Okay, I’ll go
For the past month or so, a friend of mine had been trying to convince me to attend an introductory meeting for something called The Forum. When I asked him to describe The Forum, his answer was hard to grasp. Apparently, even though he was already fairly happy with his life (and making good money), The Forum helped him realize his unreached potential. He told me that taking it made him a better artist, businessman, and person; that he owed his current successes in his company to The Forum, as well as his being able to establish a civil relationship with his former wife. Upon hearing me tell him that I wasn’t interested in a self help program, he insisted that the Forum is not, absolutely not, a self help program at all. All he wanted me to do was attend an introductory meeting in which I would meet a representative, and if I decided to attend, then I could sign up for the price of $425. I declined to attend. But he continued in his pursuit until ultimately, over a pleasant dinner and a couple of drinks, I graciously, yet grudgingly agreed to attend the next introduction.
I took some time over the next few days to read up on The Forum via the net. What I found was quite interesting: a multimillion dollar company, accusations of cult-like activity, banned from operating in France, complaints of brainwashing, and a close connection to the now debunked est programs from the seventies.
Here are some links to articles and information about The Forum that are much better than mine:
Inside the Landmark Forum, Karin Badt
The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns
Investigation: is the Landmark Forum a cult?
The Landmark Website
What is left unsaid?
So I would guess that if you are the skeptical type, then the top two links will appeal to you, and if you are the Chicken Soup for the Soul type, then you fancy the bottom two links. Either way, all of them conspicuously omit some aspects of The Forum. The skeptics either neglect to mention progress made by other Forum takers, or, if it is mentioned, it is done in a way that implies their gullibility. The writer for the Guardian who came out in support of The Forum fails to mention the large chunk of the seminar that is dedicated to indoctrinating its students with the desire to sell it to their friends and family. So who is right? Generally, I will usually side with the skeptics, and this is no exception.
Those who had a good experience with The Forum, such as my friend and his family, would never admit that they are actually selling it to their friends, but instead say that they are trying to share something life changing, something important and inconceivable until it is experienced. Sound familiar? It should if you have ever been courted by a religion or a cult. You would think that The Forum is Jesus from the way that its participants speak of it. It seems like The Forum uses the same selling tactic as some religions, which is to convince their customers that their product, enlightenment, is completely unobtainable except through them. Quite evangelical.
Participants in The Forum are so dedicated that they volunteer their time to help it gain new customers. I can’t understand why they would do this. They are basically working for free to make money for other people. Landmark Education, the company that owns The Forum, is a for-profit company. Like all other companies, they only care about their bottom line. That is not to say that those who volunteer are trying on purpose to make money for this company. They must believe that they are spreading good news and helping other people. Maybe they are. But, as a consequence of their good intentions, an international multimillion dollar company is making tons of cash.
Think of the children!
A remarkable and somewhat deplorable development in Landmark Education’s seminars is their offering of classes to teenagers and children. Given how The Forum’s participants are indoctrinated with the evangelical tendency to convert their friends and family, it makes good business sense to offer classes to their kids, as kids can not decide for themselves whether they should take it or not. Their parents will most certainly enroll them. Strangely, Landmark’s website notes that for parents to register their children for the 8 – 12 year old sessions, the child must chose attend on their own. This is preposterous, of course, as no child would even be aware of, let alone want to attend The Forum unless brought in to it by their parents. I have never met anybody whose children have attended the program, so I will not make any assumptions about whether they receive the same “hard sell” that their parents did. I won’t pretend that I’m even remotely concerned for the kids themselves. I’m not one of those “won’t somebody think of the children!” assholes that you see clogging up the news. I merely want state the opinion that offering a self-help program of this nature to children is absurd, and the only people who will not think it absurd are those who have already attended The Forum. Luckily, Forum initiates who can’t wait to get their family and friends involved can enroll their own children for $400 - $500 dollars, each.
Alas, I won’t go
So, armed with all of this information, I attended my introduction prepared to receive the “hard sell” that I had read so much about. What I actually got was a warm and friendly reception by my friend and a Landmark volunteer. We chatted and had coffee before going into the benefits of the Forum. The ordeal lasted a few hours, throughout which the Landmark volunteer spoke with me using a combination of her personal experiences and an obvious script. We made a list of parts of my life that were working and parts that were not. Every life could be better, so when I talked to her about how I wanted to improve my life, I made it clear that I was already comfortable with how I was handling my issues. My personality type is one that is quick to deal with hurtles and patient in doing so. I get along with all of my family and friends. I have a healthy romantic relationship. I am well aware of my foibles and have clear approachable goals for my future. To put it bluntly, I lead an enjoyable, low stress, and happy life. Even parts of my life that could be better are still pretty good. Keeping that in mind, I simply could not see any immediate benefit to attending The Forum. I imagine that these kinds of introductions might appeal to those who are confused or perhaps just to those who feel like they are missing something that they can’t quite finger. These people, who may be in a vulnerable point in their lives, must be Landmark’s bread and butter. When my volunteer realized that I was satisfied with what I had, she shifted the focus of The Forum from the realm of what we know to the realm of possibility. I might think that I am happy and that I have everything I need, but I don’t know what else is out there that I don’t even know I want. The Forum will help me discover this…new possibility. I wasn’t buying it. I like having things in front of me. If I am going to pay hundreds of dollars for something, I want a clear physical benefit. The idea of paying for possibility seemed absurd to me. Possibility is free. It’s effing free.
Ultimately, I turned down their invitation to purchase my attendance at a seminar. They graciously accepted my answer and thanked me for attending.
Certainly not me
So, does Landmark Education deserve all of its controversy? I still don’t know, and doubt I ever will. I never attended one it its seminars nor do I see myself doing it in the future. The Forum, however life changing it may actually be, is clearly a self-help program that uses questionable selling tactics. The product? Enlightenment and freedom. The cost? $425. There are many out there who would pay millions for what The Forum is offering. But certainly not me. I’m not saying that I’m enlightened or that I’ve reached my full potential. But I’ll venture that I can get there even with a Forum-free life.