est reincarnated

A reporter from Mother Jones spent a weekend at Landmark Education's headquarters. The Landmark Forum is a direct descendent of est, Werner Erhard's infamous self-actualization program of the 1970s. Of course, est was an unholy mashup of from Dale Carnegie, Scientology, Napoleon Hill, Alan Watts, and other bits borrowed from the 1960s Human Potential Movement. However, like a phoenix from the flames, Landmark Forum has positioned itself more as a corporate training organization than a personal transformation "movement." From Mother Jones:
At 9 a.m. on a Friday I find myself sardined into a basement room with 129 other people, listening to David Cunningham, a boomer in a dark suit and bright purple shirt, whose first language seems to be Tent-Revival Baptist Preacher. (I later learn that he was raised a fundamentalist in Florida.) He informs us that he has personally led more than 50,000 people to Transformation. He's here to tell us that "anything you want for yourself and your life is available from being here this weekend." He starts by taking a few questions from the floor. A querulous man observes that the phrases carefully ruler-lined on the chalkboard seem like poor English. ("In The Landmark Forum you will bring forth the presence of a New Realm of Possibility for yourself and your life.") David agrees. "It's very poor English. You know why? Because the usual confines of language would not allow your Transformation this weekend."

Another man is called to the mic. He wants to know how Landmark is different from est. David sighs. "If I had to sum it up, here's what I'd say: They're both about Transformation, but est was very experiential. It was the '70s, okay? Your access was an experience. Your access this weekend is going to be just through conversation. We realized we could do it just through conversation." And that's the last we hear of that.

A slight, blond woman sitting next to me confides that she's here only because her boyfriend paid her way--with the subtext that this was an offer she couldn't refuse. She shows me a packet of notes tied with a bow. They're from a friend who attended a Forum and thought it was brainwashing. In the corner of the top sheet is written, "To be opened on 'breaks.'" Why "breaks" in quotes, I wonder?

I soon find out. "Break" is a misleading term at an all-day workshop that offers no snacks, no drinks other than Dixie cups of water, a single mealtime, and only loosely scheduled pauses to use the bathroom.

"The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns"


  1. loosely scheduled pauses to use the bathroom.

    Don’t expect to make it to the bathroom alone. Someone will follow you to make sure that you don’t pop out your cell phone and make contact with the outside world. I have several friends who were dragged to these things and ran screaming at the first opportunity.

  2. I’ve known a few people who’ve gotten into the Forum, and I’ve been frightened and appalled at what the Forum did to them, psychologically. The Forum uses sophisticated techniques of brainwashing to turn people into willing slaves of the Landmark company.

  3. I pay to go to workshop that’s supposed to be for my benefit and somebody tells me I can’t leave to go to the bathroom? That’s pretty much the end of that for me.

    This Landmark thing has been around for a while; a friend of mine was doing these around 2000 and something she said even then tipped me off to the est connection.

    Buncha loons.

  4. These corportate, self improvement cults all use the same basic brainwashing techniques to ensure isolation, disorientation and forced bonding with the new group. An artist I used to work with went through one of their trainings and came out a strangely robotic, transparently manipulative creepazoid.

  5. I echo what’s been said about what it does to friends. They become sort of imperious, above everything you can say. It’s an overall feeling of, “if you haven’t done Forum, you really don’t have a lot to contribute to the conversation.”

    ‘The Forum’ has become a watch word for a lot of people now. I just walk away from people, in my personal life and in business, who take it seriously. It’s an anti-social mindset… and it makes me anti-social toward them!

  6. @ #5 (Doran) – It’s because such things are revelatory. Someone who will stand between you and even one of your basic needs does not have your interest at heart.

    Long ago, someone tried to recruit me. Didn’t take, despite the odd combination of histrionics and seduction the cult employs.

  7. Landmark is big in here in Portland. I have the same take as #6. It’s a good indicator of a suggestible mind.

  8. I did the Forum in ~1985 and it was…well, at the time it was “life changing,” but in retrospect it was just embarrassing. I was appalled at how the last half of the last day was nothing but people standing around and literally yelling at us to sign up for the next level of seminars. There were people in those seminars with no jobs and no money who were brainwashed into selling off their possessions to afford more seminars. We called them “seminar junkies,” and I could see how people whose sense of self-worth lay outside themselves could get sucked in. I ended up hanging out with a group of holdouts like myself who saw through the bullying and had moved on to being amused at the whole thing.

