She, more than anyone, can get under Trump’s skin.
Whatever his wobbles, Joe Biden has, from the start of his presidential campaign, got one thing exactly right: The 2020 election is a battle for the soul of America. That’s not just a pretty slogan. It’s the stomach-knotting truth — and it’s the frame he should use for choosing his running mate.
It’s why he should pick Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
She’s a paragon of the values that Donald Trump, for all his practice as a performer, can’t even pantomime. She’s best described by words that are musty relics in his venal and vainglorious circle: “sacrifice,” “honor,” “humility.” More than any of the many extraordinary women on Biden’s list of potential vice-presidential nominees, she’s the anti-Trump, the antidote to the ugliness he revels in and the cynicism he stokes.
Americans can feel good — no, wonderful — about voting for a ticket with Duckworth on it. And we’re beyond hungry for that. We’re starving.
That ache transcends all of the other variables that attend Biden’s deliberations as he appraises Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Val Demings and others: race, age, experience, exact position on the spectrum from progressive to moderate.
Duckworth, a former Army lieutenant colonel who lost both of her legs during combat duty in Iraq, is a choice that makes exquisite emotional and moral sense. Largely, but not entirely, because of that, she makes strategic sense, too.
For the uninitiated: Duckworth, 52, is in the fourth year of her first term in the Senate, before which she served two terms in the House. So unlike several of the other vice-presidential contenders, she has ascended to what is conventionally considered the right political altitude for this next step.
But it’s her life story that really makes her stand out. It’s the harrowing chapter in Iraq, yes, but also how she rebounded from it, how she talks about it. It’s her attitude. Her grace.
As my colleague Jennifer Steinhauer explained in a recent profile of Duckworth in The Times, she didn’t just serve in the Army: She became a helicopter pilot, which isn’t a job brimming with women. And as she flew near Baghdad one day in 2004, her Blackhawk was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. The explosion left her near death.
She later received a Purple Heart, but she bristles when she’s called a hero. That designation, she has often said, belongs to her co-pilot, Dan Milberg, and others who carried her from the wreckage and got her to safety.
She put it this way when, as part of a “Note to Self” feature on “CBS This Morning,” she read aloud a letter that she had written to the younger Tammy: “You’ll make it out alive completely because of the grit, sacrifice and outright heroism of others. You haven’t done anything to be worthy of their sacrifices, but these heroes will give you a second chance at life.” She paused there briefly, fighting back tears.
To Steinhauer she said, “I wake up every day thinking, ‘I am never going to make Dan regret saving my life.’” Her subsequent advocacy for veterans, her run for Congress, her election to the Senate: She casts all of it in terms of gratitude and an obligation to give back.
Tell me how Trump campaigns against that. Tell me how he mocks her — which is the only way he knows how to engage with opponents. Or, rather, tell me how he does so without seeming even more obscene than he already does and turning off everyone beyond the cultish segment of the electorate that will never abandon him. Duckworth on the Democratic ticket is like some psy-ops masterstroke, all the more so because it was she who nicknamed Trump “Cadet Bone Spurs.”
I asked her about that on the phone on Thursday, remarking that it was uncharacteristically acerbic of her. “This guy’s a bully,” she said. “And bullies need a taste of their own medicine.”
Warren, too, is terrific at giving Trump that. Her placement on the Democratic ticket might fire up the progressives who regard Biden warily. And she could make an excellent governing partner for him.
But mightn’t Warren also give moderate voters pause? What about her age? She’s 71. Biden’s 77. Can the party of change and modernity, whose last two presidents were both under 50 when first elected, go with an all-septuagenarian ticket?
Governing partners don’t matter if you don’t get to govern. The certain catastrophe of four more years of Trump demands that Biden choose his running mate with November at the front, the back, the top and the bottom of his mind.
