A Sunday dropout

January 2003
By a Forum participant

I was at the Forum this past weekend. In my opinion it seems fake and unscrupulous. It is surprising that such an outfit is allowed to operate legally.

I was first introduced to the Forum through a good friend of mine at work. He said his life was "transformed" after attending a self-help class. I like to be open-minded about things and therefore accepted an invitation to accompany him for an evening to get the low-down on the course.

When we approached the hotel's lobby all my warning bells went off. There were all these people waiting around in the parking lot welcoming folks like my friend back and eyeing me like the next "sacrificial lamb."

We were all then herded into a big room with around 200 other people and their guests. A speaker approached a podium with a microphone and all the course participants went into frenzy, like their high school team had just won the state championship or something. I am the shy type and wanted to disappear.

The speaker went on for about 20 minutes, but really said nothing. He just kept repeating, "Landmark is about transformation."

I thought, OK we got that, now can you explain further?

The speaker was the first disappointment of the evening.

After a while all of us "sacrificial lambs" known as "guests" were escorted to a dozen private rooms, where Landmark trainees, essentially students who took their advanced courses, gave us the worst pitch I have ever heard to take the Forum. At least a half dozen of those in the room were taking notes, which made me think like they were there to evaluate trainees.

After half an hour of this, there was a break and I decided to skip the rest of the evening and do something better. I hit the bar in the hotel and had a great time waiting for my friend. We had car-pooled. Lesson number one, don't car pool with Landmark people to one of their events, or you may end up waiting forever.

Well, I thought when I left that night it was the end of Landmark. But these guys called me in a week to ask for money for a registration at the Forum.

I thought, "Don't they get it? I am not interested."

Later that evening, my friend wants to have dinner with me, on a weekday, which is not his norm. We had dinner and he puts the guilt trip on me saying how I am somehow not being sincere to him or myself by not registering.

So I say to myself, "Why not? And register to make him happy. This costs $375.00, but that seems cheap to keep a good friend happy.

"Lo and behold," there is a follow-up call that night from some Landmark person at 11 PM. I finally register and enter the transaction as a tax-free charitable contribution.

My registration was for a December Forum, but of course I didn't plan to show up. However, these Landmark folks were calling every week to make sure that I attended. I told one caller that I might have a schedule conflict and perhaps would not be able to attend.

Within a few minutes my friend calls to check up on me. He asks me if I had returned some form to Landmark for the December Forum. When I tell him that I probably can't go he says, "You are lucky because they have one even closer to where you live in January."

I think, "Sh--t, this guy does not get the point."

But I postponed to please him and registered for January.

So now comes that Friday in January and I am standing in front of the Landmark center along with a bunch of folks, mostly women. I have a conversation with one lady, but am repelled by her very low self-esteem. And by the way, I hate "touchy feely" stuff. That quality later saved me when I walked out of the Forum on a Sunday afternoon.

We were then escorted to this tiny room made even smaller by desks, which were placed at the back of the room. Essentially there were around 50-60 people gathered there, although the leader kept saying that the count was 120 or 110. But I counted and could not come up with more than 60.

All of us were seated in chairs, arranged very close together in a semi-circle around this podium. There were four chalkboards and two power point created slides exploding into a sign hanging from the top at either side of the semi-circle.

At 9:00 PM sharp this guy comes in and introduces himself as a leader. He starts by going on about himself and his background. He comes across as an arrogant, conceited guy with an inflated ego.

The leader then explains the logistics of the class. Each session is 2.5-3 hours long with 30-minute breaks in between. The class starts at 9:00 AM and ends close to midnight. There is a 1.5 hour dinner break around 6:00 PM.

This all seems worse than a long flight to Hong Kong. I take a look around the class and see people ranging from seemingly homeless to intellectuals.

On Friday there were two sessions 9-12 and 12:30-3:30 PM. These presentations were devoid of any meaningful content, but a bit entertaining. People would come up to the microphone and confess to some heinous act they had committed in their past. These microphone confessionals were called "sharing," in Landmark's language.

FYI -- The leader's harangue throughout the course is called "technology."

Finally, in the third session of the day, that was the session before our dinner break, the leader managed to say something intelligent. He talked about the concept of "inauthenticity." Essentially, that everyone is playing some role in this world and has forgotten his/her real self. This light intellectual stimulation influenced me to return after dinner.

But I broke two rules of the Forum during the dinner break. First, I eluded my assigned dinner group by going alone to a restaurant. And second, I had two margaritas with my meal. The rules are "no alcoholic beverages" during breaks and/or at night. But it seemed to me that I would be "inauthentic" not to have a margarita at dinner on Friday night.

The next session included lots of crying and confessing. I didn't realize how many dysfunctional people there are in society and some of them looked pretty educated. I learned something, just because someone is educated does not mean he or she functions well personally.

Before we were let go for the evening there was an assignment. We had to write a letter to someone confessing our "inauthenticity" and exposing some personal pretence. Also, we must detail our payoff from that pretence and what negative costs we had to bear by doing all this. Then we were supposed to have a conversation with some friend or relative discussing ourselves and essentially coming clean with them, i.e. "clearing" something.

The two margaritas kicked in when I reached home and I went straight to bed. The next morning I deliberated if going back was a good idea. However, I decided that I would because I knew they would call my friend and he would pressure me until I returned.

There was a class on Saturday, then Sunday and a Tuesday follow-up. It seemed like Sunday afternoon would be the best time to quit.

So at 9:00 AM on Saturday I went back to the Forum. For my homework, I quickly wrote a four-line letter in the suggested format to my former employer. But it wasn't sent. There was no way I was going to let anyone know that I got suckered into this course. I made no phone calls.

On day two Saturday, the class began at 9:00 AM. The leader did a monologue for an hour and got people to come to microphone and share their darkest secrets. Again, it was disturbing to see so many people lacking self-esteem. No wonder they are so dysfunctional.

Like the previous day, the leader held off any intellectual stimulation until the session before the dinner break.

It seems like Landmark has done studies that reveal attendees disappear during the dinner breaks. Before the dinner break, the leader laid on a thick guilt trip about integrity and reminds us of our promise to finish the Forum.

Once again I go to the restaurant to listen to some Latin Salsa, but return to finish, now happy in the knowledge that tomorrow is Sunday and the end.

I guess that happiness showed on my face because at the end of the day a Landmark lady approaches me and I am grilled about what I learned for that day. We were given another assignment. This time it was to have conversation with three people and write yet another letter.

I didn't like homework in college and didn't want to do it for Landmark.

On Sunday morning I was not in the mood to go back to the Forum. But it was only one more day and my friend would likely call, so I went anyway.

Lots of people came late that day. The first session was boring as hell. But the leader had apparently had some conversation with the Landmark lady from the previous night and he was looking me over. He said, "We are not a cult." At that point it occurred to me that I should have done a search about these guys on the Internet.

At the break that's exactly what I did. Your website and others popped up.

Could I be "brainwashed"? I went to my car and planned my escape a bit earlier than previously anticipated.

I went to my brother's house and ended up sleeping there until midnight. When I checked my cell phone there were messages from my friend left every hour. One of them was actually from outside my house asking me to open the door.

Going to my brother's was a good choice. I slept there that night.

I spent a day researching Landmark and am now beginning to get it. Landmark is a very clever business model, using some psychology to lower its costs and achieve revenue. It seems like a mild form of mind control.

It's surprising to me that such a business model operates without regulation or government scrutiny right in the middle of a major metropolitan area. Maybe some day they will be busted.


Copyright © 2003 Rick Ross.

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