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Large Group Awareness Training

(November 15, 2005)

Consider the following snippet of dialogue, overheard during a personal growth seminar:

Leader: "Everything you experience doesn't exist unless you experience it. And everything a living creature experiences is created uniquely by that living creature, who is the sole source of that experience."

Student: "How am I responsible for my wife getting cancer?"

Leader: "You're responsible for creating the experience of your wife's manifesting behavior which you choose to call, by agreement with others, a disease called cancer."

Okay, I know what you're thinking. What type of poor goop would sit there and listen to someone tell him that he is "responsible" for his wife getting cancer? Who would believe such meaningless double-talk?

I'll tell you who would believe it. Someone who has become indoctrinated by a Large Group Awareness Training organization or LGAT.

The most famous LGAT is est, Erhard Seminars Training, founded by Werner Erhard in October 1971 (who insisted that the name est be spelled with a lowercase "e"). Est has been modified over the years, and today it is known as "The Landmark Forum".

Aside from est/Landmark Forum, there are many other LGATs: Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), Lifespring, PSI Seminars, Silva Mind Control, Tony Robbins seminars, Mankind Project, and on and on. The ones I mentioned are the most well-known LGATs in the United States, but, over the years, there have been literally hundreds of others, most of which don't survive for long.

Someone deeply involved with an LGAT will adopt simplistic and foolish ideas, and redefine his or her life in terms of a dysfunctional group.

When someone becomes deeply involved with a LGAT, he will adopt ideas that, to outsiders, are simplistic and foolish. In the process, he will redefine his life in terms of a dysfunctional group run by power-hungry, greedy tyrants.

Once this happens, the group ethos will tell him how to think about life: who to choose as his friends, how to act at work, how to spend his money, what to do in his spare time, how to raise his children, and so on. In return, the person will be given the opportunity to spend large amounts of money and many hours of his time (often as a "volunteer") searching for happiness, creativity, and fulfillment, all according to the prevailing dogma of that particular group.

Although other organizations have similar goals, what we are talking about here is different from the religious and charismatic cults that have always existed. It has only been since the 1960s that the LGATs have flourished, offering "trainings" to a great many people.

The basic idea of such trainings is to provide an intense, large-group experience that, in a relatively short time — such as a few weekends, or even a single afternoon — will transform an unhappy, fearful, unfulfilled person into a paragon of human development. The promise is that after taking an LGAT course, anyone should be able to control his reality to such an extent that he will be at peace with himself, have wonderful relationships, succeed in his work, excel at his hobbies, and make lots of money.

Since to some extent, we are all unhappy, fearful and unfulfilled, LGATs have a vast potential audience. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all have wonderful relationships, succeed in our work, excel at our hobbies and, at the same time, make lots of money, especially if the training to do so would take only a short time? The truth, however, is that LGATs don't work. What they really do is fill people with false hopes and unrealistic expectations (while emptying their wallets).

Interestingly enough, many LGAT graduates swear that their training has provided them with immense benefits. I remember, for example, back in the late 1970s, listening to a friend tell me he would have paid $1,000 for just the first four hours of his est training.

However, when such claims are examined dispassionately, it can be seen that — despite all the time and money that may be devoted to the cause — almost nobody shows any real, permanent improvement in their lives. (So if your friends or relatives try to sign you up for a LGAT seminar — especially a "free" introductory seminar — please be skeptical of their extraordinary claims. You may not be aware of it, but people who become involved with LGATs, are subjected to a great deal of pressure to enroll their friends and relatives.)

The reason for this disparity is that, in spite of all the noise such organizations make about improving people's lives, LGATs have only one main purpose: to bring ever-increasing numbers of people into the organization, along with ever-increasing amounts of money.

LGATs are deliberately packaged in ways that disguise their true nature, which is known only to insiders.

To do so, LGATs use camouflaged, hard-sell techniques and sophisticated marketing. For this reason, LGATs are deliberately packaged in ways that disguise their true nature, which is known only to insiders. The message being broadcast to the outside world does not reflect what life is like inside the LGAT.

In the 1970s and 1980s, one of the most successful LGATs was led by Leo Buscaglia, who made a massive amount of money promoting books, lectures and TV shows in which he revealed that "Love is life". "Only when we give joyfully", taught Buscaglia, "without hesitation or thought of gain, can we truly know what love means."

Still, in spite of his continual efforts at self-aggrandizement, Buscaglia was relatively low-key for a leader of an LGAT. Compare him, say, to Tony Robbins who on his Web site exhorts us to "Imagine the life you've always dreamed of living, with no barriers or boundaries. Imagine a life rich with success and achievement, endless physical vitality, heartfelt personal relationships, and a deep sense of spiritual fulfillment."

If that isn't enough to convince you to pull out your credit card, how about this?

"Tony Robbins' original life-changing program, Personal Power, had helped millions of people take control of every aspect of their lives — financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally."

If you do attend an LGAT session, you will find a large group, many of whom are already true believers, led by an outgoing, upbeat "trainer". During the session, you will be subjected to a great deal of manipulation and peer pressure. As this happens, if you stay aware, you will notice the trainer skillfully using the following techniques:

  • Regressive fallacy: Falsely claiming that a particular technique is responsible for something that would, once in a while, occur naturally.
  • Post hoc reasoning: Falsely claiming that because one event occurred after another one, the first event caused the second one.
  • Subjective validation: Selectively remembering certain events and forgetting others.
  • Confirmation bias: A tendency to see what we expect to see.
  • Wishful thinking: A tendency to see what we want to see.
  • Communal reinforcement: Believing that something we are taught is true, because we are surrounded by other people who already believe it.

The most obvious technique used to fool people is creating new vocabulary by redefining common words to have new meanings that are known only to members of the LGAT.

In the Landmark Forum, for example, students are taught new definitions for the following words: get, share, responsibility, technology, breakthrough, rackets, winning formulas, stories, commitment and integrity.

You should know that, among the people in the give-me-money-and-I'll-fix-your-life industry, all of these principles are well-known. Look around and you will see similar strategies in organizations as diverse as multilevel marketing (Amway/Quixtar/Alticor), pseudo-religious cults (Scientology, Avatar), and personal growth events (firewalking seminars).

It is in the LGATs, however, that such techniques have reached their zenith, successfully separating millions of people from their money, while promising the moon but delivering next to nothing.

Explore the Net with me...

The essay above is taken from Harley Hahn's Internet Yellow Pages. You'll find it in the section entitled "Behavior and Social Forces".

Within this section of book, I write about a variety of interesting topics having to do with human behavior.

Behavior and Social Forces

  • Apologizing and Forgiveness
  • Cold Reading
  • Conversation
  • Etiquette
  • Flash Mobs
  • Flirting
  • Kissing
  • Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT)
  • Lying
  • Seduction
  • Stealing
  • Thank-You Notes
  • Time Sense: Polychronicity and Monochronicity

To check out the section in which I write about human behavior, just click on the following link:

Behavior and Social Forces

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