"Out of Control"?

Being "authentic" at the Forum results in being asked to leave

December 23, 2000
By Two Forum participants

My wife and I attended The Forum. After a break during the first day, she was asked to leave. Herein are the events as they happened that day.

When an evening break was announced, there was also mentioned, that if anyone wanted to see a group leader, to feel free to do so.

My wife approached group leader and indicated to her that she was feeling quite emotional and needed to speak. My wife said, "I'm feeling quite emotional"&"I'm freaked out."&. The leader said, "Dear, well then I can't allow you finish the Forum."

My wife was quite taken back, and proceeded to clarify that she was being authentic and honest about her feelings. She also made clear that the acting class she had been attending which had recommended The Forum, as well as the literature sent out, encouraged open authentic emotional expression.

Then the leader asked if she was in therapy. My wife responded that she was in marriage counseling. The leader asked if she indicated that on her form. My wife said. No, because that counseling had started after she filled out the form.

Is there anything in their literature or forms that requires that people disclosing information that changes after they have filled it out? The Landmark leader went on about how my wife was not being "authentic." An interesting response, in view of the fact that that is exactly what she was being! She then went on to tell my wife if this was "what obviously runs your life" and "is this what you do. do you do this?" What is this about? Do Forum folks feel qualified to make that sort of judgement?

Interesting that there is the point made earlier in the evening about how "important it is not to leave," that you should stay for the entire weekend and that leaving prematurely will not allow you to benefit from the Forum. In view of such claims what was the point of asking my wife to leave? If the Forum leader thought she was "out of control"--why not ask if there was someone to call, or if someone was coming to meet her? Did anyone offer to assist her? Wouldn't you think they might have done something more helpful if they truly believed she was "out of control"? Do Landmark leaders consider this type of care representative of their organization?

Then there was this most unusual exchange. My wife continued to explain her interest in continuing and the Forum leader remained resolute and stood strong. She did not extend any courtesy for my wife to speak to anyone else. But then begins telling my wife how much she "admired her" and how she "thought she was amazing." It was clear what was happening. The Landmark leader knew she was wrong, but lacked the "authenticity" to apologize. My wife questioned the reasoning behind the leader's remarks challenging the legitimacy of her flattering claims. How could she know her well enough to make such comments?

It's probably obvious to you as you read this, how poorly Landmark's "group leader" was equipped to deal with real life situations. Apparently any challenge upsets Landmark's objective to manipulate events, as they would like them to unfold during the weekend. I am not trying to set something in gear from a legal perspective (i.e. a personal injury lawsuit). I don't expect Landmark officials to apologize to me with the excuse that this Forum leader was motivated by liability concerns. Please understand that I checked that out with someone from Landmark's Customer Service and was assured my wife and I that liability concerns were not applicable in our situation.

But what about "integrity"? That's a big Landmark buzzword. Our Forum leader promised to call my wife to see how she is. But my wife never received a call, a message or a letter. Nothing. Think about that. What about her promised refund?

What we feel is important is that Landmark should walk their talk. As for me, I have little doubt that they fell prey to a typical problem. That is, the self-preservation instinct of the organization has exceeded its desire for integrity. Their ability to recruit is far more effective then their skills in handling real life situations. That comes from focusing on how to grow an organization instead of remembering what they say their goals are. Yes, yes, we all know--"it's not a therapy." And Landmark does not guarantee or say people should come if they need therapy or are looking for a quick fix. But please--we all know that IS the implicit underlying selling point, which is very artfully crafted behind the Forum sales pitch. Yes, sales pitch. Landmark offers a product. A service. And from my point of view--not a very good one.

I liken our Forum leader's behavior to coming to a therapist office, touching on a topic that is very deep, personal and vulnerable and then the therapist asks you to leave. Again, I KNOW, this ISN'T therapy (fortunately for Landmark--otherwise they would be subject to legal action). So take my wife's moment with our Forum leader and liken it to a discussion with a friend. Or imagine taking a workshop somewhere or attending a support group. How would you react if within that context you were dismissed in the same manner?

Summing up Landmark must recognize that they are often dealing with people who are open, vulnerable and trusting. It is also fair to say that many people who attend the Forum are looking for something. Wouldn't you agree that in this type of setting people who serve, as "group leaders" should have a very high standard for understanding, empathy and sensitivity? Considering the lofty claims Landmark makes about its "work"--wouldn't you expect that?

So, my wife and I are still waiting for a phone call, letter and/or our refund. I guess we shouldn't expect any call from our Forum leader though. The only thing really lost from this experience was the time and therefore income for my wife who is self-employed. Of course there are also the course fees.

Hopefully anyone reading this will not try and pick apart our experience and engage in some form of semantic denial. This is not a contest. Of course Landmark people may simply say that this what my wife "had to learn from her experience." But they should more "authentic" and look to themselves instead. Landmark leaders might consider stepping away from the urge to maintain posture and control, be more honest and think this objectively. While there are many people who may speak highly of their experiences with Landmark my research has demonstrated there are just as many that do not.

Copyright © Rick Ross

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