The Wright organization, founded by Robert (Bob) and Judith Wright (also known variously as the Wright Institute for Lifelong Learning, the Wright Institute, Wright Living, the Wright Foundation, the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential,and the Wright Graduate University) has been frequently called a cult by some of those who have had interactions with the organization, whether as clients or as staff. But the label of cult has been used rather broadly and without a clear articulation of organizational cult characteristics. The word cult is a broadly encompassing term and there is the risk of unfairly labeling an organization a cult unless the defining characteristics of a cult are considered and applied as appropriate.
The organization has recently used the cult criteria suggested by the Recla group (numbers 1-8 below) to dispel the notion that they are a cult. See [wrightfoundation.org
]. However, their analysis neglects to articulate the specific cult-like characteristics and atmosphere of the Wright organization that might have led others to cast a blanket cult label. Dr. Janja Lalich (www.cultresearch.org) has listed some characteristics of a cult that do more clearly match the highly idiosyncratic culture and activities of the Wright organization and which do not appear among the Recla criteria:
• The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt to influence and control members. Often this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
• Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
• The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
• The group is preoccupied with making money.
• Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities
With Dr. Lalich’s characteristics in mind, the following comments and observations on the eight Recla criteria are offered below.
1. ENVIRONMENT CONTROL. Limitation of many/all forms of communication with those outside the group. Books, magazines, letters and visits with friends and family are taboo. "Come out and be separate!"
a. Participants in the organization’s programs are often pressured to choose Wright training events over family events such as weddings when they conflict with Wright trainings. For example, when the timing of the annually held weeklong Summer Leadership training has conflicted with participant family events such as weddings or other reunions, participants have been routinely “supported” to evaluate their relationships with their family to decide which experience is going to be deeper and more meaningful. Mr. Bob Wright – often referred to by participants as “Dr. Bob” – consistently proclaims that the week participants spend on summer training will be deeper and more meaningful than any vacation they could or time they could spend elsewhere, including with family.
b. Under pressure from their personal growth groups – called “Transformations Labs” – and from other groups, participants are often hard put to justify their choosing family or other events over Wright events, particularly when it comes to signing up for the Summer Leadership Training. They may be told that they are not truly committed to their personal growth work, reminded of their unhealthy enmeshment with their family, or invited to show how their attendance at the conflicting event, whether family- or career-related, would be equally as deep and meaningful.
c. Participants who simply choose not to attend “required” Wright trainings are routinely criticized and regularly reminded about their failure to attend a training or about their lack of dedication to their personal growth work.
d. When groups reconvene after the summer training, clients who chose not to attend the summer training are often subtly shamed for not attending as the group talks glowingly about their “learns and grows” and other Wright training-related experiences.
2. MYSTICAL MANIPULATION. The potential convert to the group becomes convinced of the higher purpose and special calling of the group through a profound encounter/experience, for example, through an alleged miracle or prophetic word of those in the group.
a. The Wrights often talk about supporting the mission of the organization, extolling the virtues of being a “net giver” instead of a “net receiver.” Members of the organization often refer to themselves or the organization itself as “the Wright community,” and as participants progress through the organization’s curricula, under the implicit injunction to be a net giver of service to the world, increasing amounts of unreimbursed service to the organization are expected or “required.” These contributions are said to advance the organization’s mission and to further one’s personal development.
b. According to Wright, in order to train in one’s leadership, one must learn how to serve one’s leaders. There is a high expectation for an exaggerated level of service and sacrifice, both to the Wrights and to the organization with an atmosphere of subservience among both Wright participants and Wright staff. One participant has described the Wright organization as being a “culture of sacrifice.”
3. DEMAND FOR PURITY. An explicit goal of the group is to bring about some kind of change, whether it be on a global, social, or personal level. "Perfection is possible if one stays with the group and is committed."
a. The Wright organization identifies itself as a personal development and leadership training organization whose mission “… is to live radiant, authentic lives, and to support others to unleash their potential by consciously engaging in their own transformation and leadership for the advancement of humanity and conscious, sustainable living on the planet.”
b. One of their models for personal transformation is Ms. Judith Wright’s “Theory of Evolating” which has six stages of growth and development, the last of which is the phase of “Dedicating.” Another growth model is the “Wright Model of Human Development.” Language and terms from both models form the core of all discourse and language used at the Wright organization. Many of these same terms become the stuff of LOADED LANGUAGE particular to cults as these terms are routinely used to influence client decisions.
