My friend, Landmark, and me
Date: October 03, 2003 07:26AM
Well, this is my story with Landmark.
Not too long ago (measured in months rather than years), my best friend, who I also have a business relationship with, told me she had discovered this great course. She's always been into things like that, and me, well... I'm about the last person you'd give a self-help book to.
She's known me for years, and used to call me "the Black Hole" for that reason. But she still gave me the whole spiel. I think I'm a pretty observant guy, and what struck me the most was that she was trying (and failing) to describe a feeling, like love or hate, rather than an experience, like a seminar. (I worked in sales for a number of years, so I could pick that up pretty quickly.)
I asked - and I knew nothing about Landmark at the time, or I would have recognized this as a specific technique rather than a personal failing - what exactly was done there. No, I don't mean an overview: when you go there, what do you DO? Do you sit? Stand? What do you talk about? She admitted she couldn't really explain it. I'd just have to go and see for myself.
I happen to have several pursuits outside of work that I follow: I simply wasn't going to throw away a day on "seeing for myself" when someone who had spent the greater part of 72 consecutive hours couldn't simply explain what she had been doing during that time.
That was my first clue: when the best selling point is "try it yourself," you're being sold an illusion. If a three card monty bothered to explain what he was doing beforehand, he wouldn't find a single sucker.
In any case, Landmark's policy of saving advertising dollars by turning their members into walking billboards backfired this time. I went on the 'net and found all the information that Rick Ross has here, and a number of other resources. Really, the impression I had was of a super-intensified session of Alcoholics Anonymous. Having been through that myself, I could keep an open mind that the program might encourage a degree of fanaticism and blind-faith, but there are in fact AA members who are able to steer clear of all that nonsense and get something good out of it, if only because alternatives are hard to come by... (different thread! sorry...)
All that changed when I brought up what I'd found, particularly about Werner Erhard. I stressed that I'd found quite a bit of stuff out there, and I wouldn't be a friend if I didn't tell her about it. I repeated that I wasn't taking a pro- or con- position; I was just telling her there's some bad stuff out there about it. The hostility was still somewhat predictable, but it pretty much told me all I needed to know about Landmark.
In any case, her brother happened to be visiting. I told him that I really, for the sake of his sister, wanted to tell him about it (she'd already freaked him out by trying to sell him on Landmark, of course). I just told him that I'd keep an eye out, and if things got bad, I really could use someone to help out who was more influential than I. While my friend doesn't have a trust fund, she does receive assistance from family abroad, so making contact with the family was useful. He knew about "est" from the 1980s, so there wasn't much else to tell him. I told him I would keep an eye out (she doesn't write a check or use a credit card without a record of it passing across my desk). He genuinely appreciated it.
[As a side-note, both of us were doubtful that the program would hold her attention for very long because, in spite of her blissful statements, she HADN'T CHANGED AT ALL. I've spoken to other friends and family members of Landmarkers, and they've sometimes noted the same thing. To those who credit Landmark for changing their life, enabling them to start a new business, etc, are sadly mistaken: YOU did all of that, YOU accomplished it! Landmark's "encouragement," for what it is, is NOTHING that a good friend wouldn't tell you! And if it isn't--find new friends!]
Since then, I've kept my word, and haven't brought it up to her again. She had already paid for the "Advance Course." She took a time-out during that to call me, however, and demand to know what I knew about "est." I insisted that I wasn't going to talk about it. She then informed me that the "leader" had "permitted" open conversation about Landmark's past. I told her that I wasn't going to be put into an adversarial position - it was how it was, and she could find the information as easily as I did. Of course, she became angry again when I told her that I wasn't going to build strawmen or become one of her "rackets." (I tried the whole Landmark mind-screw by stating that I had COMMITTED not to talk to her about it again, but the important thing about Landmark principles is that they're only advantageous when they work in your--or the organization's--favor).
Since then, she's tapered off. One of her cherished pets became quite ill which required her to miss several of those weekly sessions. To me, that was positive in so far as she realized that there was something more important than Landmark, in spite of her new "friends" guilt tripping her with phone calls. She's even made a comment about the weird gleam in the real die-hard Landmarkers' eyes at graduation ceremonies, and the audacity of expecting her to come in her own free time to help sell "Advanced Courses" to new meat (without, of course, telling said new meat that that's what she's doing).
In any case, that's where we are now. I think, in so far as I could do anything, I've handled it the best that I can. I'd like to think that our friendship has too much history for me to become the object of Landmark's scorn; so far it's held true, and I hope it continues to. And if anything, the very nature that brought her to Landmark will, sooner or later I think, cause her to leave it for the next interesting thing. And I pray it's less harmful, because in as much as it's had any impact on her, it's been completely dreadful. She has the same problems. She has the same "rackets." She has the same issues she had before. Only now, for a few hours a week, she feels like she's conquered them, and is subsequently depressed when she steps out of that conference hall and finds out they're still there.
Sorry for the length, but maybe this will be as helpful to someone else as it was to me reading some of your suggestions over the last few months. Take care.