Landmark Education: Experience, Investigation, Research & Analysis




December 31, 1997
By Robert Black

This undertaking is for me to try and rationally explain Landmark Education organization. I start by relating what brought me to Landmark and, ultimately, to this writing, a very serious relationship in which I was involved for one year and five months. But, this article is not about that relationship. I have long been over the relationship. It ended a many months ago, and I have moved on. This article is about the Landmark Education System. I have tried to be completely open-minded, thorough and objective. However, I give the reader the background of what brought me to Landmark for complete disclosure and fairness. Some may conclude that I have an ax to grind. So be it. Others may see that I am trying to thoroughly assess an organization which affects the lives of many people and about which many people have questions. I hope so.

The relationship brought me to Landmark. I have gone from an enthusiastic participant in The Forum, to a lukewarm post-graduate of The Forum, to an enthusiastic participant in other Landmark seminars and in voluntary assisting at the Landmark Center and, finally, to a more educated and reflective skeptic of Landmark and its teaching. Most articles that I have read discuss:

* The background and history of EST and Landmark; * Whether Landmark is a cult; * The activities in The Forum itself (which is only the introductory course of many courses offered by Landmark Education) and whether The Forum techniques overtly, through long hours of teaching, homework, little sleep, peer pressure and brow beating, and subtly, through regimen, chair placement, seeding the participants with volunteer assistants, double speak, tricks and projected superiority, constitute brainwashing.

I have read few articles that address what Landmark Education does as an ongoing concern with those involved in its system and how those involved are affected. As a result of my experience, it is the long term and continued involvement in the Landmark Education System, its Curriculum for Living, by individuals, as participants in seminars and as volunteer assistants, that keeps the Landmark ship afloat and profitable and interferes most with the lives of those individuals as they interact with to the rest of the world.

We had been living in different cities, about 300 mile apart, and saw each other on weekends. My former partner suddenly terminated our relationship without warning, just one week after we had spent a long weekend vacation together discussing our future together, including my moving to her city and our getting married. Since the break-up, she has cut off all contact between us and has not allowed any discussion of working thing out or of what went wrong. She simply said that she did not see a long term future between us and that she needed to be on her own. At about the same time as the break-up, she negotiated a new job within her company that moved her to a new office. Since moving to the new office, she has not gone back to her old office even to pick up personal effects, such as photographs, and has never said goodbye or spoken again to many of the people with whom she worked in that office. They have expressed their feeling of confusion that she just left without so much as a word. I was left with many unanswered questions: Could the person I had loved and come to know and trust have hurt me or treat me with the uncaring indifference that I experienced? How could her attitude toward me have changed so dramatically and quickly? How could she act in such an extreme fashion as to blot out of her life with someone with whom she had a very good, close and loving relationship for over a year?

Three months prior to our break-up, she became involved in Landmark Education in her city, attending The Forum, The Advance Course and seminars. At the Landmark Center, she met a leader, 24 years older than she, with whom she became very close. He shared with her old EST audio tapes of Werner Erhard and was coaching her, one on one. Within one month after the break-up, she was romantically involved with him. What part did Landmark Education and this person play in her change? I wanted to understand Landmark.

I had attended The Landmark Forum at her request two months before the break-up. Immediately after attending The Forum, I felt powerful, but I soon realized that my feeling was based in my being overtly and rudely demanding of, critical of and inflexible with others and self indulgent and excusing of myself, expressing exactly the way I felt about every situation with no consideration of anyone else's feeling. I did not like the way I was acting towards others and saw and felt their reaction. I realized how unreasonable my behavior was. I must admit that my feelings about Landmark became more lukewarm and less enthusiastic, even critical. At the same time, my partner became more distant, and the break-up soon followed. Since the break-up, I have gone back and attended a seminar series, the introduction to assisting, and have assisted at the center for several weeks. My enthusiasm picked up for a time, while associated with other participants. Then, I began to observe behavior among people at the center, elaborated herein, that did not seem to me to be healthy. I sought professional advise from both a psychologist and a psychiatrist and have researched Landmark independently. My involvement with Landmark lasted about 5 months. This entire process has taken almost a year.

At Landmark, from the Forum through an ever growing array of seminars, you pay to hear the leaders talk and to listen. The leaders presume a great deal of authoritative, personal knowledge. At the same time, they disclaim any professional credentials or qualifying background and simply state that they are teaching the Landmark system. The leaders are hostile to challenges or probing questions. I observed and experienced leaders ignore, brow beat, double talk and use group pressure to avoid or cow critical thinking. As will be discussed in detail later, this process leads the participants to abandon questioning, rationalism and long learned societal concepts, like what is right or wrong, in order to "get it," the Landmark message, which leads you to the goal of full personal potential.

