Landmark is a popular and profitable program in the US that claims to teach people how to better master themselves and their perceptions of the world. A number of my friends have attended or have considered attending at one point or another. I explain here in an excerpt from a letter to a friend why I don’t think it’s right for me.
I’ve had several friends participate in Landmark. It’s quite expensive and very effective at getting you wrapped up into the program – folks at or just after Landmark are universally pumped – but after the glow rubs off a few weeks later folks seem to feel a bit off. At that point they either don’t go back or they attempt to regain the feeling by throwing themselves back into it headlong.
I wholeheartedly agree with the proposition of trying things out as a generalism, but I shy away from experiences that are engineered to make unlimited quantities of money off of manipulating me emotionally. For one, I don’t have a huge amount of money or time to spend, so I prefer to spend them on adventures that will likely give better bang for the buck, of which there are not a small number. In the same way that I don’t play World of Warcraft because I don’t want to get sucked in, I don’t want to engage things like Scientology or Landmark that could potentially eat up chunks of my time/money/life that I don’t have to spare.
I think I am irked by the notion of vending wisdom.
I had to put that last sentence in a paragraph because I had to think about it for a good long while after writing it about its implications. But yes, I think that if something is Good, it should be freely and openly shareable with the world. And if it’s not, then it is either run by someone who only thinks that those privy to the secret should benefit (Gnosticism, Sectarianism, Elitism), or it is a scam that, if opened to all, would be revealed as such. This is why Scientology has made a very vigorous process of suing the bejeebus out of anybody republishing their texts – you’re supposed to pay vast sums of money
to work your way up to them. Now, you may or may not think Christianity is Good, but at least you can have a solid swing at it pretty easily – it’s pretty simple to get your hands on a free copy of the Bible, online or offline. (Try any hotel room in the US.) And nobody is going to charge you to come listen to a sermon. That’s because the organizations behind it are ostensibly trying to do Good, albeit with arguable levels of success. Most pastors aren’t paid particularly well, but for them, that is not the point. They’re out to help people selflessly because they’ve convinced themselves they’ve figure out how Good works, and the natural next inclination is to want to share it with absolutely everyone. The really irking part about programs like Landmark is that they actually tap directly into this desire to spread that which seem to be Good by pressuring “alumni” to bring their friends to the next meeting.
So when I see people who proclaim they can for a fee teach you how to become rich by any other mechanism than teaching people how to become rich, it seems disingenuous. Case in point is the Rich Dad, Poor Dad guy who made most of his money not on real estate but on selling people the dream that they could make their money on real estate. Likewise, when I see people who claim they have found how to have a better life that is more caring and loving and grounded but they want to charge me for it, that makes me think that they must not have found those things for the person who has found those things would wish to share them freely.
Another way to say this is that I find a worldview that embraces charging large fees to share wisdom not one that is personally compelling. Since the end product isn’t something I’m shooting for, the appeal of the process to get to this end is equally unappealing. So even if someone were, as a very special personal favor, enable me to go to all Landmark or Scientology sessions for free, I would not want to because I don’t want to sign onto or support this kind of philosophy of exclusivity.
If I were a builder and I saw a building that to me seemed very poorly put together as a whole, were the architect who built it to invite me (at some expense) to come learn about how he constructed the building so as to influence my own style of construction, I would not want my style so influenced. Because as tough and as self-sure as even people like you and I may be, those with whom we interact surely influence us. Indeed, this is why we choose friends the way that we do and why you have such a close-knit inner sanctum of friends – not only because you want to deeply care about these people but because you are carefully selecting who you want to be by way of selecting those who influence you. So you pick friends that will help you become who you want to be.
Likewise, I think it’s important to be adventurous but not wonton about our experiences in the same way. It’d be lovely to say we are above being influenced by bad ideas or poor thinking but I know I am not. While it’d be unhelpful to try and live a life without potential bad influence (closeting yourself up in some sort of self-righteous bliss) it might be just as bad an idea on the other end of the spectrum to take in all things evenly and without preference. We only have a finite amount of time on this earth, so we should pursue as vigorously as possible that which seems Excellent to us. And if something seems not likely to lead to Excellence, then it’s not something that is ideal to spend time on.
To reduce it all to something small, I think that if Landmark were a free program put on by a non-profit, I would potentially find it very compelling. But that fact that it is a lucrative endeavor puts the entire thing irreconcilably off for me.