Excerpt: The pit: a group encounter defiled, by Gene Church and Conrad DCarnes. (Out of Print)
It was called Leadership Dynamics. I've included this excerpt from the out-of-print book, The pit: a group encounter defiled, by Gene Church and Conrad D. Carnes (New York, Outerbridge & Lazard; distributed by Dutton ) partly for curiosity sake, but also because LifeStream Founder, Jim Quinn had taken this course as part of his involvement with William Penn Patrick's organization, Holiday Magic. I asked him what was it really like and he replied, "You really had to fight for your life to survive it." When I asked Alexander Everett (Mind Dynamics, Inward Bound) about it, he only replied, "Ben Gay was sadist, who really messed Leadership Dynamics up." CF
This excerpt is from the Introduction session of the course. It is by no means a description of the experiential trainings that are available today, but it's "flavour" is reflective of the early days of Large Group Awareness Trainings.
Breakfast wasn't much. Those of you who have traveled are on a first name basis with lukewarm scrambled eggs, stiff toast with jelly, and institutional coffee. Still, I went for a second cup, because the air was brisk in Palo Alto and the warm coffee helped to wake me up.
I found myself looking around. There were twenty-four of us, all men. The fee was one thousand dollars, in advance, nonrefundable. The course? An executive training seminar ... four days in a room in Ricky's Hyatt House in California. The object? To learn to know ourselves better-to become better businessmen, family men, leaders . . . and above all, to become totally and completely honest with ourselves and others. That was Leadership Dynamics Institute: the greatest experience, they all said, of our lives.
I knew a few graduates of this course, but found them all highly uncommunicative about what went on during the course. I once noticed a few bruises on some returning Students and this had made me apprehensive. Frankly, the graduate returning from the course tended to be more withdrawn than to exhibit the qualities of leadership. But all had affirmed that it was indeed the greatest single experience of their lives. Little other useful information could be gleaned from the graduates I knew.
Leadership Dynamics Institute (LDI) was a required seminar for anyone wishing to take a managerial position with the Holiday Magic organization.
Though not then employed by Holiday Magic, I had not strayed for long from the Holiday Magic family. Earlier in my life I had been a distributor for their home care and cosmetic products, and now I was involved in another Holiday Magic affiliate, Mind Dynamics. It had been made clear to me by my superiors within Mind Dynamics that Leadership Dynamics Institute would be an important rung in my personal ladder of success. This was my reason for attending. A few other students who attended were outside the Holiday Magic organization altogether, and on the recommendation of a friend or relative were there in order to better themselves or to relieve their hang-ups.
Leadership Dynamics Institute was formed on the principles outlined in a booklet entitled "Happiness and Success Through Principle" written in 1967 by William Penn Patrick, the founder and corporate king of Holiday Magic, Inc., and apparent co-owner of LD I. The foremost principle set forth by Patrick is honesty, complete and total honesty, both towards yourself and others. Another attribute stressed is courage, courage to stand up and fight for what you believe.
A further major principle put forth by Patrick is the necessity to differentiate between selfishness and greed. Selfishness is a normal and necessary human quality that everyone has and uses. If we, as individuals, were not selfish we would never have any thing. Selfishness to Patrick means that you want something and are willing to work to get it. Greed, on the other hand, is an extension of selfishness to the point of wanting something for nothing.
On these principles Patrick built Holiday Magic into a financially powerful empire of pyramid sales organizations. Holiday Magic sells, internationally, cosmetics and home care items such as waxes and polishes. It generally works this way: at a meeting called for the purpose, "general" and "master" distributors recruit sales personnel as well as other new distributors. The qualifications are financial, the reward for a greater investment is a greater sales discount. The new recruit believes he is becoming a retailer; often though, his initial inventory lies wasting away in his basement because the man has no sales ability. But still they come, lured by meetings that forecast untold riches for anyone who follows the principles and works hard.
We had come to LDI to learn how to apply these principles.
I was not prepared at all for the next four days. Had the whole affair been recited to me, I would not have believed it. Of course, the element of surprise was an important factor in the presentation. The mind didn't seem to react quickly enough to take it all in as it occurred-instead the events were simply stored away by a brain which seemed to respond, "I cannot act upon this information; it does not relate to my notions of reality." But reality it was.
One of the instructors for our class entered the dining area and passed out copies of a document. "Read it and sign it," he said, indicating that he wasn't interested in wasting any time. At the head of the document was written "General Release." The import of the document was to give the school the right to do to us as they wished. It even appeared to include the right to abuse me physically if they wanted. And if I signed and they indeed did so, I would not hold LDI, its owners, agents, employees, servants , etc. liable for the consequences. The possibilities were chilling.
