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CHARISMA : A dangerous gift

By Trish Patrick in All Sorts

charisma needs to be coupled with integrity, compassion and justice to be a force for good

CHARISMA : A dangerous gift
Charisma is a high value attribute.
Often one hears politicians, royalty, leaders celebrities and evangelists, etc being described admiringly as charismatic. Should any of these individuals lack this characteristic they are likely to be described as 'boring ' and ineffective. Charisma can be considered more important than ability, competence, truth and integrity. Historically leaders and other notables, worthy and unworthy, have been acclaimed as charismatic by the sheer power of their personalities, swaying public opinion for good or ill.
The Oxford Dictionary defines charisma as 'attractiveness, charm'. At the individual level, charismatic people are often extremely popular with their peers, extroverted and frequently the 'leader of the pack'. We might say 'they could charm the birds out of the trees'. I'm reminded of the various evangelists/ministers who have crossed my path over the years. They mostly exhibited charisma to some degree, but some had more charisma than substance and their ministries came to a rather inglorious end.
At the political level charisma can massively influence the success or failure of a politician. Television and social media have amplified the undeniable advantages of the 'charismatic/telegenic' personality. These politicians become highly skilled in using all mediums to greatest advantage and are able to sway public opinion significantly. Charisma becomes problematic when it obscures the 'truth' about a person. Should that person be in a position of trust or power, the fearful, the unsuspecting (at best) or unquestioningly gullible, can be duped into making unwise choices.
Unfortunately, when charisma and demagoguery merge, the potential for political and social mayhem increases dramatically.This often gives rise to the 'cult of personality', usually to the detriment of all except the demagogue and adoring minions who will stop at nothing to advance his cause. Its the dangerous outcome of highly persausive charismatic demagogues intent on amassing power, political and fiscal, over populations who are feeling disenfrachised and fearful of the future.
This is a serious threat to democracy.
Hitler was said to have had considerable charisma. One only need watch a doco of him mesmerizing the crowds with his manic oratory, every one worshipfully spell bound as he spews his hateful rhetoric to his adoring public. We are all too familiar with the horrendous outcome of that 'charismatically' evil demagogue and his diabolical cohort.
Worryingly, there are a number of contemporary examples happening right now.
Used wisely and with integrity, charisma can be an extraordinary asset. We dont have to look too far back in history to find examples. Martin Luther King Junior used his power of persausion and charisma to great effect as did Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. They were flawed individuals (as are we all) but they retained their integrity, authenticity and truth in their struggle for justice and compassion.
They must have understood well that their gift of charisma required a generous amount of self awareness and self reflection, crucial for maintaining integrity, authenticity and groundedness.
Sometimes it's difficult to discern authenticity and integrity when presented with an individual who has highly persuasive charisma. It's only with respectful questioning, fact checking, vigilance and an open mind can we make a wise choice. Even then we may not always get it right, but at least wev'e done due diligence.
I wonder if Jesus had charisma. There must have been something very compelling about him. After all he changed the course of history.
Perhaps it wasn't an expression of charisma that might have impressed in the 21st century. Maybe it was his inherent authenticity, and way of being in the world that appealed. Initially he may have come across as rather intense and a little scary, but the more one questioned and observed him, the more his fundamental honesty and integrity would be revealed.
When Jesus appeared before Pilate as a prisoner stripped of all his rights, his quiet authenticity and authority spoke volumes. Pilate shrank from his presence, wanting no part of him.
We know that personal power and self aggrandisement never interested Jesus. He was interested in power WITH not power over, and it was the power of love rather than political or fiscal power. Not the romantic, sentimental 'governed by hormones' love, (eros, although that's great) it was the verb, agape love. The practical expression of agape love is compassion and justice.... for all, not just the rich and famous. He held a mirror up to the people, reflecting back to them their truth. Not for Jesus the self interested rhetoric of a power hungry charismatic demagogue.
Don't get me wrong, Charisma is wonderful gift used wisely and well. But when it is not it becomes a weapon that, combined with demagoguery, can wreak havoc.
If there is a choice I will settle for goodness, integrity, truth, authenticity, competence and boring, over charisma anytime.
Trish Patrick