  9. I dunno, I did this a while back, and had quite a different experience from the one described. I took it as some different ways to look at life, a bunch of mental tools if you will. Helped me to deal with some issues, and did not turn me into a “strangely robotic, transparently manipulative creepazoid”. But maybe it’s different for each person.

    Also, I could go to the bathroom whenever I wanted (I tended to go on breaks, but not always)

  10. I met a couple of Forumheads back in 1987. They told me that Werner Erhard’s Hunger Project would definitely, definitely feed the whole third world by (I think) 1999. Last I heard, obesity is not the biggest problem in sub-Saharan Africa. The people I knew are mildly embarrassed by the whole thing now. Ah, youth.

  11. I did the Forum in Eugene, Oregon in about 1999. I can definitely see the cult/brainwashing factor in it, but I don’t consider myself suggestible. Some of the exercises and lectures were not useful to me, but many of them were. Some of the basic concepts they teach may be things that some people learned at home, but they were new to me. I would not go to another series, but I consider it a valuable experience and continue to draw on its lessons, like listening to people instead of just hearing them, and remembering that my life is today, and not a dress-rehearsal for some future life. I went to the bathroom as often and I wanted and they encouraged us to use the breaks to call people in our lives to make amends, apologize, forgive, etc. I can appreciate that it is not for everyone.

  12. I did a variant of this, called Impact, in SLC. It was run by Hans and Sally Berger, and was pretty much a direct descendent of est. (Although I and my family didn’t know that.) My parents went through first, and then got special permission to send me through, as I was only 15-going-on-16. And I enjoyed it and it did shape my life and certain habits (not all good, but not all bad either) to some extent. Some of what we were taught was basic CBT, some was outright emotional manipulation, some of it was salesmanship 101. (I just watched Yes Man, which was a very forgettable movie starring Jim Carrey, but the sendup of est and est-like seminars was pretty dead on.)

    I’d compare it to the culty side of religion, in that there are a few ideas worth having in there, but you gotta wade through a bunch of crap to find them, and people with agendas may have power over you. The Impact seminars definitely ended with the hard sell, and the whole “this information doesn’t leave these premises; you want your friends to have the full and proper experience” BS. I did feel that I got some awesome tools for looking at life BUT they came with a sort of price and social contract that sorta demanded I not share those tools. Which I kinda felt was not productive. Anyway, a good therapist will do more for you, without the hard sell baggage, and the good ideas in these seminars aren’t exclusive to ’em.

    (Weird side effects: People at Impact were supposed to be in their chairs at the end of the breaks, and to signal the start of the new session, they would play Also Sprach Zaruthustra, aka the theme from 2001. My parents thought this was great, and adopted it for calling family councils. So to this day, I have Pavlovian reactions to hearing that theme.)

  13. I’ve had direct dealings with a few people who have done est or Landmark Forum, and each one of them has cheated me out of money or otherwise abused my trust. (One of them, a grade-school teacher in the ’70s, physically abused me.) I’ve been to their sales pitch seminars, and found it to be a lot of recycled guff. There’s a lot of talk about integrity, and very little practice. I have no doubt that there are some people who have benefited from the training. Good for them. Just don’t ask me to sign up, or I shall Create the Possibility of me punching you in the beezer.

  14. My mom paid for me and my girlfriend to do this a few years back. It’s nothing more than a money cult where they trick you into giving them your money. It preys on people who are unhappy with their life. It’s run by a bunch of children who play word games with you. A bunch of bullshit about “enroll in the possibility of living an extraordinary life” I left after they told me that all my and everyones actions were motivated by the need to impress others. Sorry but I’m motivated by happiness.

  15. I did est, before it changed to the Forum. My wife did Landmark. It seems to me like it was est’lite. She would agree that Landmark improved her life. I would agree that est improved my life. Neither one of us went to the est-hole or Land-muck point but we do know people who did for while. I’m glad we both did these things because we learned some very good methods to communicate what it is that we really need or want. We also got to meet some very interesting and some very strange people in the process. I think that helps us deal with a broader range of life experiences.

  16. My father did the est training back in the ’70s, and is still marginally involved with facilitating seminars–running microphones and such. At his suggestion I did the Forum myself in 1991, when I was nineteen. I got some valuable insights from it, though nothing I wouldn’t eventually have figured out on my own. There were a lot of silly jargon and some mildly confrontational techniques, but I think it was generally a good thing for the participants. A lot of people clearly got some pretty strong insights from it.

    I was not followed into the bathroom or any such silliness, and we ate meals at the regular times.

    There was definitely a lot of pressure to continue on and do the “Advanced Course.” However, there’s also a lot of talk during the Forum on how to resist letting others pressure you into doing things.