Harris also ably prosecutes the case against Trump. But many progressives have issues with her, and the idea that she’d drive high turnout among black voters isn’t supported by her failed bid for the Democratic nomination. She lacked support across the board, including among African-Americans. And in a recent national poll conducted by The Times and Siena College, more than four in five voters — including three in four black voters — said that race shouldn’t be a factor in Biden’s vice-presidential pick.
Duckworth is neither progressive idol nor progressive enemy. That partly reflects a low policy profile that’s among her flaws as a running mate but could actually work to her advantage, making her difficult to pigeonhole and open to interpretation. Trump-weary voters can read into her what they want. And in recent congressional elections, Democrats have had success among swing voters with candidates who are veterans.
Duckworth certainly can’t be dismissed as the same old same old. Her vice-presidential candidacy would be a trailblazing one, emblematic of a more diverse and inclusive America. Born in Bangkok to an American father and a Thai mother, she’d be the first Asian-American and the first woman of color on the presidential ticket of one of our two major parties.
She was the first United States senator to give birth while in office and the first to bring her baby onto the Senate floor. You want relatable? Duckworth has two children under the age of 6. She’s a working mom.
She’s not the product of privilege: In fact her family hit such hard times when she was growing up in Hawaii that at one point she sold flowers by the side of the road. But she went on to get not only a college degree but also a master’s in international affairs.
Cards on the table: I’m not at all sure that running mates matter much on Election Day. There’s ample evidence that they don’t.
But in any given election, they sure as hell might. Biden would be a fool, given the stakes, not to consider his running mate a victory clincher or deal breaker and to choose her accordingly.
Duckworth’s virtues include everything that I’ve mentioned plus this: She projects a combination of confidence and modesty, of toughness and warmth, that’s rare — and that’s a tonic in these toxic times.
I asked her whether she deems Trump a patriot. She said that he wraps himself in the American flag — a flag, she noted, that will someday drape her coffin — for the wrong reasons.
“I would leap into a burning fire to pull that flag to safety, but I will fight to the death for your right to burn it,” she told me. “The most patriotic thing you can do is not necessarily putting on the uniform but speaking truth to power, exercising your First Amendment rights — that’s what created America, right?”
I asked her how it felt to have her name floated as a possible vice-presidential nominee.
“It’s surreal, right?” she said, recalling that she was once “a hungry kid who fainted in class for lack of nutrition. It’s unbelievable I’m even a U.S. senator.”
“But it’s one team, one fight,” she added, referring to the Democratic quest to defeat Trump. “I will work as hard as I can to get Joe Biden elected because the country needs it. It doesn’t matter where I end up on that team.”
Yes, Senator Duckworth, it does. In the right role, you could help guarantee the right outcome.
Confident Pluralism argues that we can and must live together peaceably in spite of deep and sometimes irresolvable differences over politics, religion, sexuality, and other important matters. We can do so in two important ways – by insisting on constitutional commitments that honor and protect difference and by embodying tolerance, humility, and patience in our speech, our collective action (protests, strikes, and boycotts), and our relationships across difference.
Live by the shrill, die by the shrill, Jonah. I like Sullivan, and his writing has many virtues, but as I’m scarcely the first to note, the sense of doubt and fallibilism he’s now advocating as central to conservatism has not always been one of them. When he was a booster for this administration and the Iraq war, Andrew was (in print, if not in person) at least as willing to suppose that people who disagreed were moral dunces at best, a threat to civilization itself at worst. He hasn’t changed styles; he’s changed sides.
As for the main argument of the book, Goldberg has two main beefs. The first is that “evil is rarely defeated by people who are unsure they are right,” which Goldberg takes to mean that a “conservatism of doubt” will be too anemic to combat the enemies of liberal modernity: He mocks the idea of a “serious political movement” founded on the slogan “We’re not sure!” But I think this misapprehends one paradoxical aspect of the relationship between doubt and confidence. I know, for example, that science proceeds haltingly, that its conclusions are always open to revision, and indeed, that many of the scientific beliefs of the past have been either rejected or developed to accommodate new facts. And this is precisely why I can be so confident in the scientific enterprise in the aggregate: Because I know there are scores of intelligent and skeptical researchers constantly testing and refining its conclusions. I can be fanatical in my defense of liberal societies, not because (like Islamists) I’m sure they have discovered the One Best Way of Life, but because they embody a process that allows fallible people to seek continual improvement.
