By Sandra Lockheart- A Submission For The LA Digital Times
Netflix has an offering for you called “I am not your guru”. It is the story of speaking guru Tony Robbins, brought to you by Netflix executives, some of whom have attended Robbins classes.
Is Robbins EST? Is he Scientology? Is he a cult? Ironically, in the film, a victim of a truly horrific cult: “The Children of God” is featured addressing cult victimization. How does that contrast play out.
What are we to think about this Tony guy? He has an epic mansion, a hot honey with big lips and a devoted following.
Is he using the public to pad his pockets or is he a new positive option for society’s crumbling mental state?
Is he a shyster? Is he the new Jesus? Is he just some giant guy with a big Ego? Are his seminars his own therapy for himself?
I went undercover inside Werner Erhardt’s EST and met the founders of EST who were in the original meetings above the Finnochio’s restaurant on Broadway in San Francisco. I know the inside story of how EST was formed to make money at the expense of battered souls.
EST marketed condensed-cream-of-philosophy to the mass public. The premise was that you could either pay 150 bucks an hour to a psychologist for a private session or pay thousands of dollars for a huge group session in an auditorium.
Tony uses what the EST folks call “the technology”. This “technology” is a process for mass audience acquisition, peer-to-peer marketing, sealed environmental mood manipulation and stair-stepped hand-down from a single large group manager to many smaller groups with many managers. Is is evil? Is it efficient? Let’s take a look.
I worked at a crisis center for my research on this story and saw the same people that attend Tony events. The suicidal, the damaged, and the hurt all have a need. They need a personal reflector. They can all solve their problems with the information each of them already have inside themselves. Each of the suicidal people had the answer to their problem but they could not see it. They needed a reflector, an amplifier, they needed a crisis counselor to help them hear their words.
Crisis counselors are never supposed to give opinions. They are there to reflect the thoughts of the victim and engage in “active listening”. A good crisis counselor simply repeats what they hear the crisis victim saying, back to the victim, using new and different words. People know how to fix themselves but they need to have a novel new light to see their way through their darkness.
5000 people every six days times five thousand dollars per person yields twenty five million dollars.
That is good money if your only overhead is a sound guy, some lighting trusses and some interns. The hall rental and the catering is a small portion of the cost of operations. The upside is huge.
Tony’s wife had an unfortunate scheduling conflict with her cow-fat lip injection treatment and the arrival of the film crew. Awkward. Many blogs are waxing on and on about her lip injections but that is not a key issue in the big picture.
Marie Forleo, Oprah Winfrey’s much applauded motivation speaker, took a slightly different turn after she was trained by Tony. She uses a one-to-one education approach which contrasts from the big auditorium approach. Other motivation speakers from the Tony Robbins school of loud have gone on to become millionaires in the mass motivation game.
I am forced to shamelessly quote Wikipedia’s investigation of Mr. Robbins: In May 1995, Robbins Research International (RRI) responded to Federal Trade Commission charges of misrepresentation of potential earnings to franchise investors. RRI and the FTC entered into a stipulated settlement agreement, in which RRI agreed to pay US$221,260 in consumer redress.
Financial seminar guru Wade Cook also sued Robbins for copyright infringement and plagiarism, alleging that Robbins used proprietary terms in his seminars and from Cook’s book Wall Street Money Machine. In 1998, a Tacoma, Washington, jury ordered Robbins to pay Cook $650,900 in damages. The order to pay damages was temporarily withdrawn until 2000, when the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the trial judge had misinterpreted the statutes. The verdict and damages were reinstated with a statement that “The Court found that U.S. District Court Judge, Jack Tanner, erred in “finding a conclusion contrary to the jury award” and sent instructions to reinstate the award. Robbins was forced to pay the entire amount.
One chapter of Unlimited Power, called “Energy: The Fuel of Excellence”, is dedicated to a discussion of health and energy. The National Council Against Health Fraud wrote a highly critical review of the chapter.
In 2001, Robbins filed a lawsuit against The Vancouver Sun newspaper, alleging defamation and libel. The judge determined the Vancouver Sun defamed Robbins when it called him an “adulterous, wife-stealing hypocrite“. Awarding Robbins $20,000 in damages, the judge wrote “While damages are presumed, the plaintiff’s failure to take the witness stand and to testify about his feelings and the effect of the defamation upon his reputation leaves the court somewhat in the dark about these matters”.
