I am consistently surprised by just how much of my web traffic is driven to my original post from over a year ago, “Is Landmark Forum a Cult?” Since I continue to cross paths with Landmark influenced people in my life, I think it is worthwhile to continue talking about my observations. The friend I mentioned in the previous post stills lives in our house, and recently I had the chance to participate in a very small introduction at home. I had told her I would eventually do one of these, but I wasn’t willing to make much effort to drive anywhere for it – so eventually she brought it to us.
What Happens at a Landmark Introduction?
The woman scheduled to lead the group was late, so I’m glad we were at my house. It was interesting to note when she described her background that she was recently remarried, and to someone who had been doing Landmark since it was created. I tried hard not to think of her like the guy who converts to Judaism to marry his wife (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), or Catholicism, or being vegetarian, whatever.
We were asked to provide our contact information on a card (I didn’t volunteer much) and began working on a simple workbook where we were to list things that were going well, and things that could go better in our lives. Once that was done, we had the chance to read our lists to the group. Then, we were asked to focus in on one area in the “not doing so well” column for the remainder of the exercise.
I could describe this to you in detail, but there wasn’t anything “cultish” that went on. We introspected, we discussed, and we came up with a vision for how we would “be” if we were able to take actions to improve this part of our lives. We spent a total of 3 hours in the course of the evening focusing on a single problem in each of our lives – something which most of us probably hadn’t carved out the time to do in quite awhile. At the end came the inevitible sell, which was pretty light because the leader had already been warned (she asked and we answered honestly) that I wasn’t interested in spending any money on the Landmark Forum. They’ve reduced prices 20% in the face of the crappy economy (I’d love some stats on the percentage of people attending who are unemployed) and I have a sense that there are ways to go for even cheaper, if they think you are going to help them spread the word.
Closing Thoughts & Observations
Apparently, the people who give these introductions are not paid and they’re not technically employees. The legality of that is questionable, and for such a big organization I would imagine this state of not-employed-but-getting-paid-in-education status might be questionable — although it is very similar to what churches do with their staff.
Whether its a cult or not isn’t that important – if you can get brainwashed by these people, you can get brainwashed by anyone. It’s more a group discussion, I won’t even say “therapy” because I don’t think any of these people are actually professional therapists. That doesn’t mean it’s not therapeutic, but it does mean that you’re tools are limited to what you and the other participants are bringing – and since this is a group of people trying to transform their lives, it might be a bit self-selecting both in benefits and limitations.
Sales tactics – I didn’t get the hard sell here, although my friend has asked me again if I’d be interested in the course (I said no). I have gotten the hard sell from another group in San Francisco called Beyond Education who provide the Pleasure Course (think group awareness for your sexuality) and have some similarities to and ties to the Landmark people. In both cases, the price of the course was the LAST thing anyone told me — in fact, in both cases I had to ask. And in both cases, when I said it was too expensive I was given the “but don’t you want to improve your marriage/self/career/(insert thing here)”.
The Danger of Devotion – Watch V
I recently started watching the new show V, which talks about a visitnig alien race who walk among humans on Earth and are doing good with ulterior motivations.
One commenter in the previous post said, “I don’t see how something that helps people improve their lives could be considered so negatively” and I think it is important to note that one should always make sure good is achieved without having a cost to others. I think there is danger in not knowing what the ultimate motivation is for the organization. Landmark is a for-profit business, not a non-profit organization, so it is important to understand who is benefiting from the time and money being paid.
One common complaint I’ve heard about Landmark is that they help you work through major problems, but once you’ve got your life mostly sorted out their model breaks down unless they can find another way to suck you back in. So either they make you think you’ve still got more issues than you actually do, or something else… and that’s what I’d like to find out more about. How do you keep people engaged who had used Landmark to improve their lives, and might not need it anymore?