.. Moreover, recall that Hayek’s argument is meant to show why tradition’s evolved rules are likely to produce better results than a wholesale constructivist rationalism. But this argument actually depends on people making use of critical reason, which is quite different. In effect, Jonah wants to say: Look what cultural evolution has produced—great, freeze it! But evolution works because of mutation, variation, and selection, and it’s still going on. A tradition that can’t accommodate that kind of variation is unlikely to stay adaptive for long.
Narcissism has not only become a normalized social condition, it is increasingly being incentivized. The framework of narcissism with the central pillars of lack of empathy, entitlement, grandiosity, superficiality, anger, rage, arrogance, and shallow emotion is a manifestation of pathological insecurity – an insecurity that is experienced at both the individual and societal level. The paradox is that we value these patterns – and venerate them through social media, mainstream media, and consumerism, they represent a fast-track to financial and professional success. These traits are endemic in political, corporate, academic, and media leaders. There are few lives which are not personally touched by narcissists – be it your spouse, partner, parent, child, colleague, boss, friend, sibling, or neighbor. Whether societally or individually, the toxic wave of narcissism, entitlement, and pathological insecurity is harming us all. The enticements of charm, charisma, confidence, and success can draw us in or blind us to the damaging truths of narcissism. The invalidation inherent in these relationships infects those are in them with self-doubt, despair, confusion, anxiety, depression and the chronic feeling of being “not enough,” all of which make it so difficult to step away and set boundaries. The illusion of hope and the fantasy of redemption can result in years of second chances for narcissists, and despondency when change never comes. It’s time for a wake-up call. Health and wellness campaigns preach avoidance of unhealthy foods, sedentary lifestyles, tobacco, drugs, alcohol, but rarely preach avoidance of unhealthy or toxic people. Yet the health benefits of removing toxic people from a life may have a far greater benefit to both physical and psychological health than going to the gym. We need to learn to be better gatekeepers for our minds, bodies, and souls. Instead of habituating to the global shift of validating narcissism and other toxic patterns, it’s time to understand it and take our lives back. Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks, CA and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, where she was named Outstanding Professor in 2012. She is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.
today I am going to talk about the most
overused misunderstood problematic words
of our time a phenomenon a word that is
shaping all of our destinies that word
is narcissism narcissism is a word that
is being used to understand bad behavior
everywhere in national leaders in heads
of state heads of corporations fancy
academic types athletes celebrities we
actually no longer recoil at their
grandiosity their entitlement and their
incivility in fact too many people award
them grudging admiration for their
successes and that grants permission to
everyone to replicate these abusive
patterns of behavior with impunity now
things got confusing when people started
using narcissism as a clinical term it
became a way of medicalizing bad
behavior it’s actually not a diagnostic
term narcissistic personality disorder
is a diagnosis but it’s pretty rare
because these folks don’t show up to be
diagnosed anyhow so narcissism is in
fact a personality pattern it’s a sort
of way of relating to the world it’s an
adjective to describe their style much
like you could describe someone as
agreeable or stubborn or introverted
some of these patterns are valued by
society and others aren’t and the fact
is most people don’t receive being
called narcissistic as a compliment it’s
just however a descriptive term and no
matter how much we turn our noses up at
it paradoxically as a society we reward
it dr. Alan Francis was one of the
architects of the diagnosis of
narcissistic personality disorder and he
argues that we actually give badly
behaved jerks and out when we call it a
diagnosis if a person is a jerk then
they’re a jerk disliking a pattern of
behavior doesn’t make it a mental
illness that so-called jerk has to be
experiencing problems in their lives
and for their narcissism to actually be
considered a diagnosis
so if we were to cobble together all the
various things that make up narcissism
we land on a very uncomfortable summit
narcissism is comprised of certain
pillars as I call them
- lack of empathy
- validation seeking
- hypersensitivity rage and a
- tendency to manipulate and exploit people