    I did the AC several years later (again at my dad’s suggestion) and found it a big snoozefest, possibly because instead of paying attention I spent the whole time trying to hit on the hot girl who sat next to me.

    The author’s attitude strikes me as disingenuous at best. She says she “vowed to go in with an open mind and to follow the rules,” but then she went in pre-armed with a set of notes from her friend who called the Forum “brainwashing.” And look at the sneering tone in which she relates the story of “Rose” on the second page: Rose has just patched things up with her long-estranged sister, and the author’s going to mock that? Silly jargon and immersive techniques or not, a lot of people have dramatically improved their lives and relationships after doing the Forum, and that’s not something to sneeze at.

    I can’t get too critical of an outfit that teaches people to recognize self-destructive patterns in their lives and stop them. It’s got some cultlike aspects, but come on, it’s not Jonestown; they seem to be sincere in trying to help people. And even if they’re not sincere, even if it really is just a pushy scam, they’re helping people anyway.

    The sales pitches are irritatingly high-pressure, for sure, and I think some careful tweaking of their marketing strategy would serve them well, but overall I just can’t see the Forum as some kind of shadowy, lurking evil.

  17. The author’s inclusion of Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done as another “quasi-philosophy” strikes me as odd. Admittedly, everything I know about GTD is secondhand, but aside from a mild degree of zealotry among its adherents, it seems to be a reasonably practical approach to a restricted and well-defined problem area. Is there a cult component to GTD that I should know about? By downloading to-do list software, have I taken the first step down a road that will end with me shaving my head and handing out flowers at airports?

    est, excuse me, Landmark, sounds more like the Law of Attraction (“The Secret”), the promise of which seems to be that everything you want can be yours if you just imagine it in the right way.

  18. “or I shall Create the Possibility of me punching you in the beezer”

    LOL I love Landmark language/Newspeak twisted.

    I find that it has an extreme effect on people for a few weeks/months. Very impressionable people will find it hard to turn down the ‘Advanced Course’ and ‘SELP’ and probably the rest of the ‘Graduate’ courses. They will also be borrowing money from everyone and ‘enrolling’ all their friends. Landmark suggests that ‘enrollment’ is fundamental in some way to individual development. So basically they want you to work a telethon because it’s good for you.

    Enrollment is the act of making people do what you want, especially if they don’t want to.
    It’s persuasion. I’ve been through the Forum, but declined any further involvement.
    I’d heard lots of bad stuff about it. I do feel like NLP was a large part of the course. At one point many people began crying on command.

  19. I attended an orientation back in ’96 so a couple of my roommates could get a free ‘intimacy seminar’ for their big Forum weekend. The Forum’s techniques were disturbing, four hours of non-stop bafflegab and in the last hour the newbies were separated from their friends, herded into a small room so they could be signed up. The pitch was hard and relentless. I asked about books I could read instead and was told the results were experiential and therefore couldn’t be done through a book. A nurse questioned their techniques and challenged them as to the worth of the program and was rebutted heavily. I told them I couldn’t afford the program and then chairs were cleared around me so three Landmark volunteers could stand around and over me telling me how I couldn’t afford not to. It was almost convincing (the nurse actually signed up) but broke was broke and then I just became angry from all their pushing. When they finally released us I saw one of my roommates writing out on a chalkboard in carefully lined block font those same rules for the next morning’s session. I ended up screaming at them on the car ride home never to try and rope into that crap again. They continued with the seminars eventually volunteering nearly full time and we drifted apart.

    It’s an extreme support group and some people are attracted to that. Problem is, it can take you out of mainstream society and is not something I would personally advocate for personal improvement.

  20. What pyroprints at #10 said.

    I did a few sessions back in the early 2000’s and got some interesting and helpful stuff out of it. There was obviously the money grab thing going on, but it definitely helped me straighten out a few things in my head.

    I’d had a pretty strong “poor me, the world is against me” thing going on in my late adolescence and the idea that I could choose to not react that way to events in my life was pretty powerful for me at that point.

    That said there’s better and easier ways to get that kind of realization and I definitely wouldn’t recommend The Forum to anyone, but generalizing that it turns every participant into a mindless zombie is pretty off base.

  21. I did the Landmark Forum first in 1997 and I personally loved it. I never heard any rule against going to the bathroom, and I never had anybody follow me around, or anything weird like that. The biggest complaint I’ve had with Landmark is the one I hear most form others—the “hard sell” for participants to continue on and to register into additional courses and seminars.

