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Charisma was all the rage when I was in college; the Kennedys, the Beatles, Elvis, James Dean, Pope John XXIII. People were drawn to these bigger-than-life individuals who possessed superior talents, ideas, good looks and style. Most people viewed charisma as something you are born with. I felt that way too until I met a very special man who taught me the secret of personal attraction.

The Ol’ Chaplain’s Magic

In the early phases of grad school training, I was assigned a semester long practicum at a state mental hospital located on a large campus in central North Carolina. Within days of arriving to begin my placement, the proctor, in an offhand comment, asked our group if we could keep our eyes open to see what was going on with Chaplain Martin, our campus chaplain. It seems that patients were gathering around the old chaplain each time he walked across campus. I had the impression that treatment staff were concerned and curious about how he was attracting so much attention. I assumed that the hospital staff was concerned that Chaplain Martin was giving tobacco, or snack food to patients as a way to make their day a little brighter, and, perhaps, to bribe them to come to his services. This would have been frowned on by the medical staff. In any event, my group agreed to pay attention when we saw the Chaplain out and about on campus.

A few days later I happened to see the Rev. Martin trudging across the campus carrying his old leather briefcase stuffed with papers and books. He was the epitome of the middle-aged underpaid state employee sporting an open neck crumpled dress shirt, baggy pants and old Hush Puppy shoes. Not what you would call a striking figure. He did little to call attention to himself. But, sure enough, as he made his way across the campus, almost every patient on the grounds approached him. Our proctor was right. Something was going on. I introduced myself as one of the new practicum students and walked with him to see what was happening. He seemed comfortable with having me along. As we walked, patients continued to approach. He would pause and engage each one. He did not give patients anything. There were no little bags of tobacco or sweets. Just a brief exchange, and it was over. He went on, only to be approached by another patient, until he reached his destination.

Missing It

A week or two passed before our instructor brought up the subject of Chaplain Martin’s patient interactions. None of us had a solid impression. All that we could report was that the Chaplain was approached by lots of patients when he was moving around campus. He would stop each time, greet each person by name or nickname, and ask about their day or some subject they had been talking about the day before. For the few moments they were together they focused on each other. They would part with a touch or a warm smile and move on.

At the time, I we concluded that there were no concerns that the chaplain was reinforcing psychotic delusions or dispensing contraband. In fact, his daily contacts seemed to be positive. We were encouraged to continue watching the Chaplain.

My Ahah Moment

I have a pretty thick skull. It took months to realize that my hospital instructor was in cahoots with Chaplain Martin. He and the chaplain were setting us up to discover the difference between caring for people, versus caring for patients. We were totally focused on mastering the long psych test batteries, the case staffing presentations, and treatment planning. These skills were essential. But making a positive difference required something else. To make a real difference, we would need to connect with patients as people versus patient/doctor.

Chaplain Martin’s charisma was real. He was not the striking figure of a Machelle Obama, a Ronald Reagan, or a Bruce Springsteen. But he was a compelling figure in the lives of those he ministered to at the hospital, and for anyone else fortunate enough to connect with him.

My take away was that regular people like you and me can have charisma too. Whether we are treating a patient, or checking out at the local Kroger store, we have the chance to pause and connect with our fellow human being; it only takes a moment. If you happen to be in the market for some really powerful charisma, check us out at www.ResonanceNC.Com. We would enjoy being along for your journey.

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