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Radical Honesty - Telling The Truth? Are We recycling Werner Erhard and EST?

Updated on December 25, 2012
If your nose has been growing, will suddenly having radical honesty make it shorter?
If your nose has been growing, will suddenly having radical honesty make it shorter? | Source

Simone Smith wrote an interesting hub on radical honesty where she discusses whether or not we should be honest all of the time, and how the internet is forcing more honesty onto us than we would otherwise show.

She wrote of Dr. Brad Blanton's belief that lies are a significant source of our stress, and his teaching that we should abandon all lies, and tell only the truth, no matter what the circumstances. That includes if the truth is considered blunt, hurtful or rude.

I checked on Dr. Blanton, and even though I probably wouldn't enjoy a conversation with him, I thought he was a real character. I thoroughly enjoyed A. J. Jacob's article in Esquire Magazine about radical honesty and his interview with Brad Blanton.

By-the-way, in his typical, honest fashion, Blanton says that he does lie sometimes - to the government, on his taxes, in poker, and in golf. He said that he'd also lie if he was talking to a Nazi and he had Anne Frank in his attic - than God!

For myself, as an ideal, telling the truth at all times sounds like a great concept. However, in practice, I think it can get extremely weird, and I have to vote against it.

I was around in the 1970s when Werner Erhard was doing a different version of what Dr. Blanton is doing now - encouraging people to say what they want to say, no matter how others feel about it.

The big difference between the two is that those who followed Erhard were also encouraged to do whatever they wanted, and to be guilt-free regarding both their words and actions. They were taken through a boot camp training that was called self-empowerment, but which contained some tactics that are now recognized as cult building (12 hour classes, closed room, one meal, humiliation, etc.). The people who emerged made other people miserable, and made themselves a lot of enemies. (The book listed below, Outrageous Betrayal, is a great expose of Erhard's career.)

Steve Jobs and the folks who followed him at that time at Apple were heavily involved in Werner Erhard's teachings. EST training fit Steve Jobs' style at that time in his life, and those who wanted to be like him followed him in practicing it. Around Apple, they were known at estholes.

I met a few EST practitioners where I worked, and later on campus at the university I attended. It was easy to tell these people from those who were simply dysfunctional, because these folks did their worst with sparkling conviction and condescending self-righteousness. The esthole label followed them with the naturalness of breath leaving the lips after a person dealt with one of them.

I would have thought that we would have learned from that debacle. But I guess not. It seems that in every generation, knowledge of the previous generation's mistakes fades very quickly, and self-styled experts come along to fill in the gap (the biggest difference between the Blanton and Erhard self-styled experts is that Blanton doesn't seem to take himself very seriously).

They are then able to make a lot of money by telling us to say what we think, even at cost to those around us. After all, that's what we secretly want to do. Why wouldn't we pay someone to tell us it's ok to do it?

A Dose of Blanton the Politician - Refreshing?

The basic problem is that we can't give people the right to tell the truth whenever they want, based only on the fact that it is the truth. Human nature has three strong tendencies that preclude our telling the truth all of the time.

  1. Some people get a real kick out of hurting other people's feelings. They do that often enough, without having it sanctioned.
  2. Too many others don't have the simple common sense that will tell them when to talk and when to shut up. (That includes Dr. Blanton. As you can see from the video below about his two runs for Congress, he definitely gives more information than was requested.)
  3. If we were being honest with ourselves, most of us wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of what we'd have to say if we were constantly telling the truth.

Yes, it's true that people can be phony to the point that those around them want to shake the truth out of them. I have to admit that people who are endlessly nice are one of my pet peeves. Sometimes I have to hold myself back from grabbing them by the shoulders, wrenching them back and forth, and snarling, "Out with it, damn you. Just once, say what you're thinking!" I stop myself because I know that it takes a lifetime of training to be that phony, and my insisting on the truth would be very unsatisfying, because I wouldn't get it. If these poor waffling wet noodles ever knew what a true opinion was, it was bullied out of them years ago by proper social training.

However, I don't want anyone to take my right to tell a lie away from me. I don't mean about the important things. I mean about the little things we lie about every day.

If I'm feeling low one day and I don't think it's anybody's business but mine, I have the right not to say that I'm feeling low. It's called my right to privacy. I'll say, "Fine", if I want to. And anyone who doesn't like it can piss off.

