Letters for August 26 

Readers sound off on our dining reviews and Cafe Gratitude's ties with Landmark Forum.

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As for ever eating at Cafe Gratitude again? I am doubtful.

Ian Elwood, Oakland

P.S. If the East Bay Express is willing to sponsor it, I would attend a Landmark Forum event as an embedded reporter, I can crank out 2,000 furious words in a weekend. Let me know if you want to see my clips.

What's the Real Beef?

I have eaten at the cafe many times and found it to be a very pleasant humane atmosphere promoting contact and conversation between some most unlikely folk. Dialogue actually happens there. How terrible to foster the idea that human beings are interconnected and heaven forbid that they are indeed interdependent!

I know this is about employee-employer relationship but, was not the question posed from the beginning if the employee was up to Landmark? Why didn't she then use her common sense? And ask questions? This is how non-thinking fall-for-anything people end up in cults and then want to be rescued. So what is her real beef? Whine, whine, whine!

It is obvious that she clearly was not empowered to handle herself at this time. Life is not structured to fit us! We must acquire the tools to deal with what ever comes our way or not deal with it. She was challenged and she didn't like it. She was about to get some much-needed help and she blew the benefit. Too bad! Sometimes when we are forced to look in the mirror it is painful because we don't like what we see. Any education would be helpful in this case!

Yvonne D Thomas, Columbia, Maryland

They're Hypocrites

It was with great interest that I read your article on Cafe Gratitude. I have eaten there a number of times, and been put off by their over-eagerness to instill one's dining experience with their philosophy, however well intentioned or right-hearted the philosophy itself may be. Each time I found myself wishing I could just eat my meal and be responsible for my own gratitude, on my own terms, without having to incur the didactic tone of its servers' proddings.

I was completely taken aback when I learned of its ties to the Landmark Forum. I myself am intimately familiar with Landmark's seminars; I am now 26, and I completed their Forum, Advanced Course, and Self Expression & Leadership Program, all by the time I was sixteen. Although the seminars and their concepts do not consciously cross my mind on a regular basis, and though I have not been involved with Landmark for almost ten years, I consider myself to undoubtedly be a different person (for the better) as a result of having integrated their ideas during such formative years of my life.

It is with this personal experience with Landmark's Forum that I approach the Cafe Gratitude issue with such disappointment and, frankly, utter disgust. It is reprehensible to me that their management would display such intolerance and insensitivity toward employees who have expressly indicated that they have no desire to take the Forum, and see the Forum as potentially conflicting with their beliefs. In the end, it matters not what possible insights may be gained or changes made through the partaking of the program. These are completely irrelevant when held up against the innate sovereignty of the individual, their essential right to live their life however they see most fit, and their ability and right to decide to take, or not take, the Forum.

When I think of the Forum, both the virtues it extols and my experiences during and subsequent to participating, there is one quality that most quickly comes to mind, that I feel lies at its core and is perhaps its essence itself: a heightened relatedness with and connectivity amongst others (friends, relatives, colleagues, etc.). I can truly think of no better way to systematically sabotage a sense of relatedness than to force one to do the seminar.

In my opinion, Cafe Gratitude has taken what is often a wonderful and beneficial experience, and not only have they given it a horrible name, but they also clearly missed something crucial, as their actions betray a heart that lies in direct conflict to the concepts they claim or seek to espouse.

Morgan Klein, Berkeley

Your Reader Is Now Annoyed

I was so disappointed to see Sam Levin's Cafe Gratitude article, pushing for the juicy story by exaggerating slander. From what I read, there are a handful of disgruntled employees who don't subscribe to the Cafe Gratitude culture — which, the article makes clear — all employees are made aware of both at the time of their hire and when they are promoted to management. This article was nothing but poor journalism. For instance, in Levin's use of words such as "cryptic" to describe questions that are asked during a clearing, he shows himself to be writing subjectively, inserting his own opinions about this employee practice rather than simply letting a reader make up their own mind. And what better example of trying to squeeze scandal out of a story than the way Levin continually came back to the employees who were disgruntled — again and again — while allowing very little face time for those employees who have really benefitted from a workplace that genuinely wants to invest in them? I have never attended a Landmark Forum, but I've known many people who have, and some describe them positively and others don't. I don't see where Cafe Gratitude asks employees to attend and *agree* with everything — what I recognize is simply that it was made clear that they wanted to create a certain workplace culture, and Landmark was the vehicle they believed to most clearly express/help/promote that culture. Employees aren't required to *agree*, they are just asked to attend. Furthermore, Landmark is not a spiritual or religious group. Abuse of the "religion card" to claim one's civil rights have been violated in order to get out of participating in something they don't want to participate in is ridiculous, and only creates resentment among those who might genuinely have conflicts between workplace and religious practice. And last — what could be wrong with asking an employee about their resistance to a workshop? It sounds like this workshop was out of the employee's comfort zone. If the employee knows that it's part of the culture to attend these workshops, and they have resistance to it, the employer has a right to ask why they might have resistance. Is it possible that they were asked in an effort to help make the workshop experience more comfortable for the employee, to try to help find a compromise so that the employee could attend in a way that felt better to them? Seems like in Levin's search for the juicy drama to write this story, that aspect was overlooked.Let's cut the drama — this could be any institution that requires its employees to subscribe to a certain method of employee training or philosophy. For example, talk to any public school teacher who has been put through the hell of No Child Left Behind — they'll tell you they didn't particularly love those in-service days, but they attended because this was the culture expected of them at their place of work. Many workplaces expect employee training or workshops. Nowhere is it written that employees have to *agree* with the workshop.

I'm not a Gratitude employee, nor am I a raw foodist, nor am I even a vegetarian. I am just someone who believes in the philosophy they are promoting — one of looking more deeply at oneself and the world we live in, and asking what we can enjoy as well what we can give back. Rather than taking the snarky approach of condescension in the pursuit of a scandal, Levin — and Express readers — would be well served to have a more objective profile of a unique Bay Area business.


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