But after all, the people I know who had attended LDI had come home singing high praises. Everyone else seemed to be signing. I signed.
Across the room an elderly man began to complain, "I'm not signing this." Then louder: "I'm not about to sign this. I never sign anything without my attorney seeing it first, and you guys are all nuts if you think he's going to let me sign, or that I'd sign it without him knowing about it." The instructor calmly informed us that until our releases were signed, we could not attend the class. We were reminded that the thousand dollar fee was not refundable. We all signed except Eddie Stevens, the elderly protester. And, except for Stevens, we left the room.
As we walked out of the room and across the parking lot, I ran into Bill Schwartz, an acquaintance who had graduated from LDI at an earlier time. I asked the obvious question: "What are you doing here again?" Bill explained that he had been called in on short notice to replace the man who normally acted as the instructors' assistant during the class while the regular man was on vacation. Bill explained that he would actually be taking the course as a student, but that his primary function was class assist ant to the instructors.
At first we walked into the wrong building, but Bill soon spotted the right one. We gathered outside and entered.
In the center of the room reposed a coffin, lid open and waiting. There was a small cage off to the side, large enough for a human being on his hands and knees. Propped against the wall was a large wooden cross. A hangman's noose dangled from one of the high rafters.
In the very center of the room was a pedestal draped in velvet, upon which was what appeared to be an Aladdin's lamp.
The tables in the room were arranged in two semi-circles around the props and equipment. There was some snickering and murmuring among the students. I sat down and waited for the trompe-d'oeuil.
Four instructors strode in. One screamed, "Stand up when we enter this room!' We braced like plebes at Annapolis. "Not good enough!" yelled one of them. "You're going to do it again, and from now on you had better be on your feet and at attention before we enter this room." We sat down as they left.
I waited for their re-entry, my head facing forward, but glancing furtively at the door from the comer of my eye. They were coming. I gripped the table with both hands and jumped out of the chair to attention. The whole class was standing rigid. The four instructors paced in, with Eddie Stevens in tow.
They ordered him to take his seat. No one explained how or why he had changed his mind and signed the release.
The three assistant instructors sat down at a table at the far end of the room. The head instructor then walked once across the room, turned on his heel, and marched to the center. He assumed a perfect parade rest and began, "Gentlemen, I'd like to welcome you to Leadership Dynamics Institute. My name is Ben Gay; the other instructors that you'll be working with during your class will be: Sharoll Shumate, Vance Powell and Jerzy Booz," he said. "Many of you have heard many things about LDI before attending. Some were true, some were lies. Whatever has been told you is now part of the past, because you're now going to discover the truth about LDI for yourselves.
"One of the things that LDI does is to relieve people of their hang-ups. Some people might get upset if I said 'fuck.' Or might get upset if I called our black friend over here a nigger. By the time we're through here, there will be no word in the English language that will shock or upset you to hear or to use. I guarantee you that.
"You may have noticed some of the things here in the center of the room." That drew a ripple of laughter from the other instructors. 'I'd like to take a moment to explain what they are and how we might possibly use them. You see before you a coffin, it's open. Coffins are used to bury people in. It's possible that here in this class we might have one, two, or more people who are already dead and just don't know about it yet. If we find someone like that, what we're going to do is put them inside the coffin, and we'll leave them inside there for as long as it takes them to realize how much it means to be alive."
He went on: "You might have noticed the cage. It may well be that there are people in this room who feel like they are living in cages. They feel penned up inside themselves. We've found, through experience, that by physically putting someone inside this cage, and confining them for long periods of time, if necessary, they grow to appreciate the value of the freedom that they already possess. They grow up, understanding how much they had before they spent time in this cage.
'For those of you who have felt at times that you've been persecuted for whatever reason, whether on your job, by your wife or friends, we're going to let you see what persecution really is. We have a large wooden cross here. It's about eight feet by five feet wide, and it wouldn't surprise me if, before we finish, one or more of you in this room will have the opportunity to test this cross, and see what it feels like to hang on it."
Then he said, "You'll also notice a hangman's noose, and I'll tell you what: I'll just let your imaginations work on what we might do with that one..."
Ben was carrying what appeared to be a riding crop or a Marine Corps swagger stick. While speaking he would bring it up to his left palm, or strike the side of his thigh with it. It reminded me of a classic military hero pose, everything: the stick, the w ay be stood, walked, talked, everything.