I also want to have the right to make a nice pleasantry by asking another person, "How are you?" without being stopped for a full-blown sob story. Some people make a hobby out of lamenting our asking people how they are, when we don't really want an honest answer. Well, if these same people were being truthful, they'd have to admit that the honest answers are usually reserved for close friends, behind closed doors, and deservedly so. The honest answer shouldn't be given to a pleasant grocery clerk whose name you don't even know, at a cash register with a line behind you.

We ask how someone is because it's as natural as smiling to show another person we're harmless. It provides a little charm and politeness. It's like saying "Please" or "Thank you". It shows a little caring, maybe on a minuscule scale, but it's better than nothing.

Besides, most people would be horrified to ask how someone was, and to receive the whole gory truth. I used to work with a guy who was especially inept socially, and who constantly complained about his life. He was sure that everyone who asked him how he was wanted the details. He did a great deal for employee health, because people took the stairs whenever they saw him take the elevator. He was known as the "tmi" guy (too much information).

Now I know that in a radically honest society, this poor schmuck would have been told, "Oh, God, are you going to complain again? It's so boring!". What good would it have done for him to be told something like that? The context was work. Would it have improved the work environment? No, it wouldn't have. He had a way of doing poor work for anyone he didn't get along with. Besides, life is a little more pleasant for this poor misfit guy because he can fool himself that he's liked by a lot more people than he really is.

I also want the freedom to tell a white lie. If a friend looks dowdy in an outfit and I can see she wants to be told she looks good, I'll consider which would be best at the moment for her. She's placed the decision in my hands by asking me, so I have the right to be a friend and decide.

Would it be better to tell her something else would be a wiser choice, or would it be better to tell her that she looks fine. If I know that another friend has just committed radical honesty, and told her she's a frump, I'm going to vote for, "You look just fine." She wouldn't need another person she cares about taking her self-confidence through a meat grinder.

However, if she's going to an appointment, and it's important for her to look her best that day, I'll say, "I think another outfit would suit you better today." I consider that internal debate to be part of my duty as a friend, or co-worker, or sister, or whatever other role I'm in at that moment.

If we never lie, we lose a lot of the lubricant that keeps society running as smoothly as it does. Being charming or sociable may not be truthful, but it's more considerate, some of the time, than the truth is.

Suppose that I feel like being mean to someone and I'm pleasant to that person anyway, because I know I'd want someone to be pleasant to me in the same situation. That would be a lie. If I should have said the mean thing I wanted to say, because that was my truth, then why do I always feel better for having been pleasant instead of mean? If I should have been mean because I should have been truthful, wouldn't I feel lousy for having curbed my nasty tongue and smiled?

Versions of the Golden Rule, where we're asked to do to others as we would have them do to us, or on the negative side, not do to others as we wouldn't want them to do to us, have been recorded by almost every culture since ancient times. The first one was found in ancient Egypt. Being reciprocal in how we treat each other is not only considered the best way to behave, but it's the standard that many cultures use to resolve conflicts.

We need to consider how we really want to be treated, complete with the little white lies and omissions that we really don't need people to be so truthful about.

What's your vote?

Do you want to hear everything that someone else is thinking?

See results

Update: After I published this hub, I received comments from four different people who had been through the EST training. All of them were people who had enrolled in HubPages specifically to respond to my hub. All of them swore by it. And most of them were pretty ugly in their responses. One guy wrote three different comments on his first try. Some of them have actually written to my email address.

I denied all but the comments below, and flagged a couple of new profiles for review as abusive. (One person revised his response and was civil, which I appreciated.)

My issue with EST was never whether or not people received something they valued from EST training. My issue has been with how other people were treated after someone went through the training.

Sadly, the ugly, aggressive tone of most of the comments I received after publishing this hub did nothing to change my mind.

Second update: I'm closing comments on this hub. I never thought I'd do that, but I have received an amazing amount of comments from EST graduates. I've allowed the reasonable ones through, but have finally grown tired of the long-winded and sometimes aggressive comments I've received. Every EST graduate who has commented has enrolled purely to comment. I wouldn't mind that if they weren't saying the same things over and over again, and if some of them weren't sending message after message. One of them has sent 10 comments under two different names, and has even emailed me.While that person wasn't the only one to email me, he has been the one who was aggressive about it.

