Landmark Forum Review in The Press

A review of The Landmark Forum in the Christchurch newspaper The Press has appeared online, as a reporter went to The Landmark Forum and wrote a story about his experience. Here are some excerpts:

Our Australian seminar leader bounds onto the stage. She says that some of you are here because you want results in your business. Others want personal transformations. But you are all here because someone in your social network loved you enough to give you this gift. And you, in turn, will have the opportunity to pass the gift along to others; those whom you’ll be inviting to share your graduation night next Tuesday.

Now, says Elliott., let’s get into it.

I will answer the question right now. Landmark is not a mind-control cult.

It is a powerful experience. Forget the $625 entry fee; what they get out of it is literally priceless. And for those on the sidelines, the programme must at least be thought-provoking.

There is an ethical issue when it comes to Landmark’s business model – enrolling through social networks. And as the three days progress, I can see that there is an unusual level of discipline demanded. It is expected you will follow schedules; do your homework.

But there are no locked doors or shouting sessions. Elliott is one of those supremely skilful presenters who mixes directness with warmth and humour. It’s needed. There are some damaged individuals here; easy targets who come up to admit their worst.

A mild but anguished man tells how he’s had an affair and a baby is on the way. His children pressed their faces to the window this morning; fearful he may not come back.

Another woman has had a bad year; breast cancer followed by two affairs. Her husband is in the room – A Landmark graduate helping out and supporting her. Elliott says infidelity seems to be a particular problem with Kiwis.

A thickset man in a baseball cap tells how he was raped by an uncle, got into gangs and went to prison for nearly killing someone.

Everyone has a story – even the suits who confess to being bull-headed or lost. No-one is rushed or belittled, their words twisted.

Elliott says the forum is a Socratic dialogue, a proper philosophical inquiry into the meaning of being human – something that few ever stop to do. Then it’s about equipping people with the tools to deal with it.

A cult is where people are trained not to think encouraged to cut themselves off from the regular world, to obey and conform – quite the opposite of what is going on here.

The  reporter, John McCrone, goes on to give his view of what the underlying philosophy is behind The Landmark Forum:

The key insight, one that will be familiar to anyone who’s studied post-modernism, social constructionism or Vygotskian psychology, is that humans are social creatures and our minds are social creations.

Words are like encoding genes for social ideas. Good, bad; right, wrong; friend, enemy; love hate – we use them all to frame our reactions to the world.

And the talk talked, especially when we are growing up, shapes who we think we are. We internalise opinions and attitudes as truths – the truth about ourselves.

Most religions have the same spirit-based model: Go within to rise above.

But Landmark instead applies a Humanist understanding of the human condition. Our essential being lies in our social interactions. Meaning is created and enjoyed in the actions which bind individuals to their cultures. It is not static but negotiated. And consequently, dysfunctional lives need to be fixed not by going inside a person’s head, looking for the broken bit, but by tackling the social sphere where the self really exists.

Over the three days, Elliott leads the group towards this realization. She says we need to distinguish between what happens – the events – and the interpretations we build up around them. She says things do not have to mean anything unless we choose it.

If someone looks at us funny, we make it mean something. Likewise if we are beaten or raped. There’s no denying the concrete event, Elliott agrees. But we need to take responsibility for the interpretations we add.

Because interpretations, once they become fixed truths, also become constraints. Our worlds close in around our ‘issues’ and we’re no longer open to growth.

So our job is to ‘unconceal’ the decisions and attitudes that have been blocking us, to make them visible. Then to let them go. Elliott says we have to put the past in the past and create a “clearing”, in which some more inspiring ambition has the room to develop.

Finally, here are McCrone’s conclusions as they relate to his own personal experience:

It was an invigorating weekend. It was refreshing to be with people willing to open up; speak deeply and demonstrate that the world could be a more creative place with the right tools and commitment. I left with a bounce in my step.

You can read the entire story at Landmark Education Reviews.

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