Charisma in our daily lives

Lim Guohao

What is charisma? It is an imaginary superhuman aura, which was originally derived from the ancient Greek. It was first described as “the gift of grace or favour”. However, according to Rieff (2007), most people now regard charisma as a unique power or ability that celebrities, athletes, or even political leaders are equipped with. Not only that, this unique quality allows charismatic individuals to turn into objects of common attraction or appeal instantly, making people be attracted to them unknowingly.

By looking at the definitions mentioned earlier, they may seem to have a unifying theme. In contrast to this, Weber (1993) noted that, “it is not the presence or absence of charisma that is at issue, but different forms of charisma, or, differently stated, different types of claims to authority” (p.186). Taking Weber’s view into consideration, it is likely that not everyone is charismatic in the same way due to different contributing factors.

Firstly, with regards to the political arena, several political leaders are deemed to be charismatic. For example, America’s ex-president, Bill Clinton, had a flair for storytelling, which turned out to be an advantage for him, especially during the days when he was a governor. Boller (1994) stated that, “he had the gift of the true story teller, he could take the simplest event and, in retelling it, turn it into a saga complete with a plot and a moral, simply just by being himself” (p.383).

To illustrate, take the bombing that happened in 1995 at Oklahoma City as an example. Historically, people would protest against political officials when national crises arise. However, Clinton consoled and offered help to family members of the victims through his charismatic way of storytelling. Clinton assured the people with hope, and provided them with emotional comforts.

Through this, Clinton benefited greatly from the situation and garnered more support from his people. As demonstrated above, Clinton’s charisma can be likened to personal magnetic force that people cannot seem to resist; it was formed mainly with his ability to comfort his people through storytelling, especially during time of crises. However, charisma can appear in many other forms, the charismatic quality in Clinton is just one of the many.

In fact, research has shown that charisma is more of a subjective perception (Dubrin, 2000). Besides developing charisma through strong oratorical skills as observed through Clinton’s case, it can also be formed through extensive media coverage, a platform that provides large public attention. In the media industry, we often witness or experience the effects of the charismatic qualities that celebrities possess. Oprah Winfrey is a good example.Winfrey’sappearance on the television leaves a heartwarming and friendly impression on her viewers and instantly livens the atmosphere. Her power of influence can also be seen through her show’s high and loyal viewership. Winfrey’s talk-show co-host, Behar (2009) pointed out that Winfrey’s charisma “is an ability to make everyone feel like she cares — not just about humanity, but about them. She gives the impression that she knows you personally” (p. 143).

In other words, Winfrey is able to make her supporters gain trust in her easily. Her sincere care for others has developed a unique power to gather support easily. However, though Both Clinton and Winfrey’s charisma was built on the foundation of speech,Winfrey’s charisma was artificially produced by media publicity means, whereas the former was developed through real-life efforts. In short, the charismatic quality of different individual appears to exist in different degrees due to various contextual factors.

At this point, you might be wondering if charisma can only be found in people who are famous? Research has shown that ordinary people like us can possess charisma too. Givena recent study that Knauth (2008) has conducted with regards to religious activities has found out that, “young people hardly participate in each other’s religious gatherings, but if it happens they are most likely to participate in charismatic Christian community.” (p. 333) He further explained that this phenomenon could be due to positive experiences of the religion, or through the influence or persuasion by the charismatic youth leaders. The young leaders are able to assure and convince their peers on Christian ideals, in terms of the shaping of the individual’s moral values and their mindsets towards life.

Not only that, the young leaders are also believed to possess a power in them to make these Christian hopefuls to develop a special devotion for the religion, even before they actually join the Christian community. Thus, it is possible that ordinary people we meet in our daily lives are blessed with charisma too. Though partially motivated by peer pressure, the charismatic quality of these individuals will similarly produce the magnificent impact to others, just like what the celebrities or political leaders do. Furthermore, a rare discovery has shown that patients of Down syndrome were found to have “magnetic personalities that make others feel very comfortable to be around with them” (Ingersole, 2004, ¶ 4), given their positive attitude towards life. Down syndrome patients are always cheerful in their daily lives. They love interacting with people and greet them with warm hugs.

Thus, it is very likely that through these close interactions, a special charismatic trait has been formed in these patients and it will connect people together, without having them realizing. Besides, Smith (2004) also stated human being’s natural ability to sympathize often motivates individuals to get close to the charismatic patients, solely for altruistic purposes. Since charisma can be seen everywhere around us, it is very likely that ordinary people like you and me can possess charisma too.

As the world rapidly changes and social platforms get more advanced and easily available, people are believed to be more motivated to speak up, thus leading to an increasing level of interaction among them. Arising from such situations, we can possibly expect to witness a greater sense of cohesion amongst different social groups due to the different leadership and influence of charismatic individuals who are present in particular groups.