The Landmark system is supposed to empower you so that you meet your full potential, to move beyond the limits you set for yourself and the constraints that you have imposed on your life, to gain power by freeing you from what you have been, from your history and from worry about what you will become, to live for now and to be able to take bold action. The mechanics of the Forum is 3 full days, 9:00 a.m. to after midnight, with after session homework, and one additional evening. There is repetitious double speak, catchy phrases, moving testimonials and promises of great change in your life. What I did not know until later was that some of the testimonials were coming from volunteer assistants at the center who had already been through The Forum and other Landmark courses and were participating for free as a refresher and to help the new participants to "get it" and fully appreciate the life altering experience.

The Forum Leader spoke of the science of language, learning to use language to design a new future of freedom and self expression. One of the exercises was to convince you that there is no absolute, right or wrong, black or white, up or down, absolute being a product of personal perception. You can chose whatever you want to be right for you. You do not have to explain or justify it to anyone, because it is yours, alone. Also, no one's perception is wrong, although it may be different. It is just their choice of how they wish to perceive. You can only "make" them wrong by labeling them wrong. The final proof of your power over your life is your ability to do what you want, and anything or anyone that does not fit within the framework of what you want should be discarded as limiting you. Still, they are not wrong. This is all just double talk. Lawyers have been doing it for years, using words to twist facts around to the position favorable to their case. Likewise, a good salesperson will tell you that it is not the product, it is the pitch. Life is not really shaped by words. Words are merely symbols that represent feelings, thoughts and experiences, and as symbols, words are not complete nor do they convey the full essence of what they represent. By changing your use of language, you do not truly change your life. You just change how you express yourself to others, and the changes in your life are the consequences of your words, how they have affected to whom you spoke them, not anything that you have actually done or changed within yourself. You can only truly change and grow by: feeling - discovering and honestly acknowledging true feelings; thinking - deep, soulful consideration of a subject and your feelings about it; and experiencing - acknowledging and accepting the events that occur in your life in interaction with others. Feeling is not always making yourself happy. Complexity of life and seeing the truth in life requires you experience some unhappiness, too. Living with others is a result of mutual consideration of feelings. Compromise, understanding and acceptance are necessary components. There is no feeling, thought or experience in the Landmark approach, just control and avoidance to make yourself feel powerful and the master of your life. Words are being used to twist accepted facts, truths or right in order that you can do as you please; however, words can not change facts, truths or right. There are such concepts in our society. Without them, taken to the extreme of the entire population, human beings could not co-exist. There would be chaos, every individual deciding what is right and what true, as it suits him or her.

Landmark Education, starting in The Forum, teaches you to change what doesn't "work" for you, what doesn't make you happy. If you can not change it to what you want it to be, then terminate your relationship with it. The flaw is that all human beings are unique. Ultimately, such pure self centered indulgence will require you to be alone or to totally control any person you are with. Relationships with others that seem like they will be good, start out as a "high" of something new and exciting; however, issues invariable develop. With the Landmark approach, you change the other person or drop them. There is no working on the relationship by both. An irony of this approach is that, to have power and control over your life and to have someone else in your life, requires that you take power and control away from the other so that he or she fits into the framework of what makes you happy. This empowerment is nothing more than ego, and your power is simply to solve problems to your satisfaction or exclude from your world anything you can not solve your way.

According to Dr. R. J. Fisher's book, there are three frameworks for understanding human interaction and its psychological effect. First, parties can interact in a power struggle where one or both have to be right (the Landmark approach, never compromise) or where they defer to a third party's judgment to determine who is right. In this case, there can be no success because one party will feel defeated. Second, parties can fail to interact by one or both withdrawing from the other, isolating the other, having indifference to the other, or remaining ignorant of the others needs. In this case, success is impossible because one party controls and an emotional void develops from the lack of sharing. Third, success is possible where the parties address issues as they arise with an eye to problem solving at the start. For peaceful coexistence, there must be bargaining, negotiating, and compromising to a point where both can feel happy about the outcome, even if it is not everything they wanted.

