About a month ago my best friend of ten years was introduced to Landmark by her daughter. Near the end of her Forum she called me and sounded giddy and somewhat incoherent spouting terms like "racket" and "breakthrough." I did not necessarily assume the worst, but nonetheless she didn't seem like my old friend. She enthusiastically invited me twice to attend when visitors were welcome. I declined. She then opted to attend the free follow up courses.
I did eventually manage to attend one of her meetings. She was overjoyed. Why, I thought? In retrospect I was surprised that that didn't ring warning bells. They appear so well rehearsed at those things for newcomers. Almost immediately Landmark people there wanted my phone number, address and even my e-mail. Reluctantly, and against my better judgment, I gave them this information, but only because my friend was right there. Big mistake as it turned out. I wonder if that was by design. That is, my friend being right there?
Once in the conference room I observed the types and styles of people, which ranged from working class to successful professionals and ages 12 to about 60. There was an "us vs. them" mentality. I found this peculiar at the time, but rationalized that maybe they had their reasons. Well, they devoted nearly 30 minutes to having everyone introduce their friends to the group and make a "commitment" to do whatever it took to help us do Landmark. My friend was at once so somber, yet zealous. I felt embarrassed.
Many there felt compelled to share their positive experiences during and after their Forum. One in particular was appalling. A 12 year old girl, eyes shining and grinning ear to ear, practically skipped up to the podium. My friend had this dreamy light in her eyes, mawkish smile and murmured emotionally, "She's so terrific." Then the girl began to enthusiastically gush and babble gibberish like, "When you get it you really GET IT." And "I feel so bad for those who don't get it" ad nauseum, ad infinitum. Sitting there I silently mentally screamed at everyone, "She DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING !" And yet, when she finished the entire Landmark audience clapped like a gaggle of trained seals. But perhaps that's an unfair insult to seals since seals don't want my money.
I felt astonished at the outburst of approval so totally out of proportion in response to such banal and childish gibberish. Well, after that, we all said good-bye to our friends and were herded into an adjacent small room for the sales pitch or mental abattoir. Take your pick. Once inside the presenter shared her own story of how she, a white collar professional, actually learned how to talk to a blue collar biker type through Landmark. She acted as if this was like learning to walk on water and/or make cold fusion a reality. She then went on to describe ideas that clearly had been gleaned from Western psychology, Eastern mysticism and the pop human potential/new age movements of the last 30 plus years. I didn't see the point in paying for what you can get free at the library.
But occasionally, despite the great pains the Landmark lady took to word things in the most obfuscated way fraught with countless neologisms, she did seem to touch on a few things that had personally perplexed me over the years. After more than an hour we took a break. Finally I could corner her and get some answers. The concept of nonresistance has always fascinated me so I asked, "How do you define non-resistance." And she actually said this: "The opposite of resistance." My statement must have told her what idiotic circular logic I thought that was. And I told her that I already knew that answer. She then hinted that I needed to be "coachable." All she seemed able to do was parrot her Landmark script with double talk, semantics and hair splitting. She wasn't smiling anymore and I really didn't give a damn.
I took some fresh air outside. A young man asked me what I thought of her presentation. He confessed that he felt something was wrong about the whole thing. It turns out his instincts weren't off by much. Finally it was over, and my friend with expectant statement said, "Well, what did you think?" I responded that it seemed to have some good points, but that I hadn't done my research yet, so I didn't have enough to base a valid opinion upon. Nearly all the other new people rushed up to flood the presenter with questions. But I just left quickly with my friend and her daughter.
I felt an odd sensation as we walked away. It was altogether a very peculiar bunch of people.
Not even 24 hours later a terminally perky sales representative/volunteer from Landmark called me and asked me what I thought of the presentation, and was I going to sign up. Although unimpressed with the previous evening, based solely on my friend's credibility and with misgivings, I gave my credit card number. I then called my friend and told her what I had done. She was so overcome she was momentarily unable to speak. How strange I thought.
My friend called regularly until about a month before I would have attended the Forum. At that point something snapped in me. I don't know what exactly, but I do recall that my friend's incessant babbling in Landmark jargon was really annoying me. I like clarity of language--something that Landmark seems to undermine almost by design. Anyway, I finally told her what I thought of all the unnecessarily confusing jargon and that it was rude to talk like that. She got indignant and offended and related how there had been some people that expressed the same sentiment at the Forum and then said, "Everyone hated them, and the leader yelled at them." My friend then became more and more uncommunicative after I refused agree with her about Landmark and how it was somehow above such criticism. Abruptly our conversation ended.
I haven't gotten a call from her since. My alarm bells went off loudly from that moment on. She had behaved very uncharacteristically. It seemed neither reasonable nor rational for her to identify so strongly with Landmark after being with them for such a short time. And so then I did what I should have done before--a Web search. I found out what I had suspected, that Landmark isn't just the perpetual happy, smiling, joy, fun place that its PR people (which seems like anyone who is in it) say it is.
Appalled I sent my old friend many of the articles I found, but without exception or any curiosity on her part, she breezily dismissed them all as a product of misguided fools or problems due to the rare exceptions of people with psychological problems. She even mentioned some sort of conspiracy by the government and the media against poor for-profit Landmark and its founder Werner Erhard. Her attitude seemed to be that Landmark is without blemish, perfect and once again, above criticism. And that the very act of criticizing Landmark is somehow "proof" that the person who criticizes it is defective, "resisting" or part of some vast covert conspiracy. Is that rational? Or does it seem a bit paranoid?
Later my old friend decided to take another Landmark seminar about leadership and communication. She told me this before she stopped talking to me altogether. This was my best friend. The best friend I've ever had. Now she's gone.
A fellow employee at work also attended the Forum, but left in disgust after the second day. He got his refund. He told me that he hates Landmark because they treat anyone who displays critical thinking with great disrespect and manipulation.
Although I didn't attend the forum, I hate Landmark for taking my best friend. It's like she died. And somehow through that damnable Forum filled with glassy-eyed zombies and idiotic grins she was replaced by a pod person like in that movie "Invasions of the Body Snatchers." I miss her. Our last few conversations and e-mails were stiff and unnatural. Gone was the wonderful rapport we used to have. She once said that after I attended the Forum we'd have "such wonderful talks." Sorry, but I don't speak that gibberish, and for years I'd thought we did have many wonderful talks. She once did too. I'll miss that.
Now when my phone rings and it's those damned Landmark pESTs, thanks to caller ID, I just blow them off. I wonder when it will end. I'm considering checking with my lawyer. In some states if you tell a telemarketer to put you on a "do not call list" you can sue then sue them and automatically collect $1,500.00 if they call you again within a year.
Well hell, maybe some good will happen out of this after all! I hope people read this so they see what I should have seen and perhaps prevent the loss of a friend. I've heard that some Landmark enthusiasts snap out of it after a couple of months, but others seem to get hooked for some time. Well, I did all I could do that seemed right. Now it's out of my hands. I wish others better success.
I have never seen such smug, self-congratulatory and self absorbed group of people in my life.