“Terrifying” was the word I used when describing to my husband the experience I had today.
Today was day 1 of 3 of the Landmark Forum, which is marketed as being a personal development program (I’m purposefully not going to link here; feel free to Google if you’d like more information). Friday, Saturday and Sunday are scheduled to run from 9:00am–10:00pm (yes, 10:00 at night), and 7:00pm–10:15pm the following Tuesday. I paid $795 for the course (Plus $40 in parking today).
9:00–11:45 Overview and time for questions
30 min break
12:15–3:00 Events vs. our beliefs about the event, and how our past shapes our world view
30 min break
90 min break
I arrived with a fresh cup of coffee in the morning and was immediately told coffee wasn’t allowed in the room (neither was food). Okay, a bummer to have to chug my $6.75 Philz Mint Mojito, but fine. There was a table full of coffee cups in the entrance/break room, so there were quite a few receiving this message.
There were maybe 150 people in the room, all chairs, no desks or tables. The speaker was on a raised platform with a podium/pulpit.
We began with an overview of the forum and time for questions. People asked questions about logistics:
“When and where can we get lunch?”
Answer: “We told you this in email already; we told you to bring snacks.”
My first thought, “Wow, okay, straight shooter. Could be kinder about it though.”
“What is the philosophy behind sitting in the same room and going so late into the night (10:00pm)?”
Answer: “It’s going to take you that long to ‘get it.’”
The topics we covered were things I’ve learned in other trainings (pain comes from the story we’re telling ourselves, not from the actual event) and how our view of the world is tinted/shaped by our past experiences. I get this, and I agree with it. What did NOT sit well with me was the way the speaker/trainer/facilitator/leader treated people. He was extremely condescending, disrespectful and manipulative.
This is where the “terrifying” piece came in for me. I watched him use fear as a way to get/encourage/push (whatever word you want to use) people to do whatever it is he wanted them to do in that moment (raise your hand, share your story, innocuous things), then laugh at people who “didn’t understand.” One person asked him what he “should” have done in a past situation, and the speaker raised his voice saying he wasn’t there to discuss theory. What???
I watched grown adults apologizing for asking questions because they didn’t understand. I watched people question authority and then be mocked and put down. When one person asked for clarification the leader said, “You’re not going to get this. Just sit down because you’re not going to understand this.” Wow. A part of me wanted to walk out at that moment. A part of me wanted to stand up for that person and express my feelings that a good teacher makes sure the students understand the concepts.
It seemed the leader twisted ideas to make them fit the teachings. As an example, “Be authentic to yourself” didn’t work if you were thinking about doing something against their beliefs. If you were thinking about leaving the forum before completion (Hrm, clearly this was a problem if they had to bring it up before every break) you were lacking integrity. For me, I realized this forum was not the right forum (get it?) for me to learn this information—information I might actually believe and find useful. My authentic self told me to get the heck out of there. I can’t support an organization that treats people like sheep.
Watching people so quickly not trust themselves, and apologize for even questioning this person they had just met was mind-blowing.
(I’m debating including even these few examples from the day as I realize my quick notes are not going to paint a full picture, but I actually don’t want to spend more time formulating the right words because I don’t want to spend any more time or thought on this other than this post.)
I recently started watching The Handmaid’s Tale, and today’s experience shook me, because I can see how people who are hungry for improvement of themselves and the world can so.very.quickly latch on to someone asserting authority, earned or not. I come back to the word sheep because people were even herded to sit where they didn’t want to sit and to not question the leader. (We weren’t allowed to “vote” on the rules; they are Landmark’s rules. “You don’t get a vote when you land in Canada, and you don’t get a vote here.”)
I’m all for trying new things (Come on, I walked in off the street for a psychic reading yesterday), and know you don’t learn in your comfort zone. You’re typically a bit uncomfortable in the learning zone; that’s where growth happens. This was not that.
The leader asked everyone to volunteer to not use over-the-counter medication, alcohol and smoking until Tuesday at 10:15pm. I don’t drink often, and I’ve never smoked. For headaches I try to drink water and take a nap before I reach for Ibuprofen. I share this to say these are things I could easily avoid for the next five days, but this request felt…icky. Someone asked for the reasoning for this, and the leader wouldn’t give a straight answer. Someone else asked if it would be appropriate to take Ibuprofen as self-care for body aches, as opposed to drinking alcohol for numbing. The leader said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to not have the headache?” The participant said, “Are you saying Landmark would prevent me from even getting the headache?” The leader responded, “Who knows what could happen. I’m just saying wouldn’t it be nice to not have the headache.” I wouldn’t want to be against this guy in a political debate.
There were many times people asked questions, and he simply went in a loop. He did state in the beginning he didn’t have the answers, and we were there for us to discover things on our own, but this wasn’t like a good therapist gently leading us to figure things out. This was him not answering point blank questions, and instead turning things around to make the person apologize for asking. Once the person showed remorse or backed down, the leader would say something like, “I can see you’re getting it. You’re doing such a good job.”
*Shudder* It was like I was watching battered wife syndrome happen in real time.
Abuser: You’re stupid for even asking. (Or, you’re too scared to even raise your hand.)
Abused: I’m sorry.
Abuser: I see you’re making progress. Good dog. *Pat, pat.*
Abused: Starts thinking about how to get praise again from this person with such high expectations, because praise feels good. Questioning causes pain.
I went back-and-forth about staying for this thing I had already paid for, and knowing I would learn *something* from the next 3+ days, but when I found myself thinking I would PAY $800 to get out of the next 2 days I reminded myself of the sunk cost fallacy, and how staying wouldn’t change my feelings. So, I left at the second break. I drove out of the parking garage at 3:00 and had zero regrets. I felt happy knowing I would have dinner with my girls and husband (who just got home from Japan!). I felt excited knowing I now had a free weekend to do things that bring me joy. Experiment with a new recipe. Start on the Modern Calligraphy course. Watch the online learning course I just bought about Instagram.
I’m on a journey of self-discovery right now (the whole reason I’m blogging and documenting my experiments!), and buzz words like mindfulness, presence, mindset and vulnerability are not new or scary, so while I think I might agree with some of the concepts of the Landmark Forum, I do not support the methods of ruling by fear, authoritarian condescension, disrespect and manipulation.
I’ve typed so much more than I thought I would, but I KNOW the cult world (not saying this is or is not run like a cult…), and I have very strong feelings about people/organizations who rule by fear. That isn’t the leader I want to follow. That isn’t a leader I can respect. I know there are people who will say I gave up. Some people might feel sad for me that I “couldn’t grow through the pain.” I, however, am proud of knowing when I’m struggling with something and questioning if it’s a bias or filter I have, and knowing when it’s fundamentally disagreeing with how I believe people should be treated.
Yesterday I signed off with “Exploring everything,” and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to see part of day 1, and I’m glad I can trust myself in knowing when something isn’t something I need to explore further.