I don't mind disagreement, and I don't mind debate. But I do mind what's been happening here.

Comments about Radical Honesty - To Tell the Truth

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    • profile image

      Howard Schumann 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for including my comment and for being so open minded. I could see where some negative experiences of graduates might color your view of the training. It is true that some failed to adequately communicate the value they received and were insensitive to the fact that the overuse of jargon was not well received by others.

      In my case it took me six months before I was fully able to process the results of the training and to begin applying it to my life. This may also have been true of others.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile imageAUTHOR

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      Howard, I appreciate your response. Yours was the first comment by EST graduates that I didn't feel was so abusive that it should be flagged rather than approved.

      I see that people who have graduated from Est find that those of us who have to deal with them afterwards are considered to have no experience of EST training. However, we have a great deal of experience of EST training, because, if we work with these people or have had them as friends or relatives, we have to live with the results of EST training. The comments I've received have all been from EST graduates, and until I updated my hub to tell my readers that the EST graduates were being too abusive to allow their comments to be shown, your comment was the first that I allowed to be shown. Since I updated with the abusive behavior of EST graduates, I have also received other rational comments. I am glad for that.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile imageAUTHOR

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      Bill, thank you for a kind assessment of what EST did for you.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile imageAUTHOR

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      Hippomud, or Mudroll,

      I have approved your comment, because you are now speaking in a reasonable tone. However, we both know that you didn't start that way. You are one of the people that I denied and who's profile I flagged for abuse. I appreciate that any two people can have very different opinions about any topic. Your opinion is that Werner Erhard is very good. You all keep saying that I had no experience of him. Well, I did - I experienced several people who changed from taking his training. They had to change back into the kind and caring people they were before they paid for all of that "improvement" before the people around them could stand to be around them again. I also experienced the shock and disillusionment of the people who went into the EST training with high hopes and who ended up walking out before it was finished. While those who completed the EST training do not consider those of us out in the world away from EST to have had any experiences of EST, we have seen the results. According to Laurence, above, too many of you didn't seem to "get it".

    • Healthy Pursuits profile imageAUTHOR

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      Jon, thank you for a very thoughtful response. If others had developed your ability to say what they feel they need to say without being abrasive or aggressive, that would have been a plus to everyone around them.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile imageAUTHOR

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      LaurencePlatt, thank you for your response. Obviously, you believe in Werner Erhard's teachings. Those who finished EST training would, though, wouldn't they? And you are very correct when you say that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.

      As for using my real name, using nom de plume is appropriate, and in this case, I'm glad I did. The excessively mean-spirited responses I've received from some EST graduates, who, by-the-way, have also not used their names, makes me feel downright protected. As for the writing not being from my own experiences, this was from my own experience - as someone who encountered EST graduates in all of their glory after they completed the training. And also as the friend of people with good sense who decided that the EST training was not for them. I think that the way people treat others after they've had some life-changing training should be one of the ways a training is shown to succeed - or fail.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Healthy Pursuits, I closed hippomud account, so had to create a new one to add another comment here, an after thought. if you will accept and allow it. If not that is ok and understandable.

      For years, people have circulated articles and commentary about est, The Training and Werner Erhard and for the most part no one said anything. The est Zen like approach was to not say anything and not resist what and who people were, that it was all ok, a very 1960s 'live and let live' approach. But with the dawn of the world wide web, the impact of recycled articles like yours piling up unchallenged, brimming with inaccuracies, falsehoods and possibly misunderstandings, end up gaining so much mass, true or not, and effecting allot of people.

      You claim to not approve of your perception of how someone you knew was treated by someone else you knew who went through The Training. That person might even have been you. Consider that your circulating at least in part , what I would call, hearsay and gossip in your hub page also treats people a certain way and also has an effect on people who had a positive experience of The Training and Erhard. Everything has an impact.

      I like this analogy if you will indulge it. What would your reaction be, to reading a review, of say, an awesome 5* hotel where you stayed at in London or New York, that you experienced as being pristine, gracious and a place where staff went above and beyond the call to make your stay with them magical and perfect in every way, maybe what turned out to be the best vacation hotel weekend of your life, maybe it was even your honeymoon, AND to then to go onto a website like "Tripadvisor" and read some review/comment by some anonymous poster calling the hotel you stayed at an offensive 1* dump, calling the staff nazis and saying to never ever ever go there.

