Monday, September 28, 2009

Landmark Education -- the scoop

About almost a year ago, I was convinced by a friend to take the entry level Landmark Education course, The Forum.  Landmark Education claims they can make miracles happen. Here is my experience with the course.

Quite often the Landmark Forum and the seminars they teach are very repetitive.  The main message that was useful to me, and frequently repeated in both the Forum and the free follow up seminar, can be summarized here:
  1. What you perceive may not be what actually happened 
  2. Keep your word
  3. Give up always being right
  4. What happened in your past should not dictate your future
  5. Don't be judgmental -- actually hear what people are saying
  6. Learn to let go of the skeletons in your closet.
All of these teachings are very straight forward and very Dr. Phil-ish.  The unique aspect of the seminar is the way they teach these ideas.  The seminar is for 3.5 days straight, from 8am to 10+pm.  Students in this course are given very minimal breaks and asked to stay in their seats during this whole period.  During the session, a seminar leader will ask individuals to share their traumatic experiences, as well as offer self directed solutions by asking focused questions.  They request that you let go of all of your judgments and accept the seminar leaders teaching at face value without question, no matter how controversial it may be at times. 

First of all, be aware that there are numerous self help books, seminar, and classes just like this one, but I believe part of the reason many believe this is a cult is mainly due to the caliber of individuals they retain after the initial Forum. This may be because of the relatively cheap entry price ($400 for the forum vs. $1,000+ for Tony Robbins), or the individuals that are solicited.

Many who attend have just been through a traumatic moment in their life: a divorce, death of a loved one, drug habit, cheating partner, loss of a job, events that make them very susceptible to unconventional teachings.  Personally, I would not call these individuals who are fanatical about Landmark a cult.  Moreover, it's an emotional support group for individuals who need that base of support and the feeling of belonging.  One of my friend joked that Landmark is "therapy on the cheap" -- there is some truth to that.  This core group tends to stick together.  Some are asking for attention, while others want to share their pain.  Unfortunately, none of them are actually taking the steps to make that difference.  They take up a large amount of time from the overall course and use the time as their personal "soap box".

These individuals also tend to lack the willpower to resist their uncommon sales tactic.  The only other place I have seen this type of sales tactic is honestly at an used car lot or for a timeshare.  Volunteers are overzealous in encouraging people to participate in its courses.  Many times criticizing the individual who do not wish to pay to participate in the more advanced courses.  In addition, they request their participants to reach out to their friends and family and persistently solicit new members.  Lastly, even in the Forum itself, almost a quarter of each day is dedicated to them "up selling" their advanced courses.

Let's be honest, as much as Landmark wishes to make themselves seem like they are "for the good of the people", they are at the end of the day a for profit organization.  Many volunteers working on behalf of the company claim that all of the money made is used to develop new teaching and as course scholarships for the less fortunate members.  But no one I have talked to when pushed have actually ever seen their P&L and/or Balance Sheet.  As far as I'm concerned, someone is making a lot of money.  Unless they change to a non-profit, there will always be that suspension for many of us that the only goal Landmark has is their bottom line.

This is not to say my time there was wasted.  I had received many valuable lessons both living vicariously through others who shared their experiences as well as through select teachings I have incorporated into my daily life.  I believe Landmark has in it's own way made me a better individual, and people around me can see that change for the better.  Unfortunately, for many of the others, they end up rejecting the teaching completely due to their frustration with the unconventional teaching method, or become so integrated with Landmark that they exhibit both the good and the bad.

Following without thinking thoroughly first what it means can be dangerous in any median (as we have seen throughout history).  I always believed that one should think critically of every teaching, dissect what may be useful, and harmful, for the individual, and only then move forward.  My advice is, if you're interested, do check out Landmark for yourself, but be sure you have a strong mind and will.  Be prepared to say, "no!"

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