Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Landmark Forum: Conclusion First (Part I)

this has to be the most expensive blog entry i’ve ever written. its monetary cost is approximately $420, which doesn’t include the $3 a day parking, plus the cost of all meals, snacks and drinks i consumed while attending The Landmark Forum, a three-day seminar that promises to transform the lives of its attendees in profound, permanent and meaningful ways. i could insert a snarky joke here about how i should have spent that money on laser hair removal instead, but i’m actually glad i attended the Forum because it did do me a lot of good.

Landmark Education has been around for a long time. its history is sordid, with associations to a creepy self-help movement of the ’70s known as est and a founder who, by all accounts, seems like a major douchebag. i spent many hours reading accounts of the Forum by people who attended it, learning the lesson plans and understanding the process so i knew what to expect during the three 13-hour days i would spend in a conference room near LAX with 75 other people during a holiday weekend.

i’m very glad i did that research (thank you, journalism degree), because it made me very skeptical of the process; it made me promise myself that i would think critically about all the material Landmark put in front of me over the three days, that i would examine it thoroughly before deciding whether i agreed enough to incorporate its lessons into my life and way of thinking. this certainly colored my experience of the Forum, as i didn’t go into it fully open-minded, resolving instead to heed my questioning, skeptical self the entire time, but that research — and i know this sounds dramatic — probably saved my life.

Landmark has long been called a cult by many of its critics, an accusation that has its merits, primarily because Landmark’s many “graduates” are super enthusiastic about it, to the point of being annoying. i’ve had a few friends go through the course as well, none of whom were particularly annoying, but all of whom were indeed very enthusiastic. Landmark engenders this kind of enthusiasm among its graduates because its methodology is very powerful.

graduates are encouraged to recruit friends and family to take the Forum, to volunteer at its centers making phone calls (always unpaid), to commit to taking more classes (there are more than 60), and subscribe to an ideology that is full of strange lingo and catch phrases such as “what you don’t know you don’t know” and “running rackets” and “the vicious circle.” the language is very ritualized, where you learn to say things a certain way, and the ideology is nothing short of a religious dogma that must be adopted without question. there is no room for interpretation, examination or disagreement.

Landmark’s way is to tell you how to think, and they do it so effectively that, before long, you forget that you ever once knew how to think for yourself. having said this, i want to go on record and say that i do NOT think Landmark is a cult because it doesn’t encourage participants to become isolated and break off ties with friends and family the way traditional cults do. instead, it encourages everyone to join. it’s not really shrouded in mystery either. anyone can sign up and take courses (though the Forum is always the first course).

i had heard rumors about minders following participants into the bathroom, taking their car keys and locking the doors during the Forum, but i did not see any of this. we were free to come and go as we pleased. i never felt trapped, nor was i tied to a chair with an interrogation light shining in my face. but i definitely felt a lot of pressure to conform, to accept everything i was told without reservation, to transform and submit and obey, and to toss aside my long-standing ways of thinking and replace them with Landmark’s dogma. this is brainwashing, and Landmark does it well.

despite how that sounds, some of their techniques were extremely helpful. i did learn a lot about myself and examined both my good and bad habits — and the events that likely shaped them. i learned how to think about situations differently and emerged from my three days of instruction feeling incredibly motivated. to that end, it was definitely money well spent. i took away several valuable lessons about life and possibility from my Landmark experience, but the majority of the coursework i left behind, because while i don’t think that Landmark is a cult, i do think it is very, very cultish. it is also very powerful.

so what happens at the Landmark Forum?

part two to be published soon.


Anonymous said...

very good!

Anonymous said...

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