The Curse of Charisma: The Dangers of Persuasion by Personality

You need to stop and think about the tapestry of words around you.


One morning last week I was taking some time from my daily work schedule to relax in front of my monstrous, entertaining, and enjoyable big-screen television. As is often my way, I was watching the History Channel. I have an affinity for history and what better place to stoke my passion that to plunk myself into the midst of World War II. I guess if it were not for WWII, there might not be a need for the History Channel.

As a fresh episode was opening, I heard something which led me directly to the computer here in my office. There was a statement targeted to one specific time in history, but it seemed so universal that I felt compelled to share it with you. In the opening episode of a series entitled "Fatal Hitler" I heard a comment which seems to move not only throughout history but can resonant loudly with the nation wherein you and I live during this very day.

Let me paraphrase the words as I heard them. The narrator spoke of that particular show as being a "cautionary tale" about what can happen when a civilized nation falls under the influence of a charismatic leader. The man to whom this comment was targeted is Adolph Hitler. The results of his ability to sway the hearts and minds of people with his legendary rhetoric are still emblazoned in the hearts of a world forever altered by his madness.

Truly his actions are emblematic of the thought that charisma may be viewed as a force for good as well as a force for evil (see also Napoleon as well as Jim Jones and Kool Aid). However, are we not seeing something akin to this 'hero-worship" style of charisma now in a number of cities, towns, counties, and states all around our nation? Heck, why not toss in the nation as a whole. We seem to be searching for some sort of "white knight' racing in on their trusty horse to save us all from the trials and tribulations which seemingly abound today.

So what is your point Harry? Why are you sharing a quotation about one of history's most hated madmen with us? How is it that you can possibly compare that scourge of the world to what is happening in America today. The answer is really quite simple my fiends. I am speaking of a concept and a set of attrubutes, not the individual madman.

Let me suggest that I want to warn you about the fact that when you hear thoughts and words that sound really pleasing to your heart and mind you need to stop and think about the tapestry of words which is being woven around you. Let me suggest that you should not simply rush out and just join the throng which is marching down Main Street in a rush to judgment. Neither should you be the one carrying the burning torch amidst the throng which is marching toward the castle where the monster was made.

Unfortunately, my friends, this sort of rush to judgment nonsense is happening far too often in this age of 24-hour media madness being driven by our cable (and regular) news outlets. Rather discussing then discussing the rational argument, the darlings of the media (both left and right) plug the sensational rant. Rather than study the issues, they push the sound bites. Their distain for all of us is sadly quite evident when they move to pontificate rather than inform: When they lecture rather than discuss. When they tell us in an "oh so condescending" manner how really ignorant they see us to be.

Many times through the years I have wondered just how a civilized nation like Germany could go down the road to death and destruction which they gladly seemed to take. The issue of charisma makes sense as a starting point, however just what did it take to seal the deal with the public as a whole? It might even be that the charismatic leader gave voice to a whole range of subterranean feelings which lie dormant just below society's surface. The point here is that the charismatic person swayed the masses.

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