In Dr. Blase Harris' book, he points out that it may be easier to end a relationship, to deny feelings (out of sight, out of mind) and to fill up the space with other activities, than to work on it. In so doing, you make yourself feel self-sufficient and independent. However, you are actually trading learning from the relationship and from the reality of the other person with other activities. That is a type of avoidance. There is no real self-sufficiency or independence in this action. It is substitution. He calls this practice serial relationships, be they with a person or an organization. What is more difficult but more rewarding is to examine why it wasn't working and work to a solution. True peace and happiness come not from the absence or avoidance of conflict but from the ability to cope with it. If you do not learn now to make a relationship work, then when? In order to make a bond work, you have to make a particular bond work, not jump from one to the next.

In the book No Ordinary Moments, the point is made that a person can not benefit from life experiences, successes and mistakes, unless you see, understand and learn from what you have experienced. If you do not, an action, including a mistake, will be repeated. Denial, which includes termination, of any reality or feeling creates the illusion of its non-existence, and one can not learn from such denial. When faced with a difficulty, if you chose termination, avoidance, denial of its existence, you will never learn why it was a problem for you or how to cope with it.

In Dr. Frank Pittman's book, he states that a primary, committed relationship is a stabilizing influence. It encompasses all parts of human existence necessary to fulfillment: intimacy, affection, sexual satisfaction, companionship, sharing of privacies, support, caring. With these, both people can be better for themselves and for the rest of the world. However, for the relationship to survive, the relationship requires from those in it: love, courage, adaptability, communication, openness, sharing, honesty, emotion, passion, vulnerability and cooperation. Most important are the courage to stay open and vulnerable to your partner and to accept those things about yourself and about your partner that are problems even when you are working together to change.

Dr. Fisher actually did a study on Landmark participants which concluded that there was no evidence of the participants being transformed in any way other than short term perceived control over their lives, dependent upon the Landmark training to maintain that perception of control. There was "clearly no evidence of dramatic shift on dimensions related to subjective well-being, perceived life satisfaction, or world view..." As noted on this subject by Nancy Jaeger in her article, "If Landmark were in the business of transforming people, one might expect researchers to find some hard evidence of this fact. But if the goal is indoctrination, encouraging people to be willing consumers of whatever the company has to sell and willing promoters of the Forum to others, all the while perceiving themselves in control, then the results of the study make perfect sense."

Again, Landmark claims to allow you to move beyond the limits and constraints of your life. How? If a situation is not as you want it to be then change it to what you want. If you can't change it, terminate your involvement in it and "revoke your commitment to it." Do not ever settle or compromise. In this way, you can shape your own future and move beyond the limits and constraints.

This is the system.(I recall this specifically from The Forum and made note of it.) As we have seen, the fallacy of this approach is that you can not have had a true commitment to anything if you cast it aside so carelessly. To commit is defined as to obligate or bind yourself to something. You can not simply unilaterally "revoke" an obligation or bond. There are no perfect fits in any part of life, and life is ever changing. Therefore, as Dr. Pittman wrote, commitment requires you to compromise and adapt, change and grow, to be successful. If you do not try to make things work, then there is no long term, consistent success, just short term highs and, when a high wanes, a jump to something else. The professional sources I consulted uniformly agreed that this type of behavior is not conducive to long term happiness. Instead, it fosters dependence on the teacher of the behavior, i.e. Landmark, to fall back on at times of termination. Still, there is much talk of commitment in Landmark: to excellence, to honoring yourself and others, to integrity. In the end, the system only supports a commitment to self, doing whatever makes you happy, and a commitment to Landmark, as the source of your power, the gift of which you should share with others. Its ideology specifically discourages actions outside of Landmark based upon obligation, duty, sacrifice or guilt, such actions would lessen your power and limit your independence.

Dr. Pittman pointed out three things about the organization which are inconsistent with simply helping the individual participant. First, the training really fosters failure of relations by advocating forceful change or termination of anything in your life that is not working for you. In this way, the participants perceive themselves as powerful and in control of their lives by taking affirmative action. This behavior is ultimately selfish and forecloses the opportunity for long term success of any interaction. If you live with only thoughts of yourself and what you should do to succeed or to control your life, you can never truly share your life with another. For a relationship to succeed, choices must be made with due consideration of what is good for the union.

Second, the ever-present themes in all Landmark activities are enlisting others so they can also enjoy the life altering participation and voluntary assisting at the Landmark Center so that you further your own life altering participation. These objectives have no therapeutic effect for the individual. It has the economic impact of increased revenue from new participants and decreased costs from free labor, and keeps you close to the group for support, maintenance reinforcement of your feelings of power and belonging. It keeps you coming back for more and provides the organization as your support.

