Friday, November 19, 2010

Types of charism: of the mind (Lula) and of the hands (Dilma)

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Brazil has recently experienced two breaks of historic magnitude: it elected a worker president and immediately after, a woman, the daughter of Bulgarian immigrants, a resister to military dictatorship and tested through torture. This is not without meaning. After 503 years without change in power, a period in which the elite dominated in this country, the specific social and political conditions were created to break this continuity. A child of poverty, Lula, burst forth with an overwhelming charisma that changed the Brazilian political scene.

Now a woman, Dilma Vana Rousseff, is succeeding him. First, she is a woman. For those coming from the patriarchal and male-centered culture still dominant in society, and who have not realized the cultural revolution brought about by women for over a century, being a woman means nothing. In the minds of many, what Aristotle taught, what Thomas Aquinas repeated, and what is still enshrined in the Code of Canon Law and in the psychology of Freud, still holds: woman is a man who is half way there and has not yet reached fullness. Therefore, she is only in second place. And here comes a woman who breaks with this bias and shows that she can consciously assume her role as president. She is also a woman who has proved to be courageous in opposing the truculence of those who kidnapped, tortured and killed in the name of the National Security State (read, the Security of Capitalism). A woman who helped build an open democracy, without rancor, without hatred, as seen in the presidential campaign, of low ethical intensity, and who scored brilliantly as administrator in several public offices.

She does not have Lula's kind of charism, which is the charism of the mind, that speaks of things rather than words, that tells the truth directly and gives persuasive speeches. She has the charism of the hands, of doing: correctly, well planned and rigorously carried out. Without losing her tenderness as a woman, she has shown herself to be demanding, as it should be.

There are charisms and charisms. The "charism" category can not be monopolized by one type of charism -- the creative word and the fascination it provokes. There are other types of charisms that do not necessarily come through the spoken word. If so, Chico Buarque de Holanda would not be the undeniably charismatic person he is, since his charism is not achieved through the spoken word, but through the novel, through poetry and brilliantly through music.

Let's explain this concept of charism that goes beyond the meaning given by Max Weber, better. Rare in Greek and Old Testament literature, it was introduced by St. Paul who used it dozens of times in his epistles. Charism is linked to two other realities: the Spirit and the community. The Spirit is understood as the fantasy of God, the divine principle of all creativity and invention. It's the Spirit that raises all kinds of gifts such as intelligence, counsel, consolation of the sick, teaching, ease of speaking, the leadership of a community. Charism does not belong to the realm of the extraordinary, but of ordinary life, like singing, making music and entertaining the community. There is no idle member: "Each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another"(1 Cor 7:7).

The charisms come from the Spirit but are intended for the building and encouragement of the community. They are not for self promotion but for service to others. A definition: Charism is the specific role each one plays within the community for the good of all (1 Cor 12:7; Eph 4:7), a role understood in faith as the action of the Creator Spirit present in the community.

Let's apply this to Dilma's case. Her charism, as defined above, is the operation of the administration, of government, planning a project in Brazil and diligence to do it with a sense of social and ecological justice, of inclusion of the destitute, with public ethics, transparency in decision making and control of procedures. Perhaps it is fitting that the charism of the mind is completed later by that of working hands.

For this charism to be fulfilled, Dilma's will is not enough. The support of society, general good-will and all those working for the good of the people, starting with the least, is required.

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