4. CULT OF CONFESSION. The unhealthy practice of self-disclosure to members in the group. Often in the context of a public gathering in the group, admitting past sins and imperfections, even doubts about the group and critical thoughts about the integrity of the leaders.
a. Participants are often encouraged to “access their vulnerability” or urged to take personal responsibility for their actions and the situations they create in their lives. In many larger group training sessions and gatherings, this often plays out in a participant being the object of angry outbursts and humiliating or demeaning tirades from Mr. Wright either alone or in the presence of the larger group.
b. One staff member, invited to express their feelings, experienced just such an excoriation from Mr. Wright at one of the staff holiday parties. At another such holiday gathering, another staff member talking about their chronic fatigue, was sharply rebuked for not doing enough for the organization and for having the temerity to talk about their illness when, according to Mr. Wright, Ms. Wright was dealing with chronic illness and daily bouts of fever while still dedicating tirelessly for the organization.
c. Perceived insults or threats to the superiority of either of the Wrights receive some of the harshest treatment, with some participants describing these encounters as “extremely embarrassing,” “humiliating,” and “brutal.”
d. Mr. Wright routinely reminds his staff that they are being paid too much for their poor performance and their low level of service which, according to Mr. Wright, “provides us [the Wrights] with very few pleasant surprises.” Staff are continually criticized by Mr. Wright for performing their tasks too slowly or mocked for their mannerisms, which may explain, at least partially, the high staff turnover rate in some of the positions at the organization.
e. At least one employment agency refused to recommend temps to the Wright organization, after several of their temps reported back on their unpleasant experience at the organization, having witnessed one of Mr. Wright’s sudden angry outbursts. One such temp asked not to be contacted further by anyone from the Wright organization.
f. Staff members are often abusively berated for minor lapses in their performance such as failure to have a food order delivered on time or to complete one of a long list of personal errands. On at least two occasions his angry outbursts have been accompanied by gestures threatening physical violence.
g. On one occasion, at the start of one of the frequent all-night Wright-authored book-editing sessions required of staff and taking place at the Wrights’ loft residence, after grilling one staff member about a task not completed to Mr. Wright’s satisfaction, and frustrated at failing to exact the desired confessional response, Mr. Wright, in his bathrobe, rushed in a fit of anger toward this staff member, exposing himself (perhaps inadvertently) as his robe flashed open – a surprising occurrence coming from someone who often brags to others about his high level of consciousness and ability to track behavior and the unconscious motivations of others.
h. The culture of intimidation at the Wright organization goes hand in hand with their culture of scapegoating, particularly evident when, for any reason, one or the other Wright feels slighted or embarrassed. This will often result in the “culprit” being called out for “lack of ownership” or “lack of responsibility” either by Mr. Wright or one the leaders of the organization. This public shaming can occur during group meetings or via companywide emails. Mr. Wright will often use incidents against staff and clients whenever he needs to prove a point or win an argument. Persons on the receiving end have been continually reminded of their “arrogance” and “hostility to authority.”
i. A moral tone is often adapted by leaders when handling any issues that have displeased the Wrights, with “offenders” being called liars or “slippery” when explanations are offered, or the “offender” attempts to exculpate him- or herself.
j. The use of morality-infused language extends to participants in groups who are said to be “colluding” with other group members or with their partner or spouse or accused of lying when they fail to “tell the truth” about their experience or state of being.
5. SACRED SCIENCE. The group's perspective is absolutely true and completely adequate to explain EVERYTHING. The doctrine is not subject to amendments or question. ABSOLUTE conformity to the doctrine is required.
a. There are highly ritualized behaviors prevalent in the organization. The organization offices are heavily furnished with various religious statues, mandalas, and other objects from world religions, reinforcing the spiritual atmosphere surrounding both the organization and the Wrights. The terms “sacred” and “spiritual” are often used whether to describe the “sacred travel” of their annual Pilgrimage to various parts of the world, the overall mission of the Wright organization, or aspects of one’s personal growth and development.
b. The spirituality-infused atmosphere of the organization creates a sense of specialness or chosenness among its participants.
c. Both Wrights cultivate priestly personae. Ms. Wright often refers to Mr. Wright as the “master of truth telling.” Mr. Wright often speaks of Ms. Wright as a goddess or as a priestess accessing “her sacred space.” At one point participants were invited to attend Mr. Wright’s ordination as a reverend at their Wisconsin facility.
d. The Wrights’ carefully crafted sacerdotal performance – both in dress and comportment – reinforces the quasi-cult of personality as well as their air of superiority. The Wrights are treated – and expect to be treated – reverentially by both staff and clients alike.
e. Participants often have the Wrights perform their marriage ceremonies or officiate at other milestone events and participants are frequently criticized for not expressing enough gratitude to the Wrights and to the Wright organization for all that they’ve done to improve their lives.
f. While it is an acceptable aspect of teamwork and leadership to develop the skills and attitudes of service to leaders, the high level of service and sacrifice demanded by the Wrights from participants and staff alike, all directed heavily toward the advancement of the Wright organization – and in some cases the Wrights themselves – often overshadows the needs and stated presenting goals and issues of individual clients.
