By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Get a Life
Personal best: The author of the article "Drive-thru Deliverance" (Amanda Scioscia, October 19) wrote a telling and misleading article on the woes and wonders of the Landmark Forum, most of it out of context. It should be noted that no one can capture the experience in writing.
I am a proud graduate of the Landmark Forum. It truly was a life-changing and healing experience. I understood that the belaboring of enrollment was simply to further their business. And if one looks closely, he will also recognize the premises of most major religions within the teaching. The method of group discussion and being put in a voluntary "pressure situation" to dig deep into one's psyche is incredibly healing to one who is searching for answers.
As holds true in any personal event analysis, whatever one is looking for, he will likely find. Period. If one enters looking to ridicule and condemn, I am sure he will find plenty of fodder. If one enters looking for understanding of a persistent problem, he may discover that as well. That is the whole purpose of the Forum, to help you better understand yourself so you can have a healthy outlook on life and healthy normal relationships that have clear communication.
The article was too one-sided to be printed with a clear conscience. The Forum did help me understand some of my issues, and now I approach them in a healthier way. I took a few other courses and have not been back, not because of any ill will, but because I feel complete with my life. I was not badgered, I was not coerced or pressured. In my perception, they are working for the good. They simply reteach the life principles as Robert Fulghum did: "Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten."
I suggest rewriting the article with both sides represented.
Myself help: I did the Landmark Forum seven years ago. I have an amazing life, and I didn't even have to "sell the farm" to get it. It is not because of Landmark Education or the Landmark Forum. What I learned in those classes -- and, most important, using what I learned -- has played a major part in creating the life I have now. Landmark Education isn't a cult, religion or "scam." The Landmark Forum is a class, and as with any class, if you don't go and you don't do the homework, you're not going to get as much out of it. Amanda Scioscia's article captured her experience and provided all the evidence to back up her point of view. But what about the other 100-plus people who took the class with her? Out of that many people, she could find only one to agree with her? So what kind of results did the others have? Was it a case of not wanting to do the work to find out? Or was it because it didn't fit into her story?
In her article, Ms. Scioscia brings up the question of the long-term effects of doing the Landmark Forum. I am unsure if it is a case of Ms. Scioscia not doing her research or if she decided not to include any of the various independent reports that have been compiled over the years. In fact, the statement "seven out of 10 participants surveyed think the Forum is one of their life's most rewarding experiences" was one of the results from an independent survey done by Yankelovich and Associates. There was a more recent (June 2000) study done by the Talent Foundation (London, England) on the difference doing the Landmark Forum has on people in the workplace. I would have thought that the case study by the Harvard Business School would have been useful to mention also. But then again, maybe not; after all, that would not have fit into the article very well.
My personal experience is that people see what they want to see. For example, I would be more than happy to show Ms. Scioscia the family photos that the staff at the Landmark office have on their desk. I have noticed them for years. Given the type of reporting that was done in this article, I am starting to understand the recent survey that showed reporters being one of the lowest respected professions.
Dangerous minds: I just finished reading your article on the Landmark Forum and found it to be very perceptive and thoughtful as well as being very well-written.
I have an interest in Landmark as a result of having a girlfriend who came out of a two-day course as a completely different and very disturbing person -- but only when she was discussing Landmark with me. In other contexts, she was fine. She had been much involved in earlier years but had taken a long break from attending the courses. Two days back and look out!
I feel perhaps that you were too easy on the question of Landmark being a cult. If one looks at the situation when Werner Erhard was in charge, there certainly was that one controlling figure (who reportedly asked to be treated as "the source") and other criteria. Methinks they doth protest too much.
Your material on thought reform was very well-presented. Brainwashing was my first thought when I met my girlfriend after her weekend. One aspect you missed (or I missed in your article) that is always disturbing to me is the presence of material drawn from a Nazi source, the philosopher Martin Heidegger -- some of which is to my thinking analogous with Nazism.