      AND they went on to name and slander a specific front desk hotel staff person or the concierge who were among the sweetest people you had ever met in your life and then for the reviewer to say they never actually stayed at that hotel but had friends who had stayed there.

      Expressed or not, what would your reaction be to that "Tripadvisor" reviewer? I am going to guess that it might be less then warm and fuzzy, and if you spoke to them you might even speak in rough tones. Understandably. I think that is where my reaction came from and possibly the others you say tried to post comments on your Hub.

    • profile image

      Bill Kilburg 

      8 years ago

      Est was my wake up call in becoming a responsible ,and an accountable person. Having grown up in the inner city surrounded by gangs, drugs, and a mind set of how to use the system to avoid becoming responsible est got me to take an honest, truthfull look at the choices I was making. Most likely it would have been easier to play the victim card and having the government take care of poor me, but the vitality one gets when one chooses to transcend their stories and create being an empowering human being who contributes to society makes the waking up process worth waking up to and the streets a lot safer to walk. And that's no lie. lol

    • Jon D Toellner profile image

      Jon D Toellner 

      8 years ago

      I am an est graduate. I took the training in 1976.

      First, let me apologize to all of those for whom I was an est-hole. The behavior was inappropriate and uncalled for.

      Much of what you describe in your article resonates with me. It's an act of generosity to give someone your attention. I had a subordinate once who was absolutely brilliant. She also had a tendency to ramble. I'd frequently have one-on-one meetings and found myself listening for the better part of an hour. I got the feeling that she never had someone who would really listen to her. Her work was extraordinary and I felt that giving her attention, even for hours at a time, was her due.

      Ironically, it was in the training I got out of my participation in the est organization where I not only developed the ability to listen intently for 60 minutes but also where I understood that it was more important to her, as well as to others, to be listened to rather than to speak.

      Many of us came out of the est seminars believing that the key to a successful life lay in emulating the seminar leaders. They were forceful but only, I believe, to make a point. It was a teaching technique and a way to deliver value in a seminar setting. I certainly must say that the seminars were rigorous but tremendously valuable to me as well.

      I had the opportunity to do some work for Werner's staff. They were very hard working, extremely effective and amazingly productive. At the same time they were some of the calmest and most centered people I'd ever been with. You would not have come away believing that these people were treated harshly or abused. Quite the contrary, they appeared to be well taken care of and they really seemed to love what they did.

      I think those who really 'got it' (to borrow a phrase from est) developed compassion and patience that went way beyond what they thought was possible before. Hence the irony: you cite the few who may have been harsh but in my case the benefits I got from est made me a more decent, forgiving and understanding person.

      Regarding the points in your article, compassion and understanding in dealing with people is a noble trait. So is authenticity. The real trick is in telling someone something you feel that they need to hear and doing so in a way that lands softly for them. It's a tough skill to master and in fact, Werner was one of the best at it.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm a graduate of the est training, and of many of Werner Erhard's other programs over the last thirty three years.

      I apologize to you for the nasty responses you say you've received from est graduates to your article (you haven't published them, but I believe you). One of the things I got from the est training was the space to allow people to have their own opinions. Your opinion doesn't threaten mine, just as mine shouldn't threaten yours. We've all got opinions, like we've all got noses, and so what!

      However having said that, I notice you don't write under your own name, and your writing really is a critical (can I say a "negative"?) opinion of the est training. So you appear to be hiding behind anonymity, while at the same time being negative about something you obviously haven't experienced. If I was a sports writer and I simply published my opinions of the big games without actually being there to witness what actually happened, I would expect to be out of a job pretty soon.

      You may want to consider writing under your own name from now on so people will know who you are, and you won't apear to be covert or hiding. You also may want to consider participating in the Landmark Forum which is the current iteration of Werner Erhard's work. Then at least anything you write about it in an evaluation will at least have a ring of truth to it. You'll actually be able to say you've experienced what you're speaking about.

      In this article, you can't say that. It's all just your opinion not based on your experience. And it's a negative opinion at that. Plus, on top of it all, you don't reveal your name. No wonder you got people saying nasty things to you.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Healthy Pursuits, thank-you but I think you have made up your mind about this topic and I realize I would only be trying to sell you my own point of view, an exercise which tends not to bring out the best in myself and others. What's the point of that?

