The Lure of the Elusive

Since films started projecting a visual representation of how others saw life and the people who lived in it, we began receiving messages about what is alluring and attractive. The original “It” girl was Clara Bow. She personified the carefree, spirited, self-assured, and happy independence of the newly liberated American woman. Her appeal wasn’t about being darkly mysterious or aristocratically posh but about being comfortable with who she was. She sported the flapper’s short hair and short dresses and confidently strode out and grasped life with all her might. She was the archetypal 1920s modern woman.

Her male counterpart, the masculine “It” of the 1920s, was probably Douglas Fairbanks: the swashbuckling hero with debonair charm and casual ease around the opposite sex. For some it may have been the more dark and dangerous romantic hero in the form of Rudolph Valentino. Each decade since then selects new “It” men and women as models for our emulation. Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley of the ’50s and ’60s; Twiggy and Travolta of the ’70s and ’80s.

Elinor Glyn, the famous British novelist who wrote the book and screenplay, It, stated, “It can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.” The peculiar aspect of this mysterious presence named “It” is that the unnameable quality it represents is captured by an impersonal pronoun that can be used to designate anything, a sort of universal stand-in for a multitude of possibilities in the English language. As if that weren’t enough, in an attempt to describe “It,” we also use an equally enigmatic range of phrases, like the “X-factor.”

Nowadays, we have competitions that are all about sourcing and exploiting that unfathomable “It.” Originally the X-factor was meant to mean an unknown quantity or quality. Since the emergence of the talent show, it has come to mean a “noteworthy talent.” Contestants are judged as having (or not having, as the case might be) an “X-factor,” which is equivalent to possessing a certain je ne sais quoi; another phrase that just shows that we can’t put this intangible “It” essence into words.

These physical creations from talent shows and the silver screen images become emblems of our times and are marketed to us as a representation of what we should desire or strive to reveal in our own personalities. They are a human symbol of the zeitgeist of our times. These It people have a momentary radiance that illuminates what our words can’t say.

At the start of my teaching career, I taught English at a Jewish day school. I taught a lot of Shakespeare and a considerable volume of Victorian poetry. Both these categories of literature make a lot of reference to God, and in particular a Christian version of God. In the students’ essays and assignments, I noticed a lot of them would write the word God with the “o” missing: G_d. It confounded me, and initially, I used to put a question mark in red pen above the word.

Then one day, a student told me that the reason for this omission was because, as humans, we could not, and should not, try to contain the essence of God in just a few letters. YHWH is the Hebrew name for God, but Lord, Elohim, Adonai, HaShem are some of the words used to say God in the Jewish faith. These are more virtues demonstrated by God, like Mercy and Sovereignty, rather than the actual name of God. As rich and diverse as the English language is, you can’t name a thing that is ineffable.

Hindus have a similar response to Krishna, with 108 different names for Lord Krishna. Nothing can quite capture the name of God and all Its permutations. This idea of trying to express the inexpressible is a very beautiful way to denote a humble, human regard for powers far greater than us that may be at work in all our lives.

When I took my English teaching skills abroad, working in Thailand, every lesson started with the traditional Añjali Mudrā greeting of reverence. The class would pitch their hands in front of their faces as if in prayer and sing out their greeting and I in return would also bow my head and bring my hands together to greet my students. How beautiful it must be to be raised in a culture where you are taught from birth to honour the spark of godlike energy that exists in all your fellow humans. Whilst I am pretty sure this could become a mundane habit, akin to handshaking, there must remain a sense of awe that the people around you carry within them an unnameable essence that is worthy of recognition. When you greet with your namaste, you are actually saying, “I bow to the divine in you.”

There is a mystery surrounding the nature of a deity. Equally there is a something unknowable about the source of our potential and why some of us shine as personifications of “It” or the X-factor. This mysterious X-factor that is identified in some is actually in everyone. X can denote any unknown or unspecified thing, like in algebra. It’s pretty versatile for one little letter; like “it” is pretty comprehensive for defining anything from  confidence, mesmerising presence, or magnetic sex appeal. We just can’t conclusively know what X represents. It’s indescribable. But it is present in every single living being.

Whilst we may not always project our individual X-factors into the world and our lives may feel like no one notices the depths of magnificence that percolate within us, it is always there—a divine presence that designates your particular brand of potential for the world. Whether as a teacher, coach, or business leader, I know that when someone reveals his or her X-factor to me (and to themselves), a vital bolt of energy is released into the world. It changes that person, and it changes my experience of him or her.

When these moments happen, I know something magnanimous has occurred. I can’t quite say what it is—there is no word or words for it. It’s ineffable—I know I am taken to some higher form of consciousness in the world. When someone reveals to me his or her X-factor, I call these moments “touching G_d.”




Examine how you think about this mysterious quality we refer to as the X-factor:


  • How aware are you of your X-factor?


  • How does your X-factor make itself known to you and others?


  • What occurs for you when you bear witness to the X-factor in others?


  • Whilst you may not always greet people with the traditional Añjali Mudrā greeting, how do you respect the divine in others?


  • How do you take care of the divine in you?

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