it’s confusing because they’re simultaneously
under responsive they tend to be
emotionally aloof cold and distant but
then they’re hyper responsive they have
hair-trigger temper that set off like
that when their fragile egos get
threatened so narcissism however I
believe is synonymous with pathological
insecurity the key to understanding the
narcissist is that they feel constantly
unstable and empty their grandiosity is
actually an immature defense against
these threats to them their sense of
self and they’re desperate for the world
to keep validating them on their good
days they look happy they’re great
they’re grandiose but on the bad days
the facade crumbles quickly and we see
disproportionate rage shame and
vindictiveness I became interested in
narcissism through a couple of different
pathways but the most striking was the
fact that more and more clients were
coming into my office and talking about
relationships in which their partners
treated them with utter disregard
indifference coldness they lacked
empathy they would question their
reality they would lie to them at times
they were unfaithful they were
inconsistent and no matter what they
tried with their partner it didn’t get
better at the same time I started
working with more narcissistic clients
and would you know nothing we tried
really made things better in fact they
just remain difficult people and I don’t
think I’m not bad a therapist so it was
clear that these relationships were
being kept in place simultaneously by
hope and fear hope that someday it would
get better if they kept trying harder
but fear that if they left these
relationships they would be alone
partner or even without a mother and
some of them had the fear that maybe
this is as good as it gets the world has
become more insecure and the reasons for
that are varied galip’s annual global
emotions report said that in 2017 was
the most miserable in about a decade the
report indicated that sadness anger
worry stress and physical pain were more
frequently endorsed last year than in
the ten years prior
now Gallup speculated on a variety of
reasons for this but let’s pitfall for a
minute could it be that this increase in
misery could reflect the increase in
insecurity incivility and tolerance of
narcissism our world supports the
increasing insecurity in our world and
the platforms that capitalize on it such
as consumerism have created optimal
fertile ground for narcissism to
incubate and proliferate when human
value is driven entirely by external
incentives such as success then
qualities such as empathy do not have a
fighting chance because we no longer
value them and they’re no longer
valuable so why do we get pulled into
we’re not flocking to narcissism because
we love emotional coldness or
invalidation or shallow people
we’re drawn in because narcissism is
seductive I call it the three C’s of narcissism
- charisma and
that’s not to say that all charming and
charismatic people are narcissistic
however we do know that these traits are
so seductive that we get drawn in and
they can blind us to the more venomous
characteristics that are unfolding at
the same time such as entitlement
vindictiveness or lack of empathy so
then once a person is in a relationship
and it’s uncomfortable and is painful
why would they stay with a narcissist
all of us are vulnerable to those
narcissistic charms and in fact we may
be rendered even more vulnerable to
sticking around for the abuse by a
narcissist if we originated from family
systems in which the patterns of
narcissism were normalized such as
having a cold authoritarian
distant invalidating or abusive parents
our own insecurities render us
vulnerable and also less able to climb
out when the climate shifts from charm
and charisma to invalidation and abuse
most of us are great at giving second
chances and second chances are in fact
the accelerant for narcissism at all
levels when we are in a narcissistic
relationship we make excuses that’s just
how he is he didn’t really mean that she
means well ah that’s just her culture
and there’s the rub that’s how this
infectious virus of being in any form of
narcissistic relationship whether with
an individual or a family or a company
or a culture can slowly proliferate and
take over most of us issue second
chances with zeal our storytelling in
our culture is immersed in tales of hope
redemption and forgiveness and while
that’s all very healthy in the wrong
hands hope and forgiveness may not
represent an opportunity for growth or
change or restoration but rather
permission to just keep things going as
they are because with narcissists
forgiveness is interpreted as hey let’s
just keep the status quo have we created
a world in which narcissism as a pattern
as a personality is becoming necessary
to succeed in the new world order this
is where we hit a bit of a problematic
divide the very qualities associated
with material success are actually bad
for our health because while these
