I am Greta: the person behind the protests

True self: Thunberg says her Asperger syndrome allows her to “see through the static”. © AP

Is authenticity the secret of charisma? A Swedish teenager became an overnight sensation after launching a lone climate protest. Now, a new film sheds light on her extraordinary popularity.

In the middle of the mighty Atlantic Ocean, the sky is beginning to darken. Hundreds of miles from the shore, a single boat is battling against the towering waves.

Inside, Greta Thunberg starts to sob: “It’s too much for me.”

This is a scene from “I am Greta”, a new documentary following the remarkable story of the teenage climate activist.

In 2018 a 15-year-old girl made the local news by sitting outside the country’s parliament with a homemade sign and a simple message: “Skolstrejk för klimatet”.

A year later, Greta Thunberg was leading four million people in 150 countries for the Global Climate Strike.

She had transformed from unknown schoolgirl to global superstar, leaving many wondering: what is so special about Greta Thunberg?

Thunberg believes that Asperger syndrome plays a major part in her success. “I don’t fall for lies as easily as regular people,” she told the BBC last year.

The new documentary casts a light on her authenticity: she is not driven by fame or popularity but because she feels she has no choice.

Greta has even faced the ire of world leaders with apparent ease: the Brazilian president Jair Bolsanaro called her a “brat”. Donald Trump suggested she had anger management issues.

Is authenticity the secret of charisma?

Behind the scenes

No, say some. Charisma is based on self-belief, not authenticity. In today’s celebrity culture, many of the people we admire are not that genuine at all. Most celebrities present a highly curated image of themselves in the press or on social media, rather than their “real” or authentic selves.

Yes, say others. It is Greta’s willingness to expose her vulnerabilities and tell the truth that makes her so powerful. The old idea of charisma, especially in politics, is based on smooth charm – but many now prefer brutal honesty.

You Decide

  1. Do you always follow your moral convictions, even if doing so inconveniences you?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are attending a climate change protest. Design your own placard to take with you.

Some People Say...

“In such a big crisis like this one, we need people that think outside the box and who aren’t like everyone else.”

Greta Thunberg, Swedish climate activist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that what society considers to be real and authentic has changed considerably over time. Freud argued that human behaviour is driven by desires and fears locked in the “unconscious” and that it is only civilisation and psychoanalysis that control our authentic selves. But 18th-century philosopher Rousseau believed authenticity was our blissful state in nature, before society corrupted us.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate among scholars is whether or not it is possible to be “authentic” at all. “To thine own self be true,” says Polonius in the classic Shakespeare play Hamlet. But not everybody agrees with the idea that a “true, authentic self” lies underneath their outer socialised persona. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote that he “had no true self”, but that his self was “an empty palace of mirrors”.

Word Watch

Skolstrejk för klimatet
Meaning “School strike for climate,” watchword for an international movement of children who skip school on Fridays to protest about climate change.
Ire
Anger. Thunberg has been attacked by politicians and media figures. The American television network Fox News was forced to apologise after a guest called her a “mentally ill Swedish child.”
Asperger syndrome
Now considered part of the autism spectrum, Asperger syndrome is named after Austrian doctor Hans Asperger, who described some of its characteristics. They include difficulties with social interaction and nonverbal communication.

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