    I have gotten quite a bit out of some of the seminars I’ve taken, specifically one about money, but that’s me. I know other people who’ve gotten more—promotions, relationships, etc.— that they attribute to their participation, and I also know people who left at the first opportunity and never returned, and never regretted their decision.

    I do believe this: I’ve done other kinds of “self help” things, read many kinds of books, gone to “therapy.” Some things are better (I believe) than what Landmark offers, and some I’ve found useless. Landmark’s approach is distinct—not necessarily better. If you like what they have on offer, than, yeah, you’d probably want to take more courses.

  22. One of the things that accounts for the great financial success of Landmark is that they have a large staff of volunteers who work for the company for free. This is a for-profit company, people! It just astounds me that they are able to convince a bunch of gullible people to come and work for this for-profit company for no pay! Not only that, but the volunteers actually have to PAY to attend the “Seminars” that train them on how to be volunteers! Imagine if other companies did this. What if GM asked people, “hey why don’t you come and work on our assembly line, but just for the fun of it. We won’t pay you anything. And BTW, you have to pay for your own training.”

  23. Thank you.

    I had started a new job, and they had all gone through Landmark. At their urging and invitation, I attended an “orientation”.

    I was completely appalled that they would stand there and tell me, literally just a face in the crowd (I was not in my home town, so knew no one) that I am terminally messed up, and that nothing in my life is what I thought it would be, and that my family simply aren’t important enough to justify making sacrifices for. (yes, really)

    They got quite pissy when I put the breaks on, and indicated that I apparently needed it quite badly, otherwise I’d welcome their random diagnosis of my life as truth. They were convinced I was lying about having a loving family and supportive friends.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for posting this — I ended up leaving the company shortly thereafter, and I still think that the orientation had a lot to do with it.

    I think I’m better off not working for a company that thinks this crap is healthy.

    (heh – reCaptcha of vitriol 15. Why yes, it is.)

  24. This sounds amazingly like something I recently attended in Southern California called World Works [website here]

    I attended the Introductory course, went through lots of experiential, breakthrough/down, create your own reality, you’ll find ways of making everything work if you really want it too, nonsense. Then, when they pushed and pushed me to sign up for the second and third courses (each *substantially* more expensive than the previous, I bailed.

    Bailing on World Works was the best decision I’ve made in a while.

    Seriously, don’t go. No matter how much your friend who asks you to “just attend the Guest Event” wants you to, just run away.

  25. A recent episode of “Weeds” described Landmark as a self-help pyramid scheme.

    I lost a lot of friends to Landmark. It turned them into insufferable assholes bent on marketing Landmark. The funny thing is, I told all of them to let me see their lives and improve, and then I would gladly take a seminar, and that was unacceptable to them.

  26. For anyone considering any event sponsored by The Forum – DO NOT GO and do not give them personal info (address, phone numbers, email addresses) or names of employers, relatives or friends.

    I had the unfortunate experience of attending a weekend “lockdown” with these crazy people in the early ’90’s. Herb Tanzer was the bully in charge at the time and I was absolutely horrified at this cultish experience. There is nothing transformational about the program – except the transformative experience they have when they obtain your bank information/credit card info. The will go after money in your bank account and try to charge your credit card even if you have only expressed an interest in an upper level training course.

    People were not only humiliated; they were threatened, not allowed to leave the room for anything and there were diabetics in our group. Several people tried to leave during the one break we were allowed over the course of 13 hours the first day. Those people were first approached with kindness and curiosity by the unknown followers in the group. However, when the unknown “Forumites” could not convince them to stay, they resorted to guilt tactics, outright threats and then physically followed people as they drove away.

    We decided after the first day, there were too many weird things about the group and we were not returning for the second day. I cannot tell you how absolutely terrifying it was for over 2 months – as they stalked us. They contacted any friends/relatives we had listed on the initial sign up paperwork, they contacted the California Board of Nursing and tried to find my employer, we had to change our phone number about 4 times before they stopped the tormenting calls and then they started showing up at our home.

    These people hold you hostage – and it proven when you try to leave or question the “authority.” Their behavior walks just up to the line of kidnapping and should be investigated by law enforcement. They will sabotage you through any information you have voluntarily given them – so please, avoid them unless you are really into such sick and demented treatment.

  27. I went to a “guest” seminar once, they said write down four life things you really really want. #4 was “a painless death.” the moderator then said if I would just take the training, I’d achieve all four of those wonderful things immediately. I blanched. Then I wondered if I could beat them at their own game. I went into the lobby, said “I’d love to take the training but don’t have enough money, and the first one of “them” I spoke to reached for his wallet and offered to pay my way. I decided that if I wanted to, I could realize my potential by scamming these people, travel around the country taking them for all the money I could scam, but I said “nah” and just left the hotel at intermission.

