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

I'm A Creator

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

March 3, 2016

This essay, I'm A Creator, is the companion piece to Not Just Passing Through.

It is also the fifteenth in an open group on People: I am indebted to Ronald "Ron" Peter Zeller who inspired this conversation, and to Charlene Afremow and to Heather Rubin who contributed material.

Imagine a child (your own child if you're a parent, or someone else's child if you're not) looking at you intently. You're standing in your garden, and the child is looking at you through a window from inside your house, and you're looking back at the child. You get their expression - no, you get get them  - as you look at each other through the glass. Then the child comes closer to the window, still looking you directly in the eye, their physical presence palpable. And then the child comes even closer and, as children often do, presses his face up against the glass, still looking you directly in the eye.

That's the way he was with people. That's the way he always looked at people. That's the way he always looked at me: as if he was inside the house ie "inside his eyes"  (if you will) pressing up against the irises in front of them ie pressing up against the glass, as close as he could be - indeed, it's not humanly possible to get any closer to another human being than he got to people. His gaze was always calm, completely calm. It never wavered. He was with me as close as it's possible for another human being to be with me, his gaze always pressing up against the front of his eyes, a child always in awe and wonder, beginner's mind, always pressing up against the glass as hard as he could.

Two of my most memorable experiences of him (of which there are many) are both set in hotel lobbies about thirty years apart. In the first one, I was enrolled in a communication course called The Communication Workshop decades ago. It was the first communication course I ever participated in. I arrived at the venue, the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway on Van Ness avenue in San Francisco, early - very, very early. That's the way I like to handle myself around courses Werner creates: get there early, no rush, no last minute panic, watch the passing show, and gradually  merge with the space. He was the course leader (I found that out later), and he also arrived early, striding over to the concierge desk, presumably to check himself in to his room. He didn't see me sitting on a comfy couch in the lobby, watching him.

Soon it became obvious that the clerk at the concierge desk was being what we euphemistically call a total a-hole. I couldn't overhear the conversation word for word. But I did see the drama. He would say something, to which the clerk would throw up his hands like he was having a hissy fit. He would say something else, to which the clerk would run his hands through his hair, wringing his palms, and shouting back at him (that much I could hear). He would say something else, to which the clerk would stomp his feet. He was going to have his hissy fit in front of everyone in the lobby. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing.

His response to the hissy fit was as remarkable as the hissy fit was uncalled for. He just stood there holding his ground. He never raised his voice. He never yelled back. He gave whatever information the clerk requested. He wasn't drawn into the hissy fit. He was cool and calm. He was (it seemed to me) training  the clerk that his hissy fit wasn't forwarding any of the action, and that there were other possible more workable openings for communication - and he did it all without once making the clerk wrong. Eventually the clerk let out one last indignant sputter, and gave him what I surmised was his paperwork and room key. He took them carefully, then reached over and shook the clerk's hand, thanked him, and left the counter unruffled, walking tall, not looking back.

In the second one, I myself was checking into a hotel somewhere in Europe. I was there for a private visit with Werner and I was elated, and the clerk this time at the concierge desk was being great with me (but that's not what this is about). That's when I noticed him standing there also in line. He was checking in to the same hotel (probably not a co-incidence). When he saw me, his face lit up. He embraced me, and we stood there talking as the line was moving very slowly. Then he asked me if I'd be interested in him sharing my room with me - which on the face of it, wasn't a bad idea: he's a great guy, and it would have saved both of us a considerable amount of money.

On visits like these, I hardly ever sleep. If I'm not making copious notes before each meeting, then I'm transcribing what happened as fast as I can afterwards. Every available surface (desk, table, shelves, window sill, sometimes even chairs and the floor)  are covered with my sheets of handwritten pencil notes, rendering the living space not exactly conducive to sharing. I want the TV on whenever I want it on, and I want room service whenever I'm hungry (I lose too much precious time going out for meals) no matter what time of day or night it is, and I want no distractions.

