The New Age Movement in the Business World
by Richard Watring
The consciousness of American business is slowly, almost
imperceptibly being desensitized to the introduction of a New Age
philosophy into our culture.
In the larger culture, the New Age movement is gaining wider
exposure through the influence of people like actress Shirley MacLaine
(Out on a Limb, Dancing in the Light), Reverend Terry Cole Whittaker,
writers Norman Cousins (Human Options), Marilyn Ferguson (The Aquarian
Conspiracy), Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull), Hugh Prather,
Human Potential Leaders Jean Houston (The Possible Human), Michael
Murphy (Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance), Abraham Maslow (The
Farther Reaches of Human Nature), George Leonard (The Transformation -
A Guide to the Inevitable Changes of Humankind), Willis Harman (An
Incomplete Guide to the Future, Higher Creativity), and others.
This has not gone unnoticed by the media. The NEW YORK TIMES and
U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT have both devoted articles to the subject,
as have ABC's 20/20, The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show, to
name a few.
In the business world, attention has been focused by the NEW YORK
TIMES (April 17, 1987 - Guru's Hired to Motivate Workers are Raising
Fears of Mind Control), The WASHINGTON POST (January 9, 1987 - Zen and
the Art of Making Money), NEWSWEEK (May 4, 1987 - Corporate Mind
Control), FORTUNE (July 6, 1987 - Merchants of Inspiration; and
November 23, 1987 - Trying to Bend Manager's Minds), and TRAINING
(September 1987 - what's New in the New Age?). Professional
conferences for Human Resource Development practitioners add important
exposure by featuring proponents of the movement such as Jean Houston,
Marilyn Ferguson and others.
In an editorial entitled "Who Put the Guru in Guru Mind
Control?", Jack Gordon of TRAINING hit the nail on the head: "There is
an implicit belief held by many in the HRD profession that their job
is nothing less than to self-actualize the American workforce." He
opined that this view is both preposterous and arrogant. On the other
hand, Patricia Galagan, editor of TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT JOURNAL
wrote that it is "the fear experienced in getting to that ambiguous
and unfamiliar place that sends the untransformed to their lawyers."
Whichever side you are on, the positions on both sides of the issue
seem to be solidifying.
In a series of letters to TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT JOURNAL, a
number of training professionals offered their views. For instance,
Paul Rondina of Digital Equipment wrote, "I see the training industry
being used to proselytize New Age religion under the deceptive
marketing of increased productivity, self-actualization and self-
improvement. As trainers, we must sound the alarm to this covert
missionary work." Doug Groothius, himself an expert on the New Age
movement offered, "Some practices ... induce a trance-like state
wherein one's critical faculties are suspended. Effective businesses
need sharpened minds, not dulled ones." Lea Deo of St. Lukes Hospital
of Kansas City wrote "spiritual encounters should not be disguised as
training." Carolyn Sorensen Balling of Amex Life Assurance offered,
"For a company to concentrate on developing the 'inner selves' of
their employees for the sake of higher performance seems
manipulative". Kevin Garvey, a consultant predicted "an array of
unprecedented lawsuits" and urged that "no corporation should blithely
incur this penalty."
But what is this movement that has attracted so much attention?
Briefly stated, the New Age Movement promotes a "personal
transformation" of spirit (usually referred to as consciousness)
through the use of certain techniques, often called
psychotechnologies. The movement suggests that humankind has the
ability and capacity to fully self-actualize (sometimes called
reaching Enlightenment or Inner-wisdom, Higher Self) and that this is
the goal of transformation. Inherent in the movement is the Eastern
philosophical view of monism, the belief that all of reality is
composed of the same essence, that there is no distinction to be made
between matter and spirit and that, therefore, humanity is connected
and individuals are extensions or manifestations of the whole. Under
this view of reality, there would be no separation between God and
Creation, since creation emanates from, and is made of, the same
"stuff" as God.
Because humanity's true destination is the realization that
humankind is divine, the movement promotes techniques that accelerate
the transformative process. Among these techniques are a number that
are being used with greater frequency in business. Business does not
usually admit to the promotion of transformation. Most often other
reasons are cited for the use of the technique. For instance,
meditative techniques are used as part of a Stress Management
strategy. Techniques recommended for their stress reduction value
include meditation, Transcendental Meditation, Self-Hypnosis, guided
imagery, yoga, and centering.
Some techniques are used to enhance creativity or the intuitive
process: Guided Imagery, Visualization, Silva Mind Control, Dianetics
Certain techniques enhance self-regulation. Techniques that
assist in self-regulation include bio-feedback, hypnosis, self-
hypnosis and affirmation.
Certain techniques are used to encourage employees to accept a
greater share of responsibility for themselves and their company.
These include EST (newly called The Forum or Transformation
Technologies), Lifespring, D>M>A>, Actualizations and other human
potential seminar programs.
Some techniques are used to promote accelerated learning -
namely, Suggestology and Visualization. Others are used to improve
interpersonal skills, such as Neurolinguistic programming.
These motives, the reduction of stress, the enhancement of
creativity and intuitive processes, self-regulation and the acceptance
of responsibility, accelerated learning and the improvement of inter-
personal skills, are not bad, in and of themselves.
The danger, however, is with the techniques that are used to
achieve these ends. I have a number of very serious concerns
regarding the use of these types of personal development techniques.