qualities may be festered and fostered
by our cultures and our schools and our
economies and our societies they are
never going to be good for our close
relationships and that doesn’t just mean
spouses and partners that means parents
children siblings extended family
friends colleagues narcissistic patterns
undercut the core of what’s necessary
for healthy relationships those things
include mutuality respect compassion
patience genuineness honesty and trust
things that are simply not possible with
the system or a person which is
narcissistic and it’s in that intimate
relationship space where we see the most
profound impacts of a narcissist what
did that be a spouse or a partner a
relationship with a narcissist is a
gradual indoctrination you slowly become
inured to their lack of empathy though
Tantrums their rage their insults and
their entitlement their lies and their
challenges to your reality they’re
insulting words slowly become your
self-talk and before you know it your
new mantra becomes I am not enough
anyone who’s had a narcissistic parent
will acknowledge that it shaped the arc
of their lives it instilled an
insecurity in a chronic jousting at
psychological windmills from an early
age narcissistic parents leave a legacy
including an inability to trust your own
instincts to safely enter close
relationships to trust your own
abilities and a lifetime can be spent
trying to gain the notice of the aloof
detached and disconnected parent the
proliferation of narcissism and
leadership in our culture governments
companies and world has made very
difficult workplaces the narcissistic
boss is the insecure tyrant
these are workplaces ruled by fear and
subterfuge abuse and vindictiveness
deceit and slippery ethics and in the
face of the me2 movement the top notes
of narcissism pervaded all of the
stories the entitled and untouchable
tyrant pillaging the workforce and in
most case with almost no consequences
the most painful realization is that
narcissistic patterns are just not that
amenable to change at a minimum for any
change to occur the narcissus has to
recognize the harmful pattern of their
behavior then they have to want to
change it and then they have to put in
the daily work of change there is a
small number of cases where that kind of
happened but under conditions of stress
and frustration the usual issues of Rage
will pop up the rubberband of
personality returns to its usual shape
the small changes that could be made may
not be enough to make a close intimate
relationship sustainable and if somebody
is not willing to recognize that they
need to make changes because they’re
hurting other people there’s little
likelihood they will make a change but
there is a likelihood they will continue
to blame other people the world or you
for their bad behavior so that means
that the only remaining strategies are
to maintain your expectations and set
boundaries not to try to change that
person or waste hope on the possibility
of change but to recognize that this is
how it is and either accept it or slowly
step away from it now this is very
individual and it’s not always possible
if it’s your parents or your child who’s
narcissistic you may not be willing to
sever that tie finances culture children
or love can make walking away from a
marriage or a romantic relationship
seemingly impossible and that’s fine but
managing expectations on this pattern
can protect you from the downstream
effects of this ongoing abuse and allow
you to construct a more realistic
reality sadly most of us put 90 percent
of our hearts minds and souls into our
most dysfunctional unhealthy
invalidating relationships and save the
little bit that’s left for the people
who are good and kind to us it’s time we
flip this skewed calculus and start
giving the best of ourselves to our
healthy and reciprocal relationships and
really only give the bare minimum to the
relationships that really aren’t helping
us grow perhaps that’s a healthier way
of negotiating these treacherous waters
of narcissism without losing ourselves
in the depths of self-doubt and
self-criticism now this can be extended
to our thinking about the world at large
it can be small fixes such as turning
off the polarizing discourses we hear
and learning to measure our self-worth
and the worth of others with new metrics
- and empathy
we can learn to
tend to our own gardens and not get
pulled into hostile interactions that
benefit no one so this begs a question
can there be happy endings or
tagging istic personalities and cultures
are concerned I actually think there can
be the greatest challenge about happy
endings in real life is that they rarely
look like the ones we crafted when we’re
young and it’s easy to get stuck in our
own old narratives people who come from
narcissistic families may feel as though
they missed out on having a parent who
is an ally or a supporter even as they
go into adulthood people who married
narcissistic partners may find
