Photo: Werner Erhard in the 70s
Written by Steve Beckow
The second most basic tenet of the path of awareness was to remain with one’s self. And it was this emphasis on remaining with one’s self that earned the awareness movement the nickname “the Me Generation.”
The term was used to deride it by suggesting that it was selfish and narcissistic. But it was in no way that.
Remaining with one’s self was a reminder to not focus on another person’s input into a situation, not judge or analyze them, but to remain with our own input. It was an encouragement toward an important value in the awareness movement, which was personal responsibility.
In the earliest days of the growth movement, people attended encounter groups or workshops, many of them led by accomplished men and women we called “circuit riders.” These were the equivalent of the preachers of our day. It was what religion had become by then and people had their favorites.
Among the very best of independent circuit riders, in my opinion, was psychologist John Enright and workshops was the est Training, founded by Werner Erhard. I may be drawing on their insights a fair amount here. John Enright had a wonderful sense of humor and so he would express the notion of personal responsibility in ways like these:
“Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am master of my fate and captain of my soul.” (1)
“Responsibility is acknowledging that my input is crucial and accepting its consequences.” (2)
“You may not be responsible for an event but you’re responsible for the meaning you give the event.” (3)
“Dealing with another’s part in things is blaming or trying to appear blameless. As such it is reducible to image management. Dealing with one’s own part in things is taking responsibility and seeking improvement and real change.” (4)
I remember how John would encourage us to take any event in our lives and see how we were personally responsible for it. He had a long process he would engage us in and somewhere in it we would see what we did to cause the event. And when we saw it, we had a very powerful “Aha!” moment.
I chose an occasion in 1970 when I was stabbed and left with a knife in my back trying to help an old man. He showed me that, at one point in the event, I saw a policeman near by and refused to call him because I wanted to be a hero. Instead I nearly wound up dead.
When I saw that moment and the fact that I declined to summon the policeman, all the feelings of victimization connected to the event and all the regrettable consequences from the event that went on for months and even years, melted away.
That was the benefit of participating in the growth movement. Workshops with John or Werner were so liberating because so much drama and so many stories were demolished as a result of them.
John described his courses as “hard-nosed permission giving” and I remember having many of the most profound insights of my life either in his courses or in the est Training, which was very much like his courses. Both John Enright and Werner Erhard shared a common circumstance: they were both, in my eyes, enlightened.
As John said, personal responsibility meant seeing my input in the events of my life as being crucial and accepting that I am the source and the one responsible for its consequences.
He used to joke about a person seeing an avalanche coming down on himself as one who took the ultimate in personal responsibility: “When the avalanche is coming down on you, you can say, ‘Oh my God! It’s going to hit me!’ or you can say, ‘Far out! What a way to go!’” (5) I can only surmise that John exited his own life that way.
The growth movement encouraged people to take as much responsibility as they could for as much of life as they could. Psychologist Bob Larzelere shows what that would look like in real life in the area of our beliefs.
“Your environment is a reflection of your beliefs. Your beliefs come first, then they are materialized in the illusion-reality. You are the source of your beliefs, your environment is not. The only place you can effectively take responsibility for your reality is in looking at, and taking responsibility for, your beliefs. How do you do that? By doing it. Responsibility is a generating context. There is no technique for it. It is a choice you make.” (6)
Werner Erhard, the founder of the est Training, conveyed the sense that existed then of wanting to raise the bar higher and higher and higher around taking responsibility for our lives and coming from integrity:
“We are finding out what we need to know right here. We are creating this together. I want to work with people who are willing to participate at a very high level of responsibility and integrity. We need to be willing to work through the difficulties and frustrations that accompany a creative process. We need to transcend our personal interests, our own agendas, and search for what is wanted and needed to create community.
“We will have to give up that last-ditch reaction to our frustration of not being able to get it done: ‘All right, I’ll do it myself.’ That won’t work any more. We need to learn to produce results by empowering each other.” (7)
I probably can’t convey the thrill I used to feel each time I attended one of John Enright’s or Werner Erhard’s courses and heard the bar being raised again – the end of hunger by 2000, world peace by a similar year, on and on we went extending our responsibility to our world, culminating in the vision of a world that worked for everyone, again another idea whose time would come in 2012, contributed by Werner.
(1) Awareness, Responsibility and Communication Course, Cold Mountain Institute, April 15, 1976. [Hereafter CMI]
(3) Awareness, Responsibility, and Communication Course, Vancouver, January 20, 1979. [Hereafter ARC, Vancouver.]
(4) CMI, April 8, 1976.
(5) ARC, Vancouver, January 20, 1979.
(6) Bob Larzalere, The Harmony of Love. Context Publications, 1982, 71.
(7) Werner Erhard quoted in Joan Bordow, “Inventing the Community Workshop,” The Review, May/June 1982, 5 and 7.