Firstly, most people who have grown up in a Western Judeo-
Christian tradition do not share the same view of reality as that
promoted by the New Age Movement. In order for the technique to be of
value, the individual must adopt the new view (often called paradigm-
shift) which underlies the change being sought. For this reason, one
sees increasing acceptance of beliefs in reincarnation, karma, monism
(or pantheism), synchronicity (the belief in the interconnectedness of
all life), metaphysics (the belief that the mind has the power to
influence forces within the universe which can change material
reality), cosmic unity, paranormal phenomena, out-of-body experiences,
and the like.
Secondly, most of the techniques described are either tantamount
to a hypnotic induction, or, their use renders the individual more
highly suggestible to hypnotic induction. Most people know what
hypnosis is, however, very few people know that the use of
affirmation, suggestology, neurolinguistic programming, some forms of
guided imagery, est and est-type human potential seminars employ some
of the same psychological dynamics as hypnosis. (Most lay persons are
not aware of the fact that hypnosis can be induced without a
relaxation suggestion - this is called active-alert hypnotic
Even those techniques that do not qualify as hypnotic induction
may ultimately facilitate the same result. Most meditative techniques
increase the level of "alpha" rhythms in the brain (so do chanting,
the repeating of a mantra and other spiritual exercises). People who
are in an alpha state are substantially more suggestible than those
who are not. Further, when people use certain meditative exercises,
they often experience the loss of self-identifying awareness and come
to experience a oneness with a wider consciousness, often called
cosmic or unitary consciousness. If this experience is reached while
the person is in this heightened state of suggestibility, they are
more susceptible to influence than if they were in a normal working
state. It's quite logical then that persons will be more inclined to
adopt the "belief" in a unitary reality because they have
"experienced" it while in a heightened state of suggestibility. This
would explain why so many are embracing an Eastern philosophy or
Thirdly, while it cannot be proven scientifically, many people
believe in the existence of a supernatural realm, one inhabited by
either angels or demons, departed spirits, or discarnate souls. Many
of the techniques being promoted involve encountering a person's
"inner wisdom" or "higher self" or "master teacher". This entity
encountered through Silva Mind Control and some forms of guided
imagery and visualization is often described as simply the
personification of our own psyche or sub-conscious. But, what if it
is not? If there really is a spiritual realm, then it is possible
that the entities which are encountered are not really part of our
self, but some other self. If so, then the promoters of these
techniques are really promoting a form of spiritism. Worse yet, some,
including Willis Harman, are encouraging the process of "channeling"
as a means toward higher creativity. What used to be considered
mediumship or occult correspondence is now being promoted as a benign
technique for transformation and human potential.
In his book, Higher Creativity , Harman poo-poos the issue of
whether or not the source of "illumination" is the self, or is apart
from the self. He wrote, "The fruits of the channeling phenomenon can
come to be appreciated and used to the benefit of humankind - leaving
open the issue of the ultimate nature of the channeling source ..."
This attitude must be strongly discouraged in favor of hard answers to
some very hard questions.
Four years ago, a survey was conducted among 9,000 Personnel
Directors regarding their exposure to a number of New Age techniques
as well as certain of their beliefs. Of the over 10% response,
roughly 45% had either used or seen used at least one of eleven New
Age psycho-technologies included in the survey. More surprising, 15%
believed that at least one of the eleven was beneficial in developing
human resources. The survey included meditation, biofeedback, Silva
Mind Control, T.M., visualization, hypnosis, focusing, est, Dianetics,
centering and yoga.
I am usually asked certain questions as I present my arguments
against the use of these techniques. Among them, "Aren't these
techniques beneficial to industry? Don't they really help a company
or employees in some way?" I cannot, and do not, argue against the
effectiveness of many of these techniques. Meditation probably does
reduce stress. Biofeedback most certainly is an effective tool for
self-regulation. Hypnotic induction can certainly be of therapeutic
value when administered properly. However, I do not think that the
potential benefits are worth the risks, as outlined earlier.
Another question I am often asked is, "Why are businesses rushing
to use these techniques?" Obviously, business is striving for
excellence in every respect. If business can gain a competitive
advantage by having their employees use New Age techniques, certainly
they will be open to it. I honestly believe that most business people
who promote these techniques are ignorant of the psychological and
spiritual dynamics involved, however, there are a small number who are
actively trying to promote transformation.
Another question I am often asked is, "Where do I see this going?
What is the likely outcome of the continued use of these techniques?"
I see two specific outcomes if business continues its use of these
techniques. First, I see the potential for religious discrimination
charges being filed by persons who suffer some adverse action at the
hands of their employer because they resisted the program or
technique. Secondly, I foresee serious liability damages being
awarded to persons who suffer psychological harm as a result of New
Age techniques. Some psychologists and sociologists consider many New
Age techniques to be a form of mind control. Already, many
individuals have sued a number of human potential or "new religious"
movements for psychological harm. Many individuals and anti-cult
groups consider these and other New Age groups to be "destructive
cults". If these groups are open to damage suits, it stands to reason
that the corporations that offer or encourage these same programs to
employees will become co-defendants in such suits.
Finally, I am often asked, "What difference does it really make?"
It makes a great deal of difference if you subscribe to a Christian
world and life view. The underlying view of reality and of the nature
of human beings of the New Age Movement stands in direct contrast to
the primary tenets of Orthodox Christianity.
Having said all that I've said, my concluding message is very
simple: Private corporations that are not church-affiliated should
neither attempt to change the basic belief systems of their employees
nor should they promote the use of techniques (i.e. altered
consciousness) that accelerate such change, and while spiritual growth
is important, corporations should not prescribe the methods whereby
employees grow spiritually. This is better left for those more
qualified than the Human Resource Development Department.
Computers for Christ - Chicago
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