by Neva Bodin
Because I belong to the Casper Posse of Westerners, (a local group that promotes interest and researches history on the Old West), I am reading a book recommended by them called With Custer’s Cavalry by Katherine Gibson Fougera, copyright 1940, renewed copyright 1968 by the author. She married a Lieutenant in General George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry and traveled with them. Her sister was also married to a member of that Cavalry. And she knew General Custer and his wife, Elizabeth. I recommend this book. Her writing is superb.
There is much written about Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, occurring in 1876. He apparently had charisma, something many leaders of people—good and bad—have. What is this quality that can lead others to greatness or death?
Merriam-webster.com defines charisma as:
“1: a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader)
2: a special magnetic charm or appeal <the charisma of a popular actor>”
While this is a definition for charisma, what constitutes this magnetic charm or appeal?
Who would not want to have it? Ms. Fougera describes Custer in her book: “…he was so distinctive. Tall, almost boyishly slender, he sat his saddle as though born to it. Golden curls, matching the yellow broadcloth stripes which ran down the sides of his blue trousers and were tucked in at the knees into troop boots, tumbled rebelliously from under a wide-brimmed white felt hat, shading keen, blue eyes that moved with a flash rather than a glance about him. A tawny mustache bordered his mouth. The thin, florid face, though not handsome, was singularly arresting, for it glowed with an expression of combined vitality and recklessness.” (Page 77)
I wonder if people who have charisma have a quality that each of us recognize, subconsciously, and which we would like to emulate? So we follow them. Do we hope to achieve that quality by following them?
How did James Warren Jones, cult leader, inspire possibly 900+ people to commit suicide by cyanide in 1978, killing approximately 300 or so (according to some sources) children? I have listened to part of the tape he made as he explained to the people why they must die. Chilling now, but at the time he sounded so sure and sincere. Described in an article by one of his followers who left the cult prior to the mass suicide, he was passionate and idealistic about his beliefs.
What does that say about our wish to follow others? Are we so insecure that we attach to someone who is secure? Even if, like lemmings, we are following someone to self-destruction?
Heavy thoughts when I really only started out wondering how to make a character in a story charismatic. There are websites instructing how to attain charisma. They list presence, self-confidence, and living with a purpose.
One website cited Marilyn Monroe, demonstrating to a photographer in public how she could be Norma Jean Baker, (her real name) and not noticed, or become Marilyn Monroe simply by striking a pose and cause people to stop and take a second look.
Mary Kay, founder of one of the biggest skin care companies, told those of us known as Independent Beauty Consultants, to make others feel important. Giving others your attention, showing you truly care and focusing on them instead of yourself, attracts people to you.
Charisma, a quality to attain for ourselves, and for our characters. With it, goals can be accomplished.