Thursday, January 22, 2015

Charisma and Influence

He appeared from between the brick columns startling me. I let out a small squeak. “Oh. I didn’t see you there.”

“I’m sorry to have scared you.” He said in a voice that was trying too hard to pacify me. “I didn’t want to be in the way of the door while I was waiting for you.”

His tone of voice did nothing to pacify me. It was too calm, too assured. I didn’t want him to know that I wasn’t comfortable. I attempted to sound taken in by him. I’m not sure how successful I was because his face remained with its pacifying look. “Oh that makes sense.” I paused and looked in his eyes. The calm look from his face was not in his eyes. His eyes looked hungry. For what I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out either. He remained silently looking at me. Waiting for me to speak again. I didn’t want to speak. I didn’t want to continue our conversation. I looked around me. I saw no one in the parking lot. The street was too far away. The trees surrounding the parking lot ensured that no one in the other buildings could see us. I desperately prayed for someone, anyone to come out the front doors. No one came and the silence stretched on. I had to say something. He was waiting on me to say something. I gave in. I asked the question he had been wanting me to ask. “Why were you waiting on me?”

He smiled. Not a comforting smile of a person enjoying the conversation. This was a smile because he enjoyed the control he had over me. He had always enjoyed controlling people, especially me. “I thought you would never ask.” His tone was light, but there was angry edge to his words. It was waiting just at the tips of his fingers. I had to be careful now. One wrong move and I would be in serious danger. “I just wanted to chat with you. I haven’t seen you in a while. I thought it was time for us to catch up.”

He paused again. He was waiting for me to excuse my silence. Again, I didn’t want to speak. But I could see the anger building in his fingers. He flexed them. He wanted to grab my arm, but he knew now was not the time. I had to give in again. “I’ve been very busy with classes. Lots of research and papers.” I knew the excuse sounded too easy, too convenient. It wasn’t a lie though. He had to know I wasn’t lying. I risked looking into his eyes again. The excuse didn’t work. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear. I had to say something again and quickly. “One of my papers is for psychology. I am trying to discover how persuasion works. Why is one person so good at persuading while others are so bad at it? Why is one person so easily persuaded while others are so difficult?” His fingers stopped flexing. Interest flared in his eyes. He relaxed his shoulders. I had done it. I had turned aside the raging beast at least for the moment.

His steely grip on the conversation melted away. He spoke out of curiosity. He couldn’t predict what I would do next or what I would say next. I could see another emotion creeping into his countenance. It was something I wasn’t used to seeing. I didn’t recognize it at first. It was more than just curiosity. I had seen that before. It was contentment. He was wanted an answer from me because he was curious. He wasn’t demanding an answer to control me. He was waiting for my answer and prepared to converse with me. And he liked it! I was stunned and damn if my heart didn’t do a flip upon seeing this new emotion in him. Sometimes I hate having a heart. It seems to betray me at all the wrong times. I couldn’t deal with that now. I had to capitalize on this curiosity. “I’ve been finding lots of information about the types of persuasion that are given by the charismatic and accepted by the masses. There have been many theories written about the charismatic leaders from various periods of history. I have found as much about Hitler as I have Martin Luther King Jr. That surprised me. I didn’t expect people to see the positives of persuasion. I didn’t really expect it myself.”

“So you have found that a charismatic and persuasive leader can be used for good and for bad?” He asked with a genuine interest in my research. His posture relaxed further as he uncrossed his arms and dropped his hands to his sides.

“Exactly. Now I’m searching for how they decide to use their influence for good or for bad. Looking at the charismatic leaders throughout history, I have found that most have had serious struggles in their lives. Some took those struggles and became good leaders. Some took those struggles and became bad leaders. I don’t understand how some became good and some became bad.” I paused. I was out of words at least words that I knew he would be happy with.


The curiosity and contentment within the conversation was still on his face. I had done well so far. He spoke, “I don’t think the struggle ends when they become leaders. I think the struggle continues. It just looks different. It’s a struggle of personal power and influence or of societal power and influence. Are you looking out for yourself or for the whole of society?” The look on his face was one of deep introspection. He began answering my question, but ended up answering his own question, a question which had been deep inside him for a long time. 

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