6. LOADED LANGUAGE. A new vocabulary emerges within the context of the group. Group members "think" within the very abstract and narrow parameters of the group's doctrine. The terminology sufficiently stops members from thinking critically by reinforcing a "black and white" mentality. Loaded terms and cliches prejudice thinking.
a. To describe their personal growth work, participants use the language of the Evolating Model, which according to its originator Ms. Wright – “Dr. Judith” – is not simply a model for personal growth or evolution but a model of complete transformation. Those who are transforming their lives through this model are known as “evolators.” According to Wright not all participants in the organization who engage in personal growth work ever become evolators. To be an evolator requires that one enter the final phase of the theory called “Dedicating.” According to Ms. Wright’s theory of evolating, during the dedicating phase true evolators are willing to dedicate enormous amounts of time, money, and resources to effect their transformation. To this end the organization strongly encourages its participants to pursue additional Wright trainings, all the while reinforcing the claim that no other place can provide the level of personal growth and expertise that Wright can provide if clients want to “rematrix” their thinking and enter the “dedicating” phase of their growth work and ultimately “transform.” Participants are often reminded that they are not truly dedicating to their growth work.
b. One of the most frequently required trainings is the annual weeklong “Summer Leadership Training” held at the Wright facility in Wisconsin. The cost of this weeklong training averages about $1500-1600. New participants in the organization are strongly and continuously encouraged by their individual coaches and other organization faculty to sign up for this training.
c. Existing clients, some of whom have already incurred substantial debt with the organization, are continuously exhorted to attend the summer training. To address their ongoing debt with the organization and to enable them to attend the summer leadership training clients have variously been suggested to use 0% balance transfer credit card offers, do “work-study,” (in which money “earned” is not paid in cash but applied to the client’s bill), hold garage sales, or engage in other fundraising activities, often with the claim that attendance at the training will surely result in higher pay, promotions, or in their securing higher paying jobs.
d. There is extensive review and vetting of the participant “pipeline” to track sales efforts around individual clients and determine whom they can “get to a yes.” Resistant participants are often encouraged to set up a private session with “Dr. Bob” to “get clear” or “work on” their resistance to the summer training.
e. At the start of the summer leadership training participants are assigned or select projects to work on from a list prepared in advance by the organization’s leaders. Some of these projects involve cleaning, organizing, and maintaining the facilities as part of an “indoor environment” team or as part of the “outdoor environment” team doing field work on the training facility grounds (often referred to as “the land”). One such task involved cutting down invasive plants and brushing them with Roundup (which contains glyphosate, a known carcinogen). Those assigned to, or who volunteer for this task are given permeable cloth work gloves or latex gloves and a paint brush to apply the poison.
f. Most assigned projects involve doing sales and marketing for the Wright organization with numerical goals – telephone sales calls to enroll new participants in future Wright trainings, crafting postings on social media about their (positive) experiences at Wright, creating and posting positive reviews of Wright-authored books on Amazon, and posting positive reviews on Yelp. Other teams work on developing Wright marketing materials and collateral, creating Wright website pages, and/or doing photo shoots of participants for use in web and other collateral.
g. Projects in past trainings have also included doing research and writing on Ms. Wright’s doctoral dissertation. At various times staff and students on “work-study” have also spent extensive time both researching and writing sections of Judith Wright’s dissertation and/or one or more of the books authored by the Wrights. One staff member refused to work on Ms. Wright’s dissertation stating that what they were being asked to do was “unethical.”
h. Typical attendance at the Summer Leadership training averages 90-100 participants. In addition to the work projects assigned, participants are required to prepare all meals both for the training participants and the Wrights. This involves extensive food prep with participants typically working several hours past midnight to ready ingredients for their assigned meals the next day.