  28. Landmark: Some people love it, some people hate it. All for good enough reasons.

    Then there is a third group, the journalists who write the same piece every once in a while. They all start out “with an open mind” and all end up snarky disgusted.

    I wonder what that says about the journalists.

    I was really hoping on a bit of new insight into the matter from this piece. There was none to be had.

    1. They all start out “with an open mind” and all end up snarky disgusted. I wonder what that says about the journalists.

      So…if ten journalist observe that the sky is blue, is that evidence of prejudice?

  29. Bathroom:

    Does anyone remember the movie Semi-Tough?

    Burt Reynolds, already aware of the thing with the bathroom breaks at the est-parody B.E.A.T. meetings, straps and empty mickey to his thigh, and then …

  30. they’re all the same, just tell them you have no money at the onset and they’ll leave you be. This also works at most churches.

  31. True: Smiling Jack Rosenberg tried to sell me and everybody on my softball team a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Twenty years later he tried to sell me est. I told him I’d rather have the britannicas; he cracked up.

    He had gotten his teeth capped.

  32. I dunno. I came up in treatment centers and the foster care system. I’d probably be really susceptible to that crap, which is why I stay a mile from it.

  33. @#16 Ignatz, I’ve only run into one person I know to have attended, and he ended up getting evicted from my apartment about two weeks after I left. He was a subletter my prior roommate had found, and I had left the day before the lease ended. He’d moved two other people in with him, and was trying to fight eviction under the (admittedly pretty lenient) Berkeley rental regulations. Cost me and my prior roommate our security deposits.

    From what I heard from both him and the landlord, he got out of the seminars (among other things) that communication was key. He just didn’t take “no, you can’t stay in the apartment after the lease is up” for an answer, and continued to try and communicate how much he needed this to the landlord. Surely, if he understood, he would have let the man stay!

    Anyway. Brainwashing people into doing things that are generally helpful to their lives… well, it’s a good way to keep people giving you money. I have no such opinion on whether it is ethical.

  34. Not just brainwashing, but brutal, hurtful ways of getting people to expose their weaknesses and fears, then berating them until they “actualise” the problem and turn it in on themselves (or someone close to them.)

    I was invited to support a friend who wnt to one – the pretext was literally SUPPORT – to see them in this ffinal step and to hear them make their promises or resolutions – whatever.

    I went, just because it was important to them, and they’re a good friend – and I hadn’t heard of Landmark at this point. We were immediately shuffled off into a seperate room for an introductory course in The Forum. When I realised that we weren;t actually going to be seeing our friend we were supporting until we left, I was out of there.

    I’ve also had a friend thrown out because he deployed somne logic and reasoning, and dared to think he could present his own methods for interpreting the intent of The Forum – which is self betterment, at the end of the day. If an organisation has to be hostile to individualism and expression in a SELF HELP forum then it’s pretty damned clear it’s a cult, and any benefit to yourself is accidental, and secondary to your Landmarkification.

  35. haha. my dad asked me to go to one of these forums when i was a teenager. they freaked me the hell out, and i left when they said “you can leave now and still get a refund”. i got my dad his money bakc.

  36. My father and several friends wanted me to attend the Forum. I balked at the cult tactics. The end does not justify the means.

    Also, as a science and science fiction fan, I saw how you could map the transmission of these seemingly exotic tools onto the viral transmission of genes.

    People run into all kinds of trouble when they try to describe what they find troubling about EST, Landmark and the rest. It’s not quite a cult, since it has no pretensions of religion. A pyramid scheme comes close, but it doesn’t require the input of new people to continue; it will happily leech off its core user base and even shrink or go dormant in tough times.

    Also, while it’s not IMHO a societal symbiont, it’s not solely parasitic. Some people seem to derive some benefit from it. Since the foundation itself does not appear to be forthcoming with hard data on the cost/benefit ratio of its classes (pre-Forum users make $Y-minus-X, post-Forum users make $Y), we are left with anecdotal evidence that suggests it behaves as a slightly commensal parasite.

    The most apt metaphor I’ve been able to come up with is adware. Like WeatherBug, it will sit in a small corner of your life, sometimes offering helpful little pings to let you know the thunderstorm has turned south to your doorstep. And sometimes it will download a lot more crap, then demand money for that crap from you, until your machine slows to uselessness.