themselves mired in a nightmare of
emotional abuse or simply finding that
they’re actually alone despite being
married few people write stories of
their lives that build in disappointment
I have found that survivors of all kinds
of narcissistic and antagonistic
relationships actually can and do have
happy endings they just don’t look like
they thought all of us are bigger than
this epidemic of narcissism any of us
can change that you are not enough
narrative that still resonates we can
repair it ourselves we can look at the
entitled shenanigans of people who
shriek don’t you know who I am and
realize that you don’t give a damn about
who they are where there are scars
beautiful things actually can spring
khalil gibran writes out of suffering
have emerged the strongest Souls the
most massive characters are seared with
scars yes the world is in fact becoming
more narcissistic and insecure
don’t let the global epidemic of
incivility infect you inoculate yourself
find your communities find common ground
with other people instead of living in
polarization practice kindness and
empathy even when other people are not
choose your friends and your romances
with care every life story can be a
miracle or a tragedy it just depends on
how you write it
these days with the world in such
disarray anyone who is surviving with
their empathy unbroken their hearts
sound their integrity in place and
sense of humor intact is nothing short
of dauntless pushing back on narcissism
is a human rights issue all of us need
to stop giving permission to narcissism
and narcissists and start taking our
lives our souls and our world back thank you
With the U.S. economy strong and stocks near record levels, retirees’ and workers’ confidence in having enough money for retirement have risen over the past year to all-time highs, according to a long-running survey released Tuesday.
According to the annual report by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute, 82% of polled retirees are optimistic about their ability to live comfortably in retirement, up from 75% last year. The figure closely matches the levels recorded in 2005 and 2017 and is the highest since the survey started in 1990... Mr. Copeland said the strong economy is likely responsible for this year’s optimistic results.“Typically, as the economy improves and workers become more confident in their current situation, it spills over to their confidence” about retirement, he said. In addition, he added, in a strong economy, many people are able to save more and take steps to plan for retirement, which also boost confidence.
We overestimate and underestimate our abilities in weird ways.
First, people tend to be overconfident on skills that reflect one’s underlying personality or character. This helps explain why people overestimated how they compare with others in their ethics, their reliability as a friend and their value as a human being.
.. And since many people feel pressure to conform to gender norms, this may help us understand why men and women tend to be particularly overconfident on different tasks. Across the 100 skills tested, men are a bit more overconfident overall in how they compared themselves with members of their gender. But men’s overconfidence is particularly noticeable in stereotypically male tasks. Men think they can best the majority of other men in poker, fixing a chair and understanding science. Women are far less confident that they can outperform other women in these tasks.
In contrast, women think they are better than most other women in understanding other people’s feelings, cooking a delicious meal and child-rearing. Men are less confident that they outrank other men in these tasks... Fun fact: The average man thought he would be better than 63 percent of other men if he had to survive a zombie apocalypse. The average woman thought she would be better than 47 percent of other women at this task... Another factor that predicted overconfidence is how much a person’s skill level at a trait is a matter of opinion. Give people more wiggle room in how they can define the skill, and they will tend to rate themselves higher. People were slightly more overconfident in how they ranked their intelligence (somewhat subjective) than their performance on an IQ test (seemingly more objective.)
Next, the researchers found that people tend to be overconfident on tasks that are perceived as easy and underconfident on tasks that are perceived as hard. People overestimate how they compare with others in chopping vegetables (easy) but underestimate where they rank in their ability to recite the alphabet backward (hard).
You can see the effect of difficulty on overconfidence clearly in a series of questions the researchers asked about lifting weights. On average, people thought they could outperform 71 percent of others in lifting 10 pounds; 64 percent in lifting 30 pounds; and 55 percent in lifting 50 pounds.
