.

In this space the conversation creates something new, or it's borderline inappropriate and should be terminated. There's no other platform for conversation quite like this anywhere else in the world like this space.

Having an evening drink with Werner (cold filtered water), conversing about everything and about nothing, it suddenly occurs to me I'm just ... well ... gabbing. I realize I, by my conversation, am simply filling the space with words rather than bringing forth something new. At that moment I stop speaking and just sit still with him, enveloped in the richness of saying nothing  at all. It's one of the most extraordinary moments of my life. Then I stand up, thank Werner, and walk out.

1950 Jaguar Mark V Drophead  Coupé
A classic majestic 1950 Jaguar Mark V Drophead  Coupé with gorgeous flowing aerodynamic lines is parked perfectly maintained and manicured in the garage. Somewhere I recall the Ford Motor Company has purchased the Jaguar Car Company. "Ford has a better idea"? No. Werner  has a better idea.

The first time I saw that car it wasn't in the garage. Here's what happened.

I'm walking on Washington Street in San Francisco when a 1950 Jaguar Mark V Drophead  Coupé drives by. A lover of classic cars, I'm instantly mesmerized. Scanning it's lines, it's white walled tires, it's sheer majesty, it takes me a while to notice a hand sticking out the window waving furiously at me. "He's waving at the wrong guy" I think, totally certain I don't know anyone who drives a car like this. Then the Jaguar turns at the cross street I'm stopped at to marvel at it, and I see it's Werner waving, the blazing smile instantly recognizable even through a windshield bright with dancing reflections of the San Francisco street scene. "That's so cool!" I think. "He's never too busy to be with.".

Here's where this space can get really  interesting. I've been in it when deaf people who can't hear got it. I've been in it when speaking impaired people who can't speak got it. I've been in it when blind people who can't see got it. So I know whatever it is that's available in here isn't transmitted by conventional means. What you get in here is available more through osmosis  than it is through the ordinary channels of communication.

I'm sitting with Werner well after midnight, he and I alone on bar stools in his kitchen snacking on celery and cottage cheese. The silence hangs thick and palpable in the air. You can cut it with a knife. Then Werner's first "crunch"  into a stick of celery starts a conversation which begins the transformation of South Africa.

That's not ordinary. It's not an ordinary conversation when embedded in one of its onomatopoetic syllables is the transformation of an entire country. But then again, this space isn't an ordinary space either. This space is extra-ordinary. It's not logical nor rational nor reasonable. That's why it's effective. That's why it's potent. That's why it's powerful. That's why it causes breakthroughs in the beingsphere. Whatever this space is, it isn't a product of business as usual. Neither is it easy. If it were easy, you and I both know everyone in the whole world would have got it  and would be transformed by now.

In this space things work. What exactly is that? Workability  isn't an easy notion to define. That's because you don't get  workability through logic and reasoning although those attributes may contribute something. You get  workability through a pragmatic intuition  to have things be just so  in the physical universe. Things work ... or they don't. You can get  things work or not. You can (as Robert Heinlein may have said) grok  things work or not. You know it when things work.

In this space nothing less than workability is tolerated. Because things really  work in here, anyone exposed to its workability is enrolled in workability as a possibility  for their own lives, for the lives of others, and for Life  itself.

Werner is speaking with an intimate group of about a thousand people. He's sitting on a tall folding canvas director's chair, one leg tucked under him, the movements of his arms underlining points he's making. In front of him is a music stand with some notes. Next to him on the podium is a small table with nothing on it except a single long stemmed rose in a plain glass vase. Very austere. Very Zen. The crowd is totally silent, hanging on his every syllable.

A bold sweeping gesture of his hands for emphasis ... and the rose in the vase slowly overbalance and fall to the podium floor. He stops in mid-sentence and turns to look at the rose and the vase on the podium floor. Two thousand eyes in the room follow his. Everyone is looking at the rose and the vase on the podium floor. Five seconds tick by. Total silence.

He stands up off the director's chair, kneels down on the podium floor, carefully picks up the rose and the vase and sets them back in place - just so  ... the rose in the vase on the table next to the director's chair behind the music stand.

The room erupts into applause, a prolonged standing ovation.



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