    Just as I think it’s important to act against adware, educating and advising against downloading untrusted software before it turns your machine into a node on a botnet, I think it’s important to educate kids, family and friends against anyone who offers quick fixes to complicated problems.

    Sometimes the blinking window that says your computer is infected *is* the infection.

  37. My mother took one of the first seminars of est led by Werner Erhard when I was about six. Over the next few years I heard “Why have you chosen to be sick with the flu? What is going on in your life that you’ve created this sickness?” Or another doozy, “There’s no reason at all that you couldn’t walk through walls if you really wanted to. The only reason you can’t is because you don’t want to.”

    Complete and utter psychobabble crap. Not that I’m bitter or anything!

    For all the ideas and none of the cult, read Alan Watts. Or read my memoir I’m sure I’ll end up writing. :)

  38. Under pressure from a close relative, I did several EST-derived LGATs (Large Group Awareness Trainings) in my 20’s. I was pretty good at withstanding pressure to do subsequent seminars, and I didn’t really get many calls afterward.

    I did find that there was a temporary “glow” after each seminar, in which you felt pretty invincible. After a relatively short period of time you would just go back to your normal level of neurosis/screwed-upness.

    Once at a dead-end job I had a coworker try to recruit me for some seminar she did that “changed her life” – the name wasn’t familiar to me. So I googled it, turns out it was just the same old stuff in a new package. When I told her that X happened on day 1, X happened on day 2, etc – she backed off :-)

  39. I did the est seminar back in the mid 80’s, and I guess my experience echos many of those reported above. I guess I learned a few useful things (not so much from what was “taught,” but from seeing the say people reacted to what was going on), but ultimately it was pretty much a non-event.


    I think calling it brainwashing is a bit extreme. Maybe I’m just not very suggestible, but frankly it didn’t seem to have that much “power” to me. Perhaps they tried to brainwash people, but if so, they seemed pretty incompitent at it. At least I felt unaffected. And two of the people in my car-pool group felt the same way, so I know I wasn’t the only one.

    While I found the points that they made pretty self-evident, my guess is that some people would find it useful. Based upon what people have said, though, it would seem to be strongly contraindicated for people who are very suggestible, people with low self-esteem, or who are otherwise “joiners” (I’m definitely not a joiner, and–believe it or not–don’t feel “scars” from my Catholic upbringing, despite the fact that I’m not a Christian now).

  40. This Brainwashing fear mongering is insulting to people who have actually done the course. Hearing a recycled rumour makes you and arm chair pundit? For Pete’s sake! More than a million people have done Landmark and 99.+% got value and moved on. I still reccomend Landmark to people if it comes up in conversation.

    I am a free thinker who loathes the use of fear as a tactic (ala Sarah Palin death panels, Obama not a citizen, gay people want to convert you). This whole brainwashing and I had d friend who did it blah blah puts you in the same camp as the Sarah Palins of the world.

    Since I did the course, I find myself thinking about both sides of issues and appreciating where others are comming from, even when I seriously disagree with them.

    For whatever was annoying about Landmark, it was a postive catalyst for changes in my life. My don’t worry about Landmark and give the hysterical fear mongers a wide birth.

  41. Antinous: So…if ten journalist observe that the sky is blue, is that evidence of prejudice?

    It sure isn’t. It’s just reporting a total non-event. Breaking news! Sky blue!

    Every couple of months there is some media outlet without anything better to write about and they dig up this old cow. And behold, BB-crowd generates 50 comments, divided into three categories:
    2) “It changed my life forever and I want my forum leader’s love child!”
    3) If it helps people, more power to ’em.

    I’m in the third camp but that’s besides the point. My original point was that this is just easy journalism.

  42. Having had personal contact with this company (let’s be frank, it’s very much fundamentally a for-profit company), yes, it’s a form of brainwashing. Not “Manchurian Candidate” brainwashing, rather it’s a mild, but very real form of brainwashing. In the same way that Hollywood has engineered films to make you cry, Landmark has engineered a system to get almost anyone to have the experience of catharsis or “a breakthrough.” They also have brilliantly made their overt product “possibility.” Yep, you pay them to tell you that you can do anything you want.

    It really is astounding to talk with the zealot “volunteers” – in the story of the Emperor wearing no clothes, once its pointed out that the Emperor is naked, everyone fesses up. With these folks, they really can’t/won’t realize that an engineered “catharsis experience” paired with a shotgunning of pop psychology adds up to nothing.