Third, the organization is a for profit corporation, rather than non-profit. Aside from the admission that its employees must be paid for their services in order to live, the profit motive of the ownership, who are the stockholder Forum Leaders, requires more participants coming back for more seminars and volunteering to work for free in order to make more money for them. >From the authorities which I consulted, the futility of avoidance or termination as a path to long term success in any interaction is obvious. Landmark is training and coaching a way of living that makes you feel powerful but truly only provides short term "wins" with no long term consistency of life except at Landmark. Landmark gets free labor and more participants, more money in the corporate pocket; however, it appears that the participants may never reach any level of long term peace and happiness if they stay internally oriented and terminating by nature except to stay in the Landmark structure.

Involvement with any of the Landmark programs will reveal that at least 1/3 of the time is spent extolling the participants to get others involved and to share the message. There are even phone banks. During the day, volunteers use these to do phone solicitation of individuals suggested by participants and to recruit more volunteers from participants. During The Forum, there are breaks when participants are urged to call people in their lives with whom they have unfinished business, get complete with them and share the experience with them. There is nothing altruistic in this activity. If the motive was the good of the participant, it would be non-profit and pay for its employees would be based upon the services performed, not how many bodies could be kept coming back for more. After the 3 & ½ day, long weekend of the initial Forum (over $300.00), there is a longer, 4 & ½ day, long weekend of the Advanced Course ($600.00 to $700.00). Then, there is the Self-Expression and Leadership Program consisting of a full weekend day per month and one evening per week for three months. Also, there is an ever expanding list of seminars on how to handle different, specific aspects of your life that meet one night per week for 10 successive weeks and other courses and programs of varying lengths (costs vary). As part of assisting, you can enlist in training programs, said to take to years, to become a Leader in Landmark. (Presumably, you would then be paid, and share in the profit). So, to take part in all Landmark offers and be an assistant could keep you involved on a continual basis for years, with a considerable outlay of money for your tuition.

We have seen the system and what it really does and does not do and what it can mean for Landmark as a corporate entity. Why do individuals keep coming back for more? In his book, Robert J. Lifton states that thought reform can generally be accomplished by putting a person in a physically arduous situation that makes the person vulnerable. Then, the message is repetitiously centered on all-encompassing abstract jargon, judgmental, thought terminating cliche's and brief phrases, easily memorized and repeated. All you have to do is Blah! Blah! Blah! and life will be all joy, no sorrow. There is a specific process to influence and power over another. First, a relationship is established that includes sharing of deep thoughts and views and becoming a confidant. With charisma and conviction, superiority is established by convincingly projecting an image of importance, stature and knowledge. A promise is made of great, positive things that can happen in the your life with the help of the leader. Because you believe in the superior stature and knowledge of the leader and are placed in a vulnerable situation, your confidence in your own beliefs is undermined, and you progressively begins to identify with the views of the leader, adopt them as your own and alter your way of life accordingly. Also, large quantities of information are fed to you in a monopolized period of time that does not allow you to formulate or make critical responses. You are mentally overwhelmed, and simply accepts what is being said. This scenario is very similar to what I experienced in the Forum and later on. It is simplistic righteousness. Once the barriers of reason and critical thinking have been knocked down, you embrace these easy and appealing messages. You become a part of the organization and trust its teachings. Trust is the important undertaking. If you trust another person or an organization, you implicitly expect what they say to be true. But trust should be earned over a time of confirmed, honest interaction. To trust blindly and unquestioningly is to open yourself to misinformation, lies and ultimately to be hurt. The error is in failing to require your trust to be earned. However, in the framework of The Forum, you are not given the opportunity for your trust to be earned, the natural safeguards and boundaries of your mind are circumvented, and you embrace Landmark and trust it before you know that you have done so. What you do not realize is that, although you believe you are being given so much, in fact you are losing your independence and self control. It is being replaced with dependence on and support from the group and the ongoing need for advise in order to act according to the teachings. You surround yourself only with other Landmark people as your social group. You fill your conversations with: Landmark said this or that, how wonderful it is and how much it is helping. And, what was the message that was learned? Terminate those relationships that do not work. What I witnessed and heard about were the ending of relationships, even individuals cutting off from their parents and siblings, when one side did not embrace Landmark or did not agree with the teachings. According to Landmark, they did not "get it." According to one participant, the only place that I can be myself is with my Landmark friends; they understand me and me them.