Ben was explaining the symbolism of the Aladdin's lamp. It was, he hold us, a chalice, a silver chalice. It would represent truth and honesty to us. The chalice was to be placed at the extreme far end of the room. As each of us in our own turn and in our own way found our particular moment of truth, we would move to the other side of the chalice, until each of us had experienced complete and total self-honesty.
The purpose of the institute, Ben said, was to help each man find his own "silver chalice," to make each man face the truth honestly and so to understand himself and others better, to have each man carry the truth with him from this day henceforth. "Your minds and brains are in almost every case heaped over with trash and junk from outside influences of a negative nature by other people we come in contact with." "The result," said Ben, "was that we spent most of our valuable time rationalizing our own miserable failures." 'We will," he emphasized, "break through all the lies you live with and teach you to lead better, more truthful lives."
"Imagine that this room were filled from floor to ceiling," explained Ben, "wall to wall, with shit, and the chalice was somewhere inside. Your goal is to find it. Chances are strong that when you opened the door you wouldn't even think about entering. This is what happens to people when they look f or self-honesty. The purpose of LDI, and what we're going to do, is not only to help you get into that room, but to physically force you inside the room and keep you there until you find the chalice-no matter how long it takes-and bring it out with you to act as a guiding light for you for the rest of your life. We will do whatever is necessary to force each of you to find your moment of truth. Whatever!"
Ben walked over in front of the man nearest him and said, "If it's necessary for us to simply pat you on the back for you to find honesty within yourselves, what do you think we will do?" The class responded: "Pat him on the back." And Ben patted the firs t man on the back
Striding to the second man: "If it's necessary to kiss someone on the top of his head to make him honest, what will we do?" "Kiss him on the head!" echoed the class. Ben leaned down and kissed the man on the forehead.
He then moved in front of my friend Bill Schwartz, and said, "If it's necessary, gentlemen, for us to beat the shit out of someone until he can't think straight enough to lie, what do you think we're going to do?" The class seemed stunned. A few responded, "Beat the shit out of him?" in a questioning tone. And Ben replied, "That's right." He then positioned himself directly in front of Schwartz, drew back, and with a full swing, hit Schwartz squarely in the face. Schwartz flew backwards off his chair and h it the wall, then crumpled to the floor. He scrambled back to his chair.
If that's how they treat their own assistants, I wondered, how will we make out? My stomach turned. I thought about leaving.
Ben turned to us and said, as though reading my mind, "If you leave this room you forfeit your thousand dollars. And, as an added incentive to keep you from trying to leave, we will divide you into pairs. One pair to a motel room. If any of you leave, we will require your roommate, your buddy, to leave as well, and forfeit his thousand dollar tuition money. And one more thing. If anyone leaves, the rest of you, believe me, will suffer for it."
Several members of the class were under consideration for highly-paid management positions with Holiday Magic. I was not one of those, but I could see in their faces a strong desire to see this thing through.
Ben Gay stated that leadership Dynamics Institute was a separate company, in no way related to Holiday Magic, Inc. (It must have been a coincidence that Ben Gay was at that time President of Holiday Magic in the United States. A coincidence that the founder of Holiday Magic, William Penn Patrick was co-owner of LDI. Coincidence that instructor Jerry Booz was National Vice-President for Holiday Magic Ltd. in Canada, that instructor Sharoll Shumate was Regional Vice-President for Holiday Magic in the United States Northeast, and that instructor Vance Powell was Regional Vice-President for Holiday Magic in the United States Southwest.)
"Now," said Ben, 'let me tell you about these releases you've just signed...every time we have a class, everyone signs these. I can't believe that you people could be so god-damned dumb to sign anything like this. You have all got to be crazy. Does any body here know what they just signed? Do you have any idea? By signing these releases you have just given us complete authority to do anything that we want to you, for as long as we want to do it. Gentlemen, you are our prisoners. At your own admission you u have said not only do you place yourselves in our trust, but at the same time you agree not to say anything about it to anybody because you agreed in advance to everything that is going to happen. The only exception is premeditated murder, and gentlemen , let me make this perfectly clear..." He paused for effect. "If anyone gets killed in this class, and that is a possibility, let me guarantee you that it will be classified as an accident.
"You've probably noticed that the water pitchers and the glasses on the tables are made of plastic. There is a reason. At an earlier LDI class two of the students had a little argument. One of them threw a glass of water on another student. The one who go t wet got really upset about it. The wet one picked up a pitcher of water and threw the water at the first man, unfortunately, he forgot to hold on to the pitcher. As a result it caught him right on the bridge of his nose and just about killed him. It too k about twelve stitches and lots of time in the emergency room to keep his nose attached to his face. Speaking of the emergency room, don't any of you think that anyone down there will be shocked if one of you ends up there; we're on a first name basis with all of the attendants in the E.R. at the Palo Alto Hospital. They know us well-they've set a lot of bones for us: they must really wonder what we're doing up here."
