The Dark Side Of Charisma
Posted by David Tirsch on Nov 1, 2003 - 8:32:00 AM
The American Heritage Dictionary defines "CHARISMA" as "a special personal quality or power of an individual making him capable of influencing or inspiring large numbers of people."
Charisma is extremely powerful. People with charisma know how to say the right thing, use the right mannerisms, and personify the perfect image. Many use these skills to fool you into thinking they are a good person with good intentions. Similar to "The Force" in the Star Wars movies, charisma can be used for good or evil. Whether it is a politician promising you prosperity, your best friend trying to convince you to do something you don't want to do, or even a salesman persuading you to make a purchase, if you aren't careful, you can get trapped in their game.
From Abe Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr., many great men use their charisma to better the world, but there are also those who use their charisma to tear the world apart.
Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the "eternal first lady of Taiwan" died recently. The news showed footage of her: a beautiful well-dressed woman, meeting with dignitaries and U.S. Presidents. She was portrayed as a gregarious woman playing with her grandchildren. Many people who watched this news piece would consider her a great person. Madame Chiang Kai-shek spoke perfect English and during her husband's reign spoke to the U.S. Congress, charming it into helping with her family's Nationalist movement. But in reality she was a leader of the corrupt Nationalist Party that squandered large amounts of aid and gave up power to the Communists in China. Her husband, President Chiang ruled Taiwan with an iron grip, jailing dissidents and opposing democratic reforms that only came after his death. Madame Chiang's detractors call her an evil empress who helped prop up her husband's corrupt, repressive Nationalist Party government. But during this time, the average person would think she was extremely friendly and charismatic. If you met her you would think she was completely charming.
The power of a charismatic person is haunting. There is a story of a man who was wronged by Saddam Hussein. He spent years being promoted inside Saddam's regime waiting for the opportunity to exact revenge on Saddam. One day he was armed with a rifle and in a room alone with Saddam. He aimed the rifle at Saddam but when Saddam looked at him, Saddam's charisma was so powerful, that this man couldn't pull the trigger. The man began to cry. Those tears were his last as Saddam had him killed.
Leni Riefenstahl, known as Adolph Hitler's propoganda filmmaker, describes her first impression of Adolph Hitler: "It seemed as if the earth's surface were spreading out in front of me, like a hemisphere that suddenly splits apart in the middle, spewing out an enormous jet of water, so powerful that it touched the sky and shook the earth," she said. "I felt quite paralyzed."
These are extreme examples, however, charisma is not reserved only for a select few. It is extremely common in people we deal with in our every day lives. I have a close friend who succumbs to charisma whenever she meets a new manager for the first time. She tells me how great they are, only once she gets to know the real people behind the charismatic facade, she ends up hating them! I believe you need to get to know the real person before judging anyone.
In conclusion, people using their charisma for bad purposes never tell their followers their true intentions until it is too late. Watching a politician on televison saying a one-liner that resonates with you doesn't tell you enough about the person to believe in him.
Charisma is as alluring as a drug. It can draw you in and be addictive if you don't watch yourself. Anyone can put on a facade, and people who have powerful charisma have a hypnotic effect on others. David Koresh, Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite (the Leader of the Heavens Gate suicide cult) had amazing charisma and grew huge followings, resulting in horrible consequences. I fear that we give far too much power to charisma. Don't mistake the polished phrases of a politician or the allure of a stranger that seems to understand your problems as anything but manipulation (until you look into their true intentions). We need to be strong, otherwise, well, I don't want to think about the otherwise.
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