The final factor that influenced confidence is experience. The more experienced people are at a task, the more people tend to be overconfident. People tend to be overconfident in their skill at making scrambled eggs, which most people have done multiple times, and underconfident in their ability to paint a portrait, which most people have rarely tried.
Doing something often will, of course, tend to increase your skill. But it seems that as people gain experience, their confidence goes up faster than their skill.
One of the implications of this research is that people may systematically underestimate their ability to do really hard things that they have never tried before — a notable exception being men’s rating of their ability to handle a zombie apocalypse.
People are indeed overconfident in their ability to drive. (In our sample, people thought they would outperform 66 percent of others in driving.) But people think they are better than 52 percent of others at driving on ice, something that is more difficult and that they do less frequently. And they think they would be better than only 42 percent of others in driving a racing car, something that is really difficult and that most people never try.
Other difficult, relatively rarely tried activities in which people think they would be worse than most include running marathons, making a billion dollars and saving humanity.
What does this research tell us about human nature?
.. Sure, many people still traipse around deluded that they outshine others in their driving on non-icy roads, vegetable-chopping and cuddling. But when they imagine doing something difficult or something that they haven’t tried before, people tend to be timid and doubtful of their capabilities. When they go outside their comfort zone, people systematically sell themselves short.
It’s hard to quantify charisma, but by any measure Joel Osteen has some pretty impressive stats. Every week, the man some call “The Smiling Preacher,” draws an estimated 43,500 individuals to his Lakewood Church, which he moved into a former professional basketball stadium just off Houston’s Highway 59 in 2005. Osteen’s weekly sermons are beamed across seven networks in the United States and, by some estimates, reach 95 percent of the nation’s households and more than 150 countries.
The 53-year-old pastor, with his boyish good looks, ubiquitous incisors, and his impeccably coiffed mane of wavy, brown locks, oversees a budget estimated at upward of $70 million. He has penned no less than seven best sellers (most derived from his sermons), has amassed a net worth estimated at $40 million, with book sales and related revenue reportedly exceeding $55 million, and lives in a 17,000-square foot, $10.5 million mansion. All of it is built upon the personality—the words, the wisdom, and in no small part the charisma—of the man the congregants of the nation’s largest charismatic church refer to, simply, as “Pastor Joel.”
So, what is it that makes Osteen different from the rest of us? What is the source of his magical magnetism?
Many—including Osteen himself—might attribute his gifts to the favor of a higher power. After all, charisma, wrote the early 20th century German sociologist Max Weber, who gave the word its most widely used modern definition, is a quality that sets an individual “apart from ordinary men,” and causes others to treat him as “endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.”
But there’s a small but growing group of individuals who have another explanation. Using brain-scan technologies and modern statistical techniques, a band of committed academics in recent years have set out to decipher that mysterious quality from which legendary leadership is born. And some have reached what a previous generation of observers might have considered a dubious conclusion: That it’s possible not just to reverse-engineer charisma, but that it’s something, at least in part, we might learn to master.
“Charismatic tactics can be taught, and the more charismatic leadership tactics used, the more individuals will be seen as leader-like by others,” says John Antonakis, a professor of Organizational Behavior, and Director of the Ph.D. program in management at the University of Lausanne. (Read the Nautilus feature about how we create charismatic leaders and the dangerous consequences of their power.)
By studying well-known charismatics and replicating their actions in the lab, Antonakis has identified a series of what he calls Charismatic Leadership Tactics (CLTs), which range from the use of metaphors and storytelling, to nonverbal methods of communication like open posture and animated gestures at key moments.
t the request of Nautilus, Antonakis assigned a doctoral student, Benjamin Tur, to sit down and code the first 10 minutes of a 2012 sermon by Osteen, “The Power of I Am,” a speech that Oprah Winfrey says changed her life.