    But the business structure is really amazing. Each office/branch probably runs several thousand individuals through each year at hundreds or thousands of dollars each. At the same time, each branch probably has only 3 to 5 paid employees. Everything else is done by “volunteers”. Genius! (in a sort of evil way, of course.) A few million in gross annual revenue with a payroll of a few hundred thousand, plus a little rent. Ka ching!

    And then there’s the viral marketing…

    It’s totally freakin’ (evil) genius!

  43. @#49 Sheesh. Easy for you to say, Remmelt. I researched the hell out of consumer protection, the Landmark Forum and its corporate ties, in addition to spending like 40 hours of my life in a basement. FWIW, I also find myself mainly in the 3) camp now — problem is, you don’t know before you do it if it will help you or be really, really psychologically/financially harmful. Seems like a hell of a roulette for friends employers like Cafe Gratitude/LuluLemon etc to put their employees/friends thru. –Laura McClure, Mother Jones writer.

  44. Hi Laura! I think it’s great that you’re taking the time to answer my posts.

    I’m not saying you’re a bad journalist, I’m sure you did your research and went in there in good faith and all. Who am I to judge? I’ve not read any of your other stuff.

    And yes, you’re totally right when you say that everyone should do their own research, think about whether this can mean something positive in their life and make an informed decision. Landmark doesn’t really give you time to make that decision, it’s more on the spot, go for it now or the deal is off stuff. Nobody should do this thing because of peer pressure or job security.

    Then again, my point still stands. Along with your piece, there are others with practically the same content, give or take. Since your piece got posted on BB, I was expecting some more insight into the matter, besides the regular stuff. I’m guessing there’s some good in that: BB and by analogy MJ set a high standard.

    See how I totally turned that around and made you feel good about yourself? I should become forum leader.

  45. remmelt — sorry, haven’t seen additional (good) pieces you mention. look forward to your links.

  46. Recently, I went to the 4 hour Landmark intro with a friend who had just completed the course. Based on that, I think calling it brainwashing is ridiculous. (Or except in that all formalized education is brainwashing on a certain level.)

    The people I saw had some amazing breakthroughs. There was a guy who never felt like he had a real conversation with his son in 20 years. The Forum helped him to make it happen. With an experience like that, it’s amazing to me that anyone would wonder why people are willing to volunteer for such a company. Keep in mind people volunteer for for-profit companies all the time related to whatever their hobbies or interests happen to be (cars, aquariums, tattoos, roleplaying, sports, etc.). The notion that it is okay to volunteer for more trivial type stuff, but not when things get *real* is ridiculous.

    And that is definitely not to sell Landmark Forums to anyone. I definitely agree with one of the comments on here about that mentioned the shouting style. That was one of the reasons why I didn’t sign up. Though it definitely works for some people.

    Another reason I didn’t sign up is that I think if you spend 40+ hours working on yourself and your relationships, you are pretty likely to have some kind of breakthrough regardless. There are any number of ways you can do this: seeing a psychologist, meditation, exercising, learning, etc. Some are more intensive. Some are more gradual. Some are cheaper. Some are more expensive. Some are more beneficial. Some are less beneficial. I tend to prefer working on myself gradually because I can more fully incorporate the changes into my life. Part of working on yourself is figuring out what works for you on a long term basis as well as what works for you financially.

    For myself, I do a lot of yoga which can also be seen as both brainwashing and cultish too. I am pretty sure that during the first 40 hours of yoga I had at least some kind of breakthrough. Since then I’ve had many more: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, & sexually. Yoga has become a regular part of my lifestyle. I can honestly say that I would volunteer if needed at my for-profit yoga studio because it has changed my life that much. I don’t think makes me “brainwashed”.

  47. I have heard all of his stuff before and I cannot believe how some people go around crying like chicken little about Landmark. While sales I found annoying at times, it is SO not the crazy things that people say. In a way however, it was because of the crazy stuff that people said that I decided to check it out. My ex boyfriend called me when he was doing it to REALLY appologize for cheating on me. (The reason we broke up) I never expected that to happen and now married with a kid, I didn’t really care about something that had happend more than a decade ago when we were in college. I have to admit that I appreciated the gesture and I could tell that it was a catharsis for him to get it off his chest after so many years. He told me about Landmark and I was genuinely curious. I went to the website and checked out the video they have about it and signed up. I told a co-worker that I was doing the course and they got a very grave and concerned look on their face and asked me if I knew that it was a cult. I asked how they knew and they said that they had a friend who did it and said he was brainwashed. When I told her about my ex boyfriends conversation with me, she did not seem impressed. I asked her if she did it and she said that God was all she needed. (She is Christian and pretty right wing about stuff.) I admit I am a bad person to tell not to do something and of course I still did the Forum. I am really glad I did. Not only did I have a chance to clean up some of my past mistakes, (including having a new appreiciation of why that ex-boyfriend did what he did) I got the motivation to finally start my own business. In general, after doing this thing, I am more patient and appreciative of people and less afraid to go for what I want.

