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Views to Ponder: Ever heard of magnanimity?


“How we treat people defines humanity.” – Eliot Peper


Although Ramon Magsaysay Jr. failed in his bid to return to the Senate after an absence of six years (he had previously served two consecutive terms that ran from 1995 to 2007), he showed what a real statesman is.

“I congratulate the 12 men and women in whom our countrymen have placed their trust as senators of the republic. I wish them well as they take on their role as servant leaders,” said Magsaysay in a statement. “I have high hopes that each of them will adhere to the highest standards of integrity, accountability and public service, which their critical office demands and the Filipino people deserve.”

Instead of showing defiance in losing the May 13 senatorial election, Magsaysay displayed what a victorious person should do: magnanimity. “I did not lose, rather we gained from the opportunity to do what we thought was good for our country,” he said.

“I sincerely thank everyone who helped in my campaign, whose faith, dynamism and generosity sustained me every step of the way,” he added. “It is God’s will that I remain in private life, but I will continue to serve our country and people even as an ordinary citizen.”

Magnanimity comes from the Latin roots magn, which means “great,” and anima, meaning “soul.” The virtue of being great of mind and heart, magnanimity encompasses, usually, a refusal to be petty, a willingness to face danger, and actions for noble purposes.

Magnanimity’s antithesis is pusillanimity (the vice of being timid and cowardly and thus not living up to one’s full potential). Both terms, however, were coined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who called magnanimity “the crowning virtue.”

In Tagalog, magnanimity can be translated as kadakilaan or kagandahang-loob.

Ancient Greek philosopher Democritus, known in antiquity as the “laughing philosopher” because of his emphasis on the value of “cheerfulness,” explained that “magnanimity consists in enduring tactlessness with mildness.”

As an adjective, the concept is expressed as “magnanimous,” that is, “He is a magnanimous person.”

“What does magnanimity look like applied to daily life?” asked C. Joybell C. “How can you be magnanimous every day? Well, it looks like resisting the urge to take offense in other people’s lives and in their words or actions (people are not fashioned for your feelings); it looks like not having to launch an emotional reaction (you are not just a tall toddler with inferiority issues); it looks like letting people go more easily that they thought you could (you have time for ore important things other than their tactics). It looks like treading lightly but thundering gently. That’s magnanimous.”

If you are still at loss as to what magnanimity means, here is a story taken from Ours is the Faith by Walter D. Cavert to prove our point. It’s an anecdote on the life of Peter Miller, a pastor of a little Baptist church in Ephrata, Philadelphia, during the American Revolution. 

Miller was well-liked by the people – except for one person who scorned all religion and opposed the church on every issue. No friend of the American Colonial cause, this man had been arrested for treason and sentenced to die.

What happened next was magnanimity in action. Cavert wrote: “The minister walked 60 miles to plead with George Washington for the man’s pardon. Regretfully, the general shook his head. ‘I’m sorry, but I cannot grant your request to spare your friend.’

“Quietly, Miller replied, ‘My friend? He is my worst enemy.’ 

“Amazed, Washington exclaimed: ‘What! You have walked all this distance to save an enemy? Then how can I do other than pardon him!’”

Magnanimity, contends British novelist C.P. Snow, is a “major virtue which at any level sweetens life, and at the highest glorifies it.” 

American pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick points out, “No man ever saved anybody, or served any cause, or left any enduring impression, who was not willing to forget indignities, bear no grudges. The world’s saviors have all, in one way or another, loved their enemies and done them good.”

One form of magnanimity is the generosity of the victor to the defeated. Take the case of John D. Rockefeller, who was known for his amazing business success in the United States. He had also a greater reputation among those who knew him well “as a man who was understanding.” He had a sincere appreciation for other people and was willing to accept failure if an honest attempt had been made at success.

When one of his partners, Edward T. Bedford, failed in a business venture, which cost Rockefeller’s company a million dollars, Rockefeller responded with a statement that has become classic in business lore. 

Rockefeller didn’t criticize Bedford because he knew he had done his best. He called Bedford to his office. “I think it is honorable that you were able to salvage 60% of the money you invested in the South American venture,” he reportedly told him. “That’s not bad; in fact, it’s splendid. We don’t always do as well as that upstairs.”

That elevation or dignity of soul, which makes him delight in acts of benevolence, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease and interest for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects. That is how Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the American Language defines magnanimity. 

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