Name withheld by request
Winner wonderland: I found your story about Landmark Education very interesting. My experience with Landmark is that I did the entire curriculum. The results were great for me. In fact, the way I became in my life as a result of doing Landmark work helped salvage my marriage (which is now at 21 years) and helped me become very close to my children. Landmark never claimed to have done this in my life, but instead gave me a way of making distinctions about who I was being to my wife and children. And they were very accurate.
Your story, although it had some hard facts, had a lot of fiction, or what I would call "things the author made up to make it exciting." I truly hope that someone like myself, who would benefit greatly from taking this work into his life, isn't swayed by your story. There are too many divorces and broken families already. Mine easily could have been one of them.
To sit through three days of the Landmark Forum and come out like you did is evidence of how you probably approach anything that is a new idea, or a different way of doing things. Reporters were highly critical toward Walt Disney for his La La Land approach to having a park where everyone is happy. He also was accused of running a cult.
You have a huge responsibility as a writer. I hope you take on serving the people who read you responsibly.
Brand-new me: I was at the very forum that you attended and frankly I am saddened that, for the sake of negative reporting, you wrote the article that you did. My wife and I had an incredible "transformational" experience, as it appeared many, if not most, of the participants did. Wouldn't a balanced job of reporting include so many of the people who appeared to "get it"? I don't remember you, so I suppose that you didn't participate at a high level, but I still can't believe that you didn't get to look at your own rackets and winning formulas and get something out of it at a personal level. You apparently entered the weekend to "write an exposé" and you followed your script. Congratulations. Have you even thought that perhaps your article will dissuade someone from attending who would otherwise have gotten the freedom from the past that so many of us on that weekend experienced?
Though he states about gays that "I have enjoyed their company and have been enriched by my association with them," his letter is filled with prejudicial rhetoric toward gays. The most blatant example is this statement: "Just as it would not be wise to place an active, recovering or abstaining alcoholic or drug user in charge of a liquor store or a drug store, why would we place an individual who has openly expressed his or her homosexuality in charge of our young and impressionable children?"
This implies that homosexual behavior is a disease! His distorted analogy is the problem with the entire tone and thought process of his letter. Though Mr. Abernethy claims not to "hate gays," he makes his true beliefs known through his characterizations and anecdotes.
The deviant behavior he describes is sexual child abuse, and Mr. Abernethy acknowledged that this is not a phenomenon restricted to gay men. It isn't even more prevalent in the population of gay men as compared to heterosexual men, but it does receive more attention.
Mr. Abernethy's main point was that society cannot trust adults to supervise children of a gender to that toward which they are sexually oriented. We need to "err on the side of safety." He makes the argument that heterosexuals are "sexually conditioned to the opposite sex, so we wisely avoid this situation (supervision of children of the opposite sex) for everyone's mutual protection." I guess he wants to get rid of all the den mothers, too? The point is clearly prejudicial as well as absurd.
It seems that gay people are attracted to Mr. Abernethy from the numerous and ugly examples he was able to provide. Still, there is a larger paradigm. What he expressed, men making advances toward him, pales in comparison to what women have to put up with from aggressive, heterosexual men. Furthermore, if you are a "young designer in New York," some assumptions are going to be made; you shouldn't live in the desert if you are going to complain about the heat. My point: Heterosexual men are much more guilty of perpetrating unwelcome sexual advances toward women than most men will ever experience in their lifetime from any gay men. His argument and perspective here is narrow and irrelevant.
Mr. Abernethy told of a male client hitting on him, a married man with children. I also can give you examples of women flirting with me, knowing that I am a gay man in a committed relationship, and telling me that they can "change my mind." I even heard once upon a time that a heterosexual man propositioned a married woman. Again, this behavior is not endemic to homosexuals and is irrelevant to his argument.
Mr. Abernethy's judgment has been understandably clouded by a horrible incident inflicted upon him by a child molester. The danger, though, is labeling all bad behavior committed by a homosexual as homosexual behavior, when in fact it is bad behavior, incidentally committed by a homosexual. When we characterize gays by including anecdotes that heterosexuals are just as guilty of -- and often more guilty of -- then we unfairly prejudice the argument. And that is precisely what prejudice is: fear, misconception, misrepresentation and ignorance.
Name withheld by request