Soon after starting to research this story I was invited to a Landmark guest night. The person who invited me said it was difficult to explain Landmark: I should see for myself.
The guest night occurs half-way through the 10-week seminar series, after participants have been through the Forum. This is essentially a night given over to ''the sales pitch'' - the words used by the person I went with. I identified myself as a journalist researching a story when I arrived - but, strangely, was still required to fill in an enrolment form. I sat with about 70 people, participants and potential participants, at Victoria University. Ordinary people who told us they worked at places such as New Zealand Post and Telecom and Learning Media and had brought along a colleague/sister/neighbour/friend.
Elva, a charismatic speaker, who I later learned was undertaking one of the highest levels of training after joining seven years ago, addressed us through a microphone. To become more confident, successful people, with better relationships, we needed to deal with our past so we could move forward without the baggage that was holding us back, Elva said. We were told of a ''curriculum for living''. No specifics about the training were given because it was a ''technology'' that was hard to describe. What we did get plenty of, however, was ''sharing.''
This involved people standing up time and again relating stories of the huge impact Landmark had made on their lives. Their offering was met with smiles, applause and encouragement from the main speaker and audience. Elva herself told how she had had a bad relationship with her father ever since he shot her sick dog when she was a child. Attending the Forum had led to a reconciliation.
It became clear to me that over the course of the three 15-hour days of the Forum many of these people had reached an emotional state and achieved ''transformation.'' After transformation, according to the theory, people put their past behind and became more effective in achieving their life goals. During the weekend they had been given the opportunity to telephone the father or mother they hadn't spoken to for years or some other person who they needed to make amends with from their past. It was also clear that many had cried that weekend. Now, weeks later, some seemed almost euphoric. I found the underlying euphoria unnerving. I also found it unsettling to have quite a number of Landmark volunteers - participants often remain involved in training as volunteers - at the back of the room scrutinising proceedings.
Behind them were tables with enrolment forms. The person who had invited me had been responsible for putting up the posters at the front of the room. He said the Landmark people were a bit over the top about detail. He'd probably be told later that the middle poster wasn't properly centred. Days later a Wellington City Council systems trainer, Julie Stewart, told me she had been through three levels of training and was now a trainer. She paid for her training herself. ''I've never been so happy since doing the course.''
She said she was more effective at work and her relationships with her family had improved. She was more confident. In short, she had been on a voyage of self-discovery. She told me she'd been through the Forum 18 months ago with a psychologist looking to fault the course. She said he admitted later that it was very good.
Another person I spoke to claimed bad experiences of being pressured to do the training by colleagues. They worried about being named: they feared losing their job. The Landmark message was very appealing. Who doesn't feel they could do with more confidence? Who doesn't have a relationship somewhere that's less than perfect? So many transformed people. Why do I still feel sceptical?