So I declined his request - politely, but firmly. He got it and he didn't make a big deal of it. In retrospect on my part, it was a mistake. I could have had both. I could have made it work. In fact it would have made an interesting dynamic ie a perfect  dynamic if I had included him, especially given what was up for me (and, in all likelihood, what was up for him too, although I didn't ask). That was it, my second memorable experience of him in a hotel lobby: in the first one (it was my gain) I admired him; in the second one (it was my loss) I declined him.

He must have led courses for nearly (I would estimate) a quarter of a million people - probably way more than that. He served in the United States armed forces as a marine, and as a superintendent of schools before he became a course leader and a trainer. And there was no one with whom he came in contact (and I do mean no  one) that he didn't leave with something more, with something new, with some possibility that wasn't present for them before.

Yet perhaps his biggest contribution to people (which is to say perhaps the biggest inspiration he would become for people) began when he was diagnosed with a particularly virulent, aggressive form of cancer which, of course, was supposedly going to be rapidly terminal. Lesser mortals would have rolled over and submitted upon receiving such bad news. Not he. He took on his own health in a way that just didn't seem possible. He got the cancer so handled that he came back for a second term and trained thousands more people.

He wasn't a runner, and yet as part of his newly self-imposed cancer vanquishing health regimen, he took on, trained for, and won  the one hundred mile Wasatch endurance road race over the mountains of Utah, in his division. He was sixty four years old then. As if that wasn't enough, he wasn't a weight lifter, and yet he took on, trained for, and won  the United States power lifting championship in his weight and age division. He was seventy two years old then. And as if that  wasn't enough, he wrote a book titled "Aging Or Ageless? Rise Like A Phoenix From The Myth Of Aging" which distinguishes clear and critical choices each of us can make in the inevitable matter of our own aging process, thereby transforming overcoming aging into living an ageless life, which sold respectable numbers.

There was one thing however, which epitomized everything he represented for me. With all that he was, with all that he stood for, with all that he became, and with all his sheer inspiration, I often wondered who he was for himself. Who was this man for himself, that he could do what he did, inspire the way he inspired, take on what he took on, and stand so tall in such triumph against such seemingly insurmountable overwhelming odds? Then one day I got my answer as I watched a video of an interview he gave. And the interviewer, not knowing everything about him yet certainly knowing a lot about him, asked him "What do you do for a living?" (not "Who  are you?" but rather "What  do you do for a living?"). And this is what he said (and I'll never forget it):

He said "I'm a consultant, and ..." then added purposefully, powerfully: "I'm ... a ... creator.". So that's  who he was for himself: a creator. Wow! Just "Wow!". In transformation, we each create our own lives in the space we really are. By creating a powerful life, we highlight both our power to create, as well as the space we really are in which we create. What he created was so ridiculously powerful  (United States marine, superintendent of schools, husband, father, trainer, vanquisher of virulent aggressive terminal cancer, one hundred mile road race winner at sixty four, United States power lifting champion at seventy two, author) as to put a unique indelible mark on the roadmap of global transformation.

There's one more thing, and it's where this all started for me when he led my communication course at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco decades ago. There were about four hundred people in that course. I experienced something in the course (ie something happened for me in the course) in the matter of who I am as a communicator. I got something very profound. I held up my hand to share, and he called on me. What I shared was over stylized, over intellectualized, over conceptualized, and certainly overly dramatic. It made total sense to me - but probably not to anyone else. And I asked him (I was a newbie back then) what the experience I just had (quote unquote) "means". And there, standing on the podium right in front of that group of four hundred people, he looked me directly in the eye and, without missing a beat, said "Who knows?!"  in his big, booming voice, smiling his pressed up hard against the glass smile.

I got my life from that "Who knows?!" of his, and from his smile - as did hundreds and hundreds of thousands of others who, just like me, love him.

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© Laurence Platt - 2016 through 2020 Permission