      Thanks for the opportunity to comment though. Good luck with your writing.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile imageAUTHOR

      Karla Iverson 

      8 years ago from Oregon

      Please feel free, with consideration.

      While I didn't take the EST seminars myself, several friends took them - and walked away from them in disgust. My hub information was based on memories of what my friends had said about the EST seminars, and my own interactions with people who had been changed by the EST seminars.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Healthy Pursuits,

      I read "Radical Honesty - Telling The Truth? Are We recycling Werner Erhard and EST?".

      Telling the truth is a rich topic. I admire you for picking it up and running with it. What you all said reminded me of director Mike Nichols and something he said when he was promoting his film "Closer" and he said something about not wanting total honesty in his relationship to Diane Sawyer, his wife, ( I looked for the exact quote but could not find it. ) I am also reminded of Stanley Kubrick's last film "Eyes Wide Shut" which I saw as being about the impact of a couple being truthful and not being truthful with each other. A profound display of both, I thought.

      My reason for creating a HubPages account was because I saw some things in your Hub that just do not match my experience, and I would like to share those here, is that appropriate? My comments might come across as nit picky but I don't know any other way to say it.


    • profile image

      Howard Schumann 

      8 years ago

      It is clear from your article that, though you may have been around in the 1970s, you did not take the Est training. Otherwise, you could not have such a distorted view of the purpose of the training and what went on.

      Never was anyone told to say anything no matter how others felt about it, or to do anything they wanted and to be guilt-free about it. This sounds like a Pressman invention, of which his book is filled to the brim with. The training was about transforming the quality of your life.

      In that regard, people were asked to look and see if there were any undelivered communications in their life that were getting in the way of their ability to produce satisfaction in their life and, if so, to see if they wished to deliver that communication.

      There was no “boot camp experience and zero “cult-building.” People came to the training from all walks of life because of barriers in their life that they wanted to be rid of. There were no “classes.” The training was experiential and not about information. No one was told what to think or feel. In fact, the trainees were told not to believe anything that was said unless they could validate it with their own experience. The training began usually at 9AM and went until the results of the day were achieved. The hours were not difficult and people often arrived the next day with much more energy than when they began.

      Since the trainings were conducted in a hotel ballroom, obviously the room was closed. It was not locked, however, There were regular bathroom breaks during the day and one meal break. So the training was about self awareness, looking in your life and seeing what worked and what didn’t work. Obviously this could not take place if people were wandering in and out. Besides, most people, when facing an uncomfortable situation, are used to doing things like smoking, eating etc. In the training, such distractions would thwart achieving the desired results.

      There was absolutely no humiliation whatsoever. Whenever anyone had the courage to share something (and people did not have to), they were applauded, not out of agreement but out of acknowledgment. The sharing of the other trainees allowed people to enhance their ability to empathize and to support others. For me, it was obvious after fifteen minutes, that the ground of being of Werner Erhard and the other trainers was that of love and support. To encourage people to shift ingrained and non-productive thought patterns and behavior in the course of two weekends required a lot of attention getting.

      It was clear right from the beginning that people’s act was running their lives and they needed to be shaken so that the loving, open, communicative being could emerge. This does not always mean blowing in your ear and patting you on the back. Sometimes the hardest things you hear, the stuff that really infuriates you, is the stuff you need to hear. On the second day of the training, people were given the opportunity to leave with a full refund. In the ten trainings I either participated in as a trainee or an assistant, I never saw more than two or three people leave.

      In the trainings, I participated in, it was a continual inspiration to see people’s lives turn around in the short space of two weekends. Those who came in looking solid and grim emerged loose and often with a smile on their face. Neither I nor any of the trainees I knew or worked with ever made anyone miserable nor did they make a lot of enemies. Many were inspired to share the trainings with others out of the results that they had achieved for themselves. Those that were resistant or who otherwise could not confront the things that were running their lives often justified their unwillingness to take the training by bad mouthing the program, the graduates, or Werner Erhard.

      You can think whatever you want or read toxic books like the one by Pressman who never did the training but obtained his information through Scientology, a group that has been out to discredit Werner since the 1970s. The results and ensuing satisfaction of the great majority of the hundreds of thousands of graduates has been attested to by independent studies and the fact that the programs of Werner Erhard have been offered for 36 years is a testament to the value received.


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