Debunking the Charisma Myth

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Charisma can be quite a difficult thing to define with words, and often it is one of those things in life where we feel that we know it when we see it. We look at movie stars, professional athletes, leaders and even some politicians, and say that they are charismatic, perhaps because this is the closest word in our vocabulary to describe what we believe we are looking at in that person. The problem, at least in part, in our labelling someone as charismatic, is that we are only basing our perception on what that individual presents to us. Not really knowing what they are like behind closed doors, or whether their public words or behaviour are in accord with their back stage life, we are susceptible to being fooled or charmed by an act which doesn’t reflect that person’s true character. Lance Armstrong and Rolf Harris are examples of this point, who during the height of their fame were labelled by many others as having charismatic auras. Knowing what we do now about these two individuals, I doubt that charisma is a word that would be used to describe them. So was their charisma ever real in the first place? This is a question that is well worth asking.

If you look at etymological origins of the word ‘charisma’, many meanings centre around the notion of a spiritual gift, or an expression of the divine force or grace within. In essence, what these definitions point to is charisma being demonstrated when we live in alignment with our spirit through the manifestation of our calling. As I stated in my piece on effortless engagement, when we live in alignment with our spirit and manifest our calling, we demonstrate a natural ability to draw others to us, which interestingly is how leadership expert John C. Maxwell defines charisma.

The unfortunate reality of the human condition is that as time has passed, we have minimised and neglected the spiritual foundation of our existence. One of the outcomes of this is that our understandings about life, and the modes of defining what we encounter as we live it, have become distorted. This goes a long way towards explaining our lack of clarity around what charisma is, and when it is being demonstrated by others.

In my experience, we have a propensity to get very confused between charisma and charm. We encounter people who present really well and say all the right things. Perhaps they flatter us or communicate something else to us that we want to hear, and because this makes us feel good we label them as charismatic. Many times we do this ignorantly, without an appreciation of the fact that what is motivating these people’s actions is the prospect of gain or advancement at our expense. This may sound cynical, but I am sure that many of you can appreciate the truth of this from your own experiences.

We live in a dog eat dog world that has been strongly shaped by ego consciousness, and in this environment charmers abound. The good news is that we as a collective are evolving (though you might not believe this if you watch the news on a daily basis), and as we continue to grow in spiritual consciousness, the presence of true charismatics will become more pronounced. I don’t want to make it sound like true charismatics are an endangered species. There are many of them manifesting their callings in the world, often with very little fanfare. This, they don’t mind because living in alignment with their spirit, they implicitly understand that what really matters is the service they render to others, not the attention that they receive from others.

As with many things, the ego is what blocks us from expressing the power of our charismatic true self. Teaching that charisma is externally imparted through the worldly achievement of status or authority, the ego obscures the truth that charisma is not to be found in striving, but in surrender. As Marianne Williamson so beautifully writes:

“Charisma is about letting God’s light shine through us. It’s about a sparkle in people that money can’t buy. It’s an invisible energy with visible effects. To let go, to just love, is not to fade into the wallpaper. Quite the contrary, it’s when we truly become bright. We’re letting our own light shine.”

Each of us is therefore inherently charismatic. I find the potentiality of this statement to be astounding. Just as darkness is eliminated by the presence of light, so is the healing of the world facilitated by our charisma shining forth. We have it within us, so why not make the decision to give each other what we want, and in these troubled times, what we desperately need.

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