    I really reccomend this course. LOL

  48. There was a time in my life when I felt surrounded by estholes. My best friend and his brother, my ex-wife, and my business partner, all four of them took the training within a few months of each other. My best friend was a drunk; his brother was a failing businessman; my partner was a thief; and my ex-wife, as honest and spontaneously generous a person as I have ever known, didn’t have anything else to do at the time. All of them of course soon set out, ponzi-like, to recruit me; but since I had known Werner Earhard in his earlier incarnation as a hustling door-to-door book salesman, I laughed it off.

    Some years later another friend asked me about that time and my assessment of the results. I honestly replied that est seemed to have saved my best friend’s life (he hasn’t had a drink in 30 years), gave his brother’s business efforts a successful boost, made an honest man out of my till-dipping partner, and gave my unspoiled work-of-nature ex-wife something new to talk about.

    That’s the only est story I have. And it’s a benign one. Just don’t get me started on $cientology.

  49. I’m glad to see a few positive comments to offset the number of negative ones – most of which seem to be posted by people who DID NOT ACTUALLY do The Forum.

    I don’t understand why it’s necessary for some people to link The Landmark Forum to Werner Erhard and est in such a derogatory way (‘infamous” etc.). Est was a fantastic learning experience for hundreds of thousands of participants, Werner created an organization that produced so much value that thousands were willing to contribute their time as volunteers, est was accused of being a cult and successfully sued the Cult Awareness Network to stop listing it as such, and the company is clearly a profit-making business, but no one gets anything for registering their friends, so how can it be a ponzi scheme?!

    Apparently, many of you “posters” can’t believe a 40-hour experience can produce so much value for so many people that it has succeeded in attracting participants (without ever advertising) for the past 38 years! For those of you who will unfortunately take some stranger’s blog-word rather than the friends who introduced you to Landmark, why don’t you do some serious research and discover the overwhelmingly large number of positive experiences reported – including by psychologists (and I am one) and other professionals, as well as professional research organizations that have checked it out and marveled at the high percent of participants who report that it was one of the best experiences of their lives!

    In contrast to the outright lies in the above posts: it is not a cult; you can go to the bathroom whenever you want; it is not a ponzi scheme; it is not brainwashing (although some of you could use at least a good rinse); the additional courses offered by Landmark exist because many participants want to continue doing the valuable work they began in The Forum; Landmark has been an employee-owned company for almost 20 years, and while Werner Erhard is still alive, est is not; The Forum is NOT the est training; and the est training itself received overwhelmingly positive reviews, despite the attempts (some of which continue) to discredit it and Werner Erhard.

    1. Is there a name for the fallacy that you can’t comment on the cult unless you’re a member of the cult?

  50. I worked for Werner Erhard in 1970 when he was President of Spencer International, which sold encyclopedias. I was good, so when I told new recruits what the REAL deal was, I was merely lectured by his VPs. I told them “you’re engaging in hiring, advertising and sales fraud” and quit as soon as I’d paid my debts. A few years later the VPs went to jail for just those crimes, but Werner had “plausible deniability” and went on to found EST.

    You can learn from anyone, but the best things and lessons in life are free. Here’s the very bottom of the corrupt guru barrel, right here in “best and brightest” Boulder, the home of the only Buddhist University in the US: Click on “Table of Contents” for chapters on est and lots of other “leaders.”

  51. to #58:
    You don’t have to be a member of a cult to comment on one, as long as you can tell the difference between a cult and an organization that isn’t (for example a legitimate business that offers educational programs).
    “cult” = “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object” – “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister”

  52. “You didn’t go” does not imply you can’t comment. An outside look at how someone who has gone ends up changing is a valuable perspective.

    Similarly, “I went to one” doesn’t guarantee that you’re much ahead of someone who didn’t go. It’s absolutely valuable to hear your experience with it, but to put it in marketing terms, “your experience may vary.” We’re talking about something that depends strongly on the attitude and effectiveness of the individual leading the session, for better or worse. In the hands of a very persuasive speaker, the material and methods may be entirely capable of pushing well into what you would call brainwashing, if you’re comfortable with that term for what any cult does to bring in members.

    Again, I’m still uncertain whether convincing someone via dubious methods to do worthwhile things is morally acceptable.

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