The sermon opens with a photographic montage that includes an image of a smiling Osteen, standing with his photogenic family—son, daughter, and wife—autumn leaves cascading joyfully down around them. It moves to snapshots of his son throwing a football, his daughter kissing a puppy dog, and finally lands on Joel standing with his beautiful wife Victoria, her long blonde hair billowing gently in the wind. The screen cuts to a camera slowly moving over a huge multiracial stadium crowd of all shapes and sizes, panning in and resting with the handsome Osteen. That’s when the magic begins.
Osteen is clad in an impeccable Cerulean blue suit, crisp white shirt and purple, paisley tie, and he is at that very moment, extending his arm and open hand outward toward the screen—toward me—toward all of us—beckoning viewers to join him.
“God bless you! It’s a joy to come into your homes,” Osteen says, pointing his index finger E.T.-like at the viewing audience for just a second, flashing a humble smile, then leaning his right shoulder ever so slightly toward the camera, while blinking his long eyelashes rapidly, as if awakening to a bright, glorious morning. “We love you. If you are ever in our area, please stop by and be a part of one of our services! I promise you we’ll make you feel right at home. Thanks so much for tuning in.”
Osteen shambles over to a wooden podium, places a hand gently on its edge, and tells the audience he likes to start with “something funny.”
“I heard about this 92-year-old man,” Osteen begins. “He wasn’t feeling up to par and he went to the doctor for a checkup. A few days later the doctor saw him walking in the park. He had this beautiful young lady by his side and he seemed as happy as can be. The doctor said, ‘Wow you sure are feeling a lot better aren’t you!’ He said, ‘Yes, doctor, I’m just taking your orders. You said, ‘Get a hot mama and be cheerful.’ The doctor said, ‘I didn’t say that, I said ‘You got a heart murmur be careful!’”
With the tone set, Osteen is off, exhorting his followers to hold their Bibles aloft, repeat a prayer, and then launching into an inspirational message.
Right out of the gate, Osteen is using three of Antonakis’ identified tactics: an animated voice, facial expressions, and gestures. All three figure in Osteen’s opening, even before he has launched into his actual sermon. Taken together, the gestures cue the audience that they have arrived on friendly territory, and encourage them to let down their guards. Osteen begins his sermon. “I want to talk to you today about the power of I am,” he says. “What follows these two simple words will determine what kind of life you live. I am blessed. I am strong, I am healthy. Or, I am slow, I am unattractive, I am a terrible mother. The I ams that are coming out of your mouth will bring either success or failure.”
To connect through a verbal message, Antonakis says, a leader must do three things. He must
- “frame” a vision or paint a picture by using metaphor or stories. He must
- express sentiments of the collective. Finally, he must
- deliver it all in an in animated and passionate way. In the minutes that follow, Osteen will continue to do all three.
Of the 12 different CLTs that Antonakis and Tur look for, nine are verbal. They are:
- metaphor and comparison,
- rhetorical question,
- lists and repetitions,
- moral convictions,
- expressing the sentiments of the collective,
- setting high and ambitious goals, and
- creating confidence that goals can be achieved.
Osteen uses on average one charismatic verbal tactic every two sentences. By comparison, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has well over three times as many verbal signaling techniques per sentence—his language is infused with powerful imagery and metaphor. “Osteen’s speech is rather average when it comes to use of verbal signaling techniques,” the academics say.
But Osteen makes up for his relative poverty of verbal CLTs by the way he delivers his sermon. He takes full advantage of the medium of the television, which allows us to watch him up close.
Antonakis and Tur say that Osteen shows an open body posture and uses representative gestures at key moments; for instance, when he says, “I am so old,” he mimics wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. There is also his voice. He displays variation both in term of pitch and speed, slowing down, using pauses or speeding up. “Like MLK, his voice sometimes vibrates in this preacher style,” Antonakis and Tur say. Finally, there is Osteen’s facial expression. “He is smiling constantly and accompanies that by raising his eyebrows, making his face more expressive.”
In conclusion, say Antonakis and Tur, the handsome Osteen “embodies his speech and smiles constantly throughout the talk. This combination of nonverbal behavior makes the speech captivating for the audience.”