i. At past trainings Ms. Wright has often preached, “We don’t need as much sleep as we think we do,” and Mr. Wright will often praise her as “The Queen of the All-nighter.” Accordingly, participants at past retreats have been called on to challenge their mistaken beliefs about the amount of sleep they need or criticized for choosing to go to bed instead of staying up for planned activities. Although the criticisms of clients who choose getting sleep over “consciousness” and “growth work” have recently been toned down in response to participant complaints about sleep deprivation, it is still the case that to complete the quantity of work set forth for assigned projects, meal preparation, and other duties, participants frequently continue to experience high levels of sleep deprivation.
j. In the past participants have been “supported” to convince their employers to give them time off to attend the summer leadership training or to pay for its cost with the justification that their participation in the training will enhance their job performance, eventually resulting in greater earning potential. Others have been pressured to give up annual vacation time, obtain low interest balance transfer credit cards, or do “work-study” at the Wright Organization in order to afford to participate in the summer training.
k. The promise of promotions and higher pay through continued participation in Wright trainings is a constant theme in sales and marketing efforts. Participants are often invited to share such testimonials in front of their groups, demonstrating how their growth work at Wright has led to their career success. In the past participants have routinely been encouraged to register for trainings, even though adding to their already considerable debt with the organization. Work-study has been routinely offered as a solution to participant debt – even to some of those participants experiencing unemployment.
7. DOCTRINE OVER PERSON. Pre-group experience and group experience are narrowly and decisively interpreted through the absolute doctrine, even when experience contradicts the doctrine.
a. Once participants have enrolled in a training or completed its signature yearlong training called “Year of Transformation,” the organization’s coaches and leaders exhort participants to “continue their growth work” by enrolling in more advanced trainings or to join leadership groups, many of which require participation in other trainings, most notably the Summer Leadership Training. Of note is the assigned group project required of all participants in the “Transformations Lab.” Typical group projects include managing enrollment and sales for upcoming Wright trainings or managing all operational aspects of one of the weekend trainings – such as data management, enrollment, registration, videotaping, food and beverage, and meals and special green room attendance for the Wrights.
b. It is difficult to cease participation in Wright groups. When participants express skepticism about their need to remain in a group or to sign up for additional trainings for any reason, including financial concerns, there is considerable pushback – often aggressive and shaming – both from other group members and from the leaders of the organization. Participants who express their desire to discontinue further participation are often asked “why they want to live such a small life” or why they are avoiding their personal growth work or – using frequently used terms from “Dr. Bob’s” Developmental Model – that they are “stuck in scarcity” or “stuck in their reactivity,” and need to move to a position of “trust.”
c. “Reactive” participants in groups are often publicly dressed down in front of the group by Mr. Wright or told they are passive aggressive or “hostile to authority” or become the object of one of his abusive tirades, which are routinely delivered to participants and staff alike.
8. DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE. Salvation is possible only in the group. Those who leave the group are doomed.
a. The organization does provide excellent training to its clients by pulling together some of the vast body of knowledge and thought from the fields of psychology and philosophy, and the Wrights repeatedly sell this fact to their clients. Many clients praise the Wright’s teachings and justifiably value the training received. However, Mr. Wright often claims that no other organization can provide the level of personal growth and expertise that the Wright organization does. The Wrights position themselves as the successors to the likes of Freud, Adler, and other well-known psychologists and philosophers.
b. The repeated assertion by Mr. Wright that “you won’t find a better place to do your personal growth work” has become a sort of received wisdom among members of the organization. When combined with the pushback participants receive when attempting to leave the “community,” there ensues an atmosphere of intimidation and an implied mistrust of other organizations and systems of thought or approaches.
c. Clients who get expert support from other providers in specialized areas of personal growth are often criticized for not using “Dr. Bob,” “Dr. Judith,” or other Wright coaches, even though there is no evidence that they have superior expertise in such areas.
d. Similarly, clients who have “profound” emotional experiences on Wright trainings are usually told that they had that they had such experience because of Wright’s unique technology and that Wright is the only place where they can have such profound experiences.
e. This closed or quasi-closed system opens the way for frequent crossing of the boundary between client and organization/provider. Clients and program participants are continuously enjoined to serve the organization in variously expanding ways and more disturbingly, routinely induced to fill staff positions within the organization. In addition, the Wrights are skilled at asking for, and drawing on favors and donations from their clients, particularly from those clients with greater financial means.
f. Clients of the organization are also heavily recruited to matriculate at the Wright Graduate University. Students of the university are almost entirely harvested from other Wright programs.
g. The Wrights often criticize how their clients dress and groom themselves, holding themselves as examples to be imitated. Their influence appears to be substantial as leaders and participants begin to imitate their manner of dress. The Wrights will frequently regale staff with their used suits and dresses.