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Gifts

The most enduring and endearing of the gurus have something more than style, something that probably cannot be taught and cannot be learned; it's called charisma. Over-used and misunderstood, charisma means, literally, a gift from the gods. The gift enables some people to inspire other people to take risks—to create innovative software or to strive for SEI Level 5 or to commit to an unproven programming language.

The real charismatics of the world, those impassioned true believers who inspire disciples to follow them into the hills or jail or worse, are probably a different lot. Len Oakes, a Melbourne-based psychologist who has studied the psychology of charisma, says that when you cut through the content to reach the core, the real charismatic gurus are all pretty much alike. The messages may be highly varied, but the personalities have a similar, rock-hard center. Koresh, Jouret, Rajneesh, Hubbard—such charismatic leaders share, among other things, a common defect: an impervious and self-centered view of reality that can convey to others a sense of absolute, ultimate, and inviolable certainty. In a world where ambivalence and ambiguity are what it is all about, certainty can be a heady elixir. Alas, certainty of this magnitude rests in a self-constructed reality disconnected from the real world, sustained at the cost of continuous struggle to close out new ideas or new data or new arguments that might challenge the absolute verities of personal truth.


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