I mentioned magnanimity in the previous installment of this series, but I wanted to expand on it a little bit. Mostly because I want people to take it seriously, to really understand what it means and why it’s worth adopting as a virtue to strive for, rather than consider it a feel-good, pretty word.
Wikipedia attributed ‘willingness to face danger’, ‘a refusal to be petty’ and ‘actions for noble purposes’ to magnanimity. I added courage, boldness, honour, self-respect and benevolence.
I mentioned WHAT it is and it sounds nice, but I haven’t described yet WHY it’s important. I don’t want to sound like a self-help booklet with rah-rah bullshit that uses pretty words to make you feel better about yourself when nothing really changes at all.
Now of course there’s the concept of “If everyone would hold this value in high esteem and act upon it, the world would be a better place” like with many other values, but there’s something else that I feel is undervalued in today’s society. That thing is being reliable. Magnanimity has connotations of defying fear, protecting/supporting people, not going back on your word, keeping yourself and those around you in high esteem and being an overall badass. I could go in depth about how the importance of this is evolutionary and how a lack of those traits could mean death for you and those around you, countless years ago. What bothers me is that people would disregard this is not relevant to modern day society since we have less to fear from wild animals, we have plenty of food to eat (at least most of those in Western society anyway, take a walk around your average Walmart if you doubt this) and of course we are ‘civilized’ and in possession of a system of laws that protects us from horrific Game-of-Thrones-ish events that could befall us, had we lived a thousand years ago. That train of thought has some unfortunate ramification, nicely described by Jack Donovan:
“Civilization comes at a cost of manliness. It comes at a cost of wildness, of risk, of strife. It comes at a cost of strength, of courage, of mastery. It comes at a cost of honor. Increased civilization exacts a toll of virility, forcing manliness into further redoubts of vicariousness and abstraction.”
The reason that this is something to consider is because even if modern day society does not require aspects of magnanimity to ensure survival of you and your ‘group’, those aspects (or lack thereof) can greatly influence your relationships with people. Being a reliable person is probably the best way to summarize this, but let me give just a few random (modern day) examples of where those traits of magnanimity come into play.
- Everyone looks for a certain sense of safety or homeliness, preferably in other people. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to give this to people, and being strong and able to support people through tough times is a powerful way to achieve this. You cannot do this if you are weak, fearful, selfish and unwilling to protect and aid.
- Boldness is sometimes necessary to get what you want. This could be anything from having the guts to ask out that girl you like, asking for a raise at your job, being a better entrepeneur or making new friends. For people who have some form of social anxiety, this is where the ‘defying fear’ thing comes in as well.
- You want your partner to be reliable, loyalty is important here. You don’t want to come home to find your girlfriend blowing the next door neighbour on your couch.
- One thing that I like about my closer friends is that their word means something. I usually don’t make promises to people, it’s very, very rare that I do. Despite not exactly being a christian, in this case I adhere to part of a Biblical passage from Matthew 5 that I like. “Let your yes be a yes, let your no be a no”. Say it like it is, don’t make promises you’re not sure you can keep, don’t spout all sorts of stuff and then try to nuance it when it comes back to bite you in the ass. Being reliable also means that your word has to mean something.
- Things like honesty, openness and respect go a long way in limiting the amount of gossipping, shit-talking behind someone’s back and outright lying. You know, those stupid things that may spread untrue rumours, damage someone’s reputation, break up friendships and more.
Magnanimity almost feels like an archaic word. Perhaps that is part of the reason why so many people do shitty things and so many people are disappointed with others. Sometimes it’s like we have forgotten a concept that was once an inherent part of strong people that made us a strong species, and replaced it with… With what, really?