25.   Are You at Cause, or at Effect?

I've noticed this phrase popping up several times recently, in books and web sites that claim to be about NLP, and I wonder whether the people responsible have the foggiest idea what they are talking about?

Where does it come from?   This phrase originated in Scientology.

Is it an NLP term?   No, this phrase not only has no equivalent in NLP, it is actually contrary to authentic NLP concepts.

What does it mean?   Ah, now!  That really is the $64,000 question.

To understand what the phrase really means you need to know that Scientology is based on the belief that once upon a time there were a race of beings, called Thetans, who were pure intelligence, not to mention omniscient and omnipotent.
Sadly, after a few aeons, the Thetans got bored and invented a game that involved thinking they were something else.  Some thought they were planets, some thought they were trees, or rocks, or grass, and so on.  And some of them thought they were sentient beings - but beings with limited intelligence who needed physical bodies to exist.
Apparently this wasn't an immediate success, and the Thetans realised they would need to completely forget that they were Thetans if the game was going to work and keep them entertained.

Then came the kicker -

Despite being omniscient the Thetans somehow overlooked the fact that when they wiped or blocked the knowledge that they were Thetans, they couldn't just unwipe it or unblock it when it was time for tea.  Consequently they were automatically trapped as trees, rocks, grass, fishes, human beings or whatever.

Until L. Ron Hubbard came along, that is.  Because L Ron sussed it all out, and produced Scientology to help all the other Thetans "get it".
(Don't ask me how LRH figured it out, he just did.  Ok?
If you don't believe me ask Tom Cruise or John Travolta; they're into all this stuff.)

So, if we now return to that phrase "being at cause or at effect" some of you will already have figured out the "reasoning" behind it: If Thetans are, or at least created, everything there is (except themselves), then they are individually either:

  1. Aware of how things really are, know who they are, and therefore know that whatever situation they are in is literally a creation of their own imagination over which they have complete control, or
  2. Still absorbed in the game, unaware of who and what they really are, and therefore imagine that they are controlled by their circumstances.
  3. Or in brief, they either know that they are in complete control ("at cause") or imagine that they have little or no control ("at effect").  And the Scientology "backstory" claims that this is neither metaphorical nor analagous - it is literally true.

Now compare this with authentic NLP, which says that:

  1. You cannot have full control your situation because you can't even know exactly what influences are feeding into any particular situation (the 'flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil that sets off a tornado in Texas' syndrome - see O'Connor and Seymour, Introducing NLP, page 207).  And on that basis there is no way that anyone can be completely "at cause" in regard to what happens outside themself.
  2. HOWEVER, you can take control of your responses to whatever situation you find yourself in.  And you can consciously control and even expand the number of choices you have in any situation.  In particular, NLP assumes that every response is a choice, no matter how limited someone's choices may appear to be.  So just as we cannot be "at cause", neither can we be "at effect", in the Scientologist's meaning of the term.

In Scientology, failing to be "at cause" is tantamount to a sin.  If you are not "at cause" then you are either wilfully perverse, or pathetically ignorant, and either way you need copious amounts of "auditing" to put you right.  A very negative interpretation in both cases.

The relevant NLP=related presupposition, on the other hand, states that "people aren't broken and don't need to be fixed".  On the contrary, it assumes that people have various reasons for doing things which, though they might seem inappropriate to an observer, are based on:

  • Doing the best they can with the resources they know they have;
  • Doing what they are doing because at some time in the past the behaviour brought about the required results;
  • and so on.  All essentially constructive interpretations.

Note:   Recent scientific research seems to confirm this line of thinking.  See Our Unconscious Brain Makes the Best Decisions Possible.

Unfortunately there are those, like a certain wannabe NLP author I exchanged e-mails with, who seem to think that NLP is like some kind of giant supermarket bag into which you can stuff more or less anything you want - a tub of enneagrams, a box of mysticism, etc., etc., and so on.  According to this author, it makes no difference that the "at cause or at effect" concept comes from Scientology and has no place in authentic or 'classic code' NLP.  If he wants to use it in his work, and feature it in his writing AND call it NLP then that's nobody's business but his own.
In fact, if I understood him correctly, he believes that the rest of the NLP community should be grateful to him for lifting NLP out of a rut!

Oh really?  Where I come from that's known as "poisoning the well."