In July 2012, the San Jose Mercury News published a story reporting that multiple people had been burned and hospitalized during one of Robbins’ firewalking events on July 19, 2012. This story was picked up by other media outlets, including Fox News. These reports were later retracted as inaccurate. A similar corrective article was published by The Huffington Post.
On June 24, 2016 dozens were burned and required medical attention after attempting to walk on hot coals during a fire walking event at a Tony Robbins motivational seminar in Dallas, TX. Several attendees required hospitalization and were transported to medical facilities to treat burns while a bus was required by emergency services to handle the triage of burn victims.
According to Robbins’ website, the “fire walk” is intended to help people conquer their fears by walking across hot coals. It takes place during the “Turn Fear Into Power” portion of the event.
“Walking over those hot coals is a symbolic experience that proves if you can make it through the fire, you can make it through anything,” his website says.
In Men In Black, an array of screens at headquarters is monitoring aliens masquerading as humans. One of these screens shows Robbins and suggests that he is an alien.
In July 2010, NBC debuted Breakthrough with Tony Robbins, a reality show that followed Robbins as he helped the show’s participants face their personal challenges. NBC canceled the show, after airing two of the planned six episodes, due to low viewer-ship of 2.8 million.
So, okay; Robbins has had some bad advice from his executive handlers. The people he hired got him in those jams. Did Tony Robbins get himself in those jams or did his staff? The movie shows him constantly showing up, just as things are ready to start, after his handlers get things arranged. Is Robbins being used by his own people? Is Robbins not in touch with the details or is he the supreme ruler of the details? Micheal Jackson was equally famous and famously screwed over by his own people. Could Robbins be suffering from getting Jackson’d?
Let’s give Tony the benefit of the doubt and assume that he got some bad advice. The follow-up question is: If he got bad advice, could he be giving bad advice? If a giant guy walks up to you on the street and smiles and hugs you and tells you that you are wonderful, are you going to punch him or are you going to suck it in?
In the film, Robbins keeps asking desperately suicidal people to stand up in front of huge crowds and cameras and push themselves over the edge? Is this safe-and-sane? Do real, actual, university trained, state-licensed psychologists say that this is the correct process? In fact, most of them do not think that tactic to be a healthy way to deal with the individual, highly personal matters of suicidal angst. There is a caveat, though. Every suicidal mind is unique. For some, this may actually save them. For others, this will force them to kill themselves. So, let’s give Tony the benefit of the doubt, again, and say that he, at least, might be saving the lives of, at least, half of the suicidals.
The key issue is the idea of paying for your religion. If information and mental freedom are free, why do we have to pay $5000.00 for it? Some of the people in the audience have that social-zombie, glazed-over, wild-eyed zealot look on their face. Are those ones being taken advantage of? Some of the rest of the audience look pretty normal but there are, certainly, too many men with crazy scarves and ear-rings in the group.
Packing you in a room full of equally non-questioning people and wearing your resistance down over a week is a good strategy. As time goes on, the system gets you into smaller, and smaller groups where the insiders can work on you in tighter consultative sales capacities.
Many modern cult-like things tell you that you have to pay “only this much” but that if you feel that it helped: “Give us what-ever you feel it was worth”. In the practice of Scientology, that premise has bankrupted many.
If your grocery store told you to pay what you felt they were worth they wouldn’t have a good case because you can get food from a million grocery stores. If a guru-who-is-not-a-guru told you that you could only get happiness from him, and his people, who is going to think that is not a unique proposition. With 5000 people in a big room all saying “go for it”, how could anyone get past the peer-pressure?
Thus, I have to give Robbins one demerit for huckster-ism at the expensive of battered souls. I have a spreadsheet of his costs and expenses. Anything over $1000.00 for the session is too much. The profit-margin rides too high on the backs of those who are gullible. Tony, ratchet those fees down and offer 10% of your seats to low-income people.
Having said that, I have to give Tony many merits for bringing high-efficiency psycho-therapy to the public. As long as his staff is making certain that licensed psychologists are supervising the after-effects of those with the deepest troubles, it may be worthy.
My editors have popped for the $5K plus expenses to send me off to a “Tony Class”. I am not going undercover. I am open to learning, changing my opinion, exploring and discovering more. I plan to talk to everybody there. Stay tuned for my next report.
Topics: EST, Tony Robbins, I am not your guru, Netflix, Children of God, Micheal Jackson, Energy: The Fuel of Excellence, IRS, Charity funding, Marie Forleo, licensed psychologists, Robbins Research International