Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Charisma & Kool-aid

CHARISMA: a : a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader) b : a special magnetic charm or appeal

Charisma is one of those things that people want and fear. Charismatic leaders save our souls and encourage us to be greater than we think we can be; or they entice us to drink poisoned Kool-aid or kill millions innocent people. Definitions include the words "magic" and "charm." People who follow charismatic leaders feel powerless to do otherwise. There is something special, something extraordinary, something a little scary.

I am thinking about charisma because I have been affected by it, and I'd like to know why. Should I seek forgiveness for falling under the spell? Can I ward off charismatic influences in the future? What made me susceptible when others were not?

I am an intelligent, honest person. I don't claim to be a great judge of character because I tolerate most and enjoy being around quite of few people. I can take an irrational dislike to someone, but I often get over it. I can be mean and sarcastic, but I try not to be hurtful. (OK, that doesn't make sense.) I sometimes lead by accident, and I follow if I think the leader is reasonable, but mostly I like to stay out of the way and do what I need to do. So who cares, and what does this have to do with charisma?

I describe myself so you know I'm not a wide-eyed idiot, most of the time. But in this case, I met this person who immediately captured my loyalty and admiration. I became her biggest supporter, even when she crossed people I'd known longer and liked better. Friends told me that she did not have my best interest at heart, but I thought we had the same goal, so I didn't see why it mattered. "When it comes down to it, X will take care of X," a good friend said. I know, I know, but it doesn't matter because we all care about the children.

OK, so then she started spending organization money a little loosely (although never illegally) and I joked that she shouldn't be given a credit card. She laughed and said her husband wouldn't let her have one. And she kept buying stuff that was cool but not necessarily what we needed most. And I didn't go to other board members with my concern, because I thought she would be OK, and the board members were a little hard on her at times. I protected her. How could I expect such a brilliant, free-spirited innovator to worry about such mundane things as money?

I was wrong to let her get away with that. I should have gone to the board or the director, but I didn't. That is my fault. And, when a near crisis occurred, she told the board I was incompetent, among other things. I really can't tell you all she said because she never said them to me or in front of me. I'm not sure how I would defend myself, but I never got the chance. And as far as I am concerned, I am to blame. I am an intelligent adult. I cannot say that I was bewitched and my senses addled. I knew better.

So what have I learned? I don't know. I am still a rotten judge of character. I sometimes look at friends and allies and think, maybe she's lying like X did. Who would tell me? In future business endeavors with friends or strangers, I will insist on checks and balances, accountability.

But I will probably continue to be charmed, continue to drink the Kool-aid. I mean, who can fight the magic?

I am just grateful that the vast majority of people I call friends are honest, kind, caring people. Their strength, love, and faith will help me survive any unfortunate encounters in the future. And maybe, next time, I will listen when a True Friend warns me not to touch the Kool-aid.


Anonymous said...

Join the club! We all were (I being part of the same situation you wrote about) and have been sucked into the black hole of a sweet smile masking malicious intent and personal gain. Those however, go down in flames in due time! Remember, Jim Jones died too! ;)

Oh yeah and stay away from Kool-aid...it's bad for the teeth! Water is for winners!

Anonymous said...

Autobiography in Five Chapters
by Portia Nelson

Chapter One
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the pavement.
I fall in.
I am lost... I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the pavement.
I pretend I don't see it.
I can't believe I'm in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three
I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the pavement.
I see it is there.
I still fall in…. it is a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter Four
I walk down the same street
I see a deep hole in the pavement
I walk round it

Chapter Five
I walk down another street