At this, Eddie Stevens mumbled audibly, "This is a bunch of shit." Ben Gay quickly moved over to Eddie, picked him up by the lapels of his coat, and held him briefly at arm's length; Eddie was not a small man. Gay's eyes narrowed and he hissed, "Eddie, you're an old man, but don't press me because I'll beat the shit out of you just as fast as anybody in this room. For your own sake, you better sit down and shut the fuck up until I want to hear from you. Now you tell me if you don't understand that."
He dropped Eddie back into his chair. And Eddie stayed put. Gay, without giving him another glance, turned and said, "Gentlemen, I should tell you about Eddie-he's our resident alcoholic. Eddie got a head start on all of you. We were in the bar last night , up by the restaurant, and I was with my wife Marcia and a couple of other people, and there was old Eddie, really juicing. Eddie made some comment to my wife. I grabbed him, and I was going to break his back right there. . . but I held off because I knew he'd be with me for the next four days and I'd have an opportunity to straighten out his drinking problem. . . . Eddie is a confirmed, full-time alcoholic, and it wouldn't surprise me if you see him go through what they call the DTs." He smiled at Eddie. "What do you think about that, Eddie. Ever gone through the DT's?' Eddie looked at him in silence. "Mr. Drunk, be real careful mouthing off at me: the next time you do could be the last time."
Was all this real?
Ben went into greater detail on the rules, there were three:
1. No hitting in the face with closed fist; only instructors were allowed to do that. Students must use only their open hand.
2. Closed fist to the body was allowed, and encouraged.
3. Never hit an instructor. Never even consider hitting an instructor.
On the point of hitting instructors, Ben reminded us of the release we had signed, and commented that the penalty would be severe if we tried to hit one of them back.
"In four days, everyone here will have had his moment of truth and honesty. About three hundred people have successfully been through this course. You will all pass to the left of the silver chalice, and then it will be up to you to carry the feeling of total honesty out into the world. We will force you to be leaders," he said. "We're going to unscrew your heads and take everything, and I mean everything out. Then it'll be up to you to fill yourself back up with whatever you want, good or bad, honest or dishonest. If only one in a thousand of you graduates exercises the leadership qualities you will have found in LDI, then all the time, effort, tears, pain, suffering, and the 999 failures will be worth it.
The instructors were well informed about us we were told (which was not too surprising as most of us were affiliated with the same company.) They had apparently built a background non each of us by contacting wives, employers, friends, and business associates. Some wives were even attending a Women's LDI going on at the same time in another part of the motel. I suspected that one or more of my own associates had been feeding personal information to the instructor staff of LDI.
Ben told us that he knew that several of us had consulted with ministers, psychiatrists, professional counselors, and that they had failed us. Now it was LDI's turn to get us straight, he said. Leadership Dynamics Institute was the ultimate when we left here there was nowhere else to go. If they could not solve our problems, the problems simply Couldn't be solved.
Each of us had nameplates on the table in front of us. Ben told us to take our pens out. "Write the figure $51.00 per minute on your nameplates. This represents the amount of money you are each spending each minute to receive our individual attention. I'd advise, for that kind of money per minute, that you'd better pay damn close attention here. You might also keep that figure in mind when one of your fellow students is wasting your time here." *
Then came the crowning truism: "There's an easy way to get through LDI-just tell the truth. But you know what? You won't You'll he and take all kinds and amounts of punishment and pain before you accept the truth as it is. But that's the secret ... just t ell the truth, it's just that simple. Be completely honest with yourself and with us, and no one will even touch you. Some people have finished LDI without a scratch, but most refuse to tell the truth until they get the shit kicked out of them. The choice is yours, men. The easy way or the hard way. It doesn't make any difference to us. We guarantee the results. Either way."
* Apparently Ben arrived at this figure by dividing the sum total of all our course fees by the number of hours he actually "taught" in terms of lectures, etc. At the time we accepted the figure without question.
Ben went on: "When I want something, want you to move something, go some place, or anything else, I want you to move as quickly as possible, as fast as you can. I want you to run. I don't want to see you stop and rest for any reason. You're to be at a constant state of attention and be intently aware of all that goes on. Never let down. for a moment. IS THAT CLEAR?
"In the next four days you will learn that all your hang-ups and problems are of a petty nature. All twenty-four of you are exactly alike, and you will understand that by learning to function together, as a group, as one. You will lose your individuality, and act together for the good of the group...IS THAT CLEAR?"