Why do some individuals embrace Landmark and others not "get it," as they say? As mentioned above, Dr. Fisher found that Forum participants became more internally oriented, concentrating on themselves and satisfying immediate desires, resulting in the perception of control that is only short term in duration. These same individuals were also found to have more internally oriented personality traits than average, predisposed to being ego-centric and to self-centered activities. The conclusion was that Landmark attracts these types of individuals, who "may become even more internally oriented [after the training]..." Presumably, individuals whom do not feel comfortable with or are not predisposed to a self-centered lifestyle do not easily embrace the teaching.

As an assistant voluntarily working at the Center, activity is focussed upon enthusiastically spreading the word about Landmark to potential participants and signing them up and recruiting other assistants from former participants by the use of scripted phone solicitation or putting on the seminars themselves . The expressed goal is to bring "everyone" into Landmark. Otherwise, interaction between those in the center is very shallow. There is a lot of Landmark jargon and buzz words, and everyone feels very high. When social activities are suggested, it is either to see a movie, usually of the feel good variety, or to get together in groups of 2 to 8 to coach each other and share their experiences and feelings of control over their lives through Landmark. There is no depth of discussing life issues or world events. I tried to discuss current events read by me in daily newspapers and was told by more than one person that events going on in the world were of no interest to them. It is as if there is a vacuum where only Landmark and it participants, volunteers and staff reside and nothing else is allowed in. I witnessed one romantic personal relationship and heard about others that developed between individuals deeply involved in Landmark. They did not last very long, were not serious in terms of commitment and were ended so that the parties could retain personal control without compromise and could remain friends with each other within Landmark. There seemed to be a flippant attitude about sex, generally. Casual affairs, one night stands, "sleeping over" after coaching sessions were spoken of in an off-hand manner, as if they are just is done and O.K. My perception was a mind set and lifestyle that does not take relationships seriously and does not make commitments to others because it limits the individual. You just get from the relationship what you can and then move on, easy come, easy go. As noted above, there is much talk of commitment in Landmark, to excellence, to honoring yourself and others, to integrity. In the end, the system only supports a commitment to self, doing whatever makes you happy, and a commitment to Landmark as the source of your power, the gift of which you should share with others. Its ideology specifically discourages actions outside of Landmark based upon obligation, duty, sacrifice or guilt. It might be interesting to have historical statistics of the close relationships (family, friends, loves) of long-term Landmark participants, and learn whether there is a measurable propensity for them to be unable to maintain serious, committed relationships than the general public.

In his article, Andy Testareferred to the process as deconstruction of personal attachments by focussing your attention on yourself and rebuilding an attachment to the group requiring continued participation. A continuing message is that the Landmark activities are all a part of a total curriculum for living. The goal appears to be to keep participants always enrolled, taking one of the courses, and working at the center, enrolling others.

An anonymous essayist discussed why people stay in the group and feel good about cutting off relationships. It is referred to as the "relief effect". Participants feel a relief from emotional distress when closely affiliated with the group and greater distress when away from the group. Once the system is learned and accepted, the social component of being a part of a group of people who act likewise enhances a feeling of well-being and subconsciously reinforces the system for the participant. Outside the group, challenging the underlying philosophy of Landmark or simply disagreeing with a position of a Landmark faithful induces great distress. Back at the center or with a Landmark friend, the distress is relieved, the challenger just did not "get it" and does not "honor" you as an individual. Again, this serves to strengthen affiliation and the likelihood of maintaining the expected behavior, termination of what does not "work," the source of the distress. Of course, no underlying problem has ever been solved in this process. It is perpetual participation and avoidance of issues.

Of course, not everyone who attends The Forum becomes a long-term Landmark participant, living the system and continuing in the Curriculum for Living. Also, how an individual lives his or her life is up to that individual. I wanted to understand the Landmark Education System for myself and why its teachings made feel so uncomfortable while they were being so strongly embraced by others.

My questions are now answered, and I can turn my attention away from Landmark with peace of mind. For me, an issue has been faced, understood and resolved, with feeling, thought acknowledgment, not simply avoided.

        Material Sources:

  • Frank Pitman, M.D. (Psychiatrist).
  • Diane Hamrick, Ph.D. (Psychologist).
  • Private Lies , Dr. Frank Pitman, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989.
  • Strategies For Starting Over, Dr. Blase Harris, Dell Publishing, 1989.
  • No Ordinary Moments, Dan Millman, H. J. Kramer, Inc., 1992.
  • Needs Theory and Social Identity, Dr. R. J. Fisher, Springer-Verlag, 1988.
  • Thought Reform and The Psychology of Totalism, Robert J. Lifton, University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

    Usenet Posts

  • Binary Thinking, Nancy Jaeger, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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  • Introduction to the Forum, David Rife, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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