Albert Einstein said: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” That is a wonderful quote about wisdom – well, magnanimity to be exact. Magnanimity is from the Latin magnus and animus, meaning “great spirit.” It’s a wonderful value that gets at high-mindedness, points to real class, and denotes a generosity of the heart. Compassion, empathy, and love undergird this phenomenon. Other similar and related virtues similar are grace, nobility, honor, chivalry, greatness, and magnificence. There are few values that reach as high and deserve as much respect as magnanimity, altruism, and kindness.
You know it when you see it, and it engenders a significant or even profound sense of respect, admiration, or, at its highest, awe. It can be a big deal – a noble sacrifice – or it can be small, cumulative acts that result in a wonderful and prosocial lifestyle, as Jan Phillips indicates: “Let us not wait for the heroic, conspicuous gestures, but rather look more carefully for those small, daily kindnesses, those rituals of bonding and sharing that show us as people revering life, revering each other.”
This spectacular virtue is what is at work when a European accepts Jews into their home and hides them from the Nazis, or when one forgives a grave injustice. It’s the august Bernie Sanders ceding the nomination to a dubious candidate despite serious questions about legitimacy. Imagine an honorable spelling bee champ who admits that, despite what the judges heard, he did not, in fact, deserve the title because he spelled the word wrong (which really happened!). Helen Keller exemplified many rarefied virtues, but certainly magnanimity was among them. Nelson Mandela undoubtedly acted with great wisdom, forgiveness, and kindness many, many times throughout his life (read about him here).
It is often characterized by spirituality or deep religiosity, as this page indicates, but it needn’t be so. Jesus of Nazareth is credited by many as possessing virtue and specialness far beyond most mortals. Certainly, against the backdrop of the Roman Empire, his reputed acts of charity, love, and generosity shone like a star against the black sky. As Edward P. Sri put it: “Magnanimity is often lived — in quiet, simple ways off the radar screen of most of the world. The person who daily endeavors to be a better spouse, parent, friend, or child of God is truly seeking ‘greatness of soul.’ Indeed, the magnanimous person continuously strives to perfect the virtues in all areas of his life. He is not content with simply being good. He reaches out toward excellence.”
In a more secular vein, Kearns Goodwin and Mark C. Crowley speak of Abraham Lincoln in revered tones: “While Lincoln had a fierce personal ambition, he also had ‘the rare wisdom of temperament that consistently displayed magnanimity toward those that opposed him.’ He took great pains to re-establish rapport with the men who defeated him in early political races, and famously made a ‘team of rivals’ by appointing to his Cabinet the three men he defeated for the Republican Presidential nomination.” Essentially, the secular vision of this value can be made clear by noting that the unique author and austere individualist Ayn Rand may have been pioneering, triumphant, or ingenious, but she was not magnanimous (based on what I know of her). It’s more about what you do for others, what you sacrifice, what you exemplify than what you create, win, or envision. View the entire article here.
What Einstein was saying when he spoke of violent opposition to great men/women, I believe, is that people such as Giordano Bruno, Mohandas Gandhi, or Alan Turing faced horrific trials and tribulations as they attempted to do what they thought was right (or in Turing’s case, to simply live a normal life). Those who cannot understand the nobility inherent in some persons’ acts will ignore, refute, disdain, discredit, eschew, or persecute such individuals. Jesus was crucified, and some scientists, artists, and philosophers didn’t receive recognition of their theories or research until after they have died – sometimes centuries later. Their greatness and significance was never extolled and recognized by their contemporary masses (or peers). Saints have to be long-dead before their sacrifices and wondrous acts can be canonized, and the acceptance of scientific theories that were too radical for mainstream acceptance in a prior era has occasionally eluded the disenfranchised thought leaders.
It is lamentable and pathetic that we often can’t accept or honor those leaders, saints, activists, minorities, or sages in our midst. Sometimes we stand awestruck in the presence of such nobility – a person who rushes into a fire to save a victim, or one who quietly (often secretly) accumulates dollar after dollar while living a frugal life, only to leave an astonishing amount of money to charity in their will. Though not unsung heroes in that way, here are examples of high-dollar generosity on the part of some of society’s movers and shakers. One close to my heart is The Westreich Foundation.
I will leave you with some interesting and compelling quotations about kindness, altruism, and magnanimity for your perusal. Note the diversity of the authors, but the similarity of the content. As always, I welcome one to experience the powerful database of quotes in what I call The Wisdom Archive. Let them inspire you, move you, and spur you. As Socrates said, “Let he who would move the world, first move himself.”
Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.
~ Agnes G. Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa)
When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel.
~ Harold Kushner
No person has ever been honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.
~ Calvin Coolidge
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can be great.
~ Mark Twain
As for Jesus being a socialist, I take it back. He was actually a little to the left of that, judging from his instruction to the rich man to sell all that he had and give to the poor.
~ Barbara Ehrenreich
Service… Giving what you don’t have to give. Giving when you don’t need to give. Giving because you want to give.
~ Damien Hess
The men who hold high places must be the ones who start to mold a new reality, closer to the heart…
The blacksmith and the artist reflect it in their art;
They forge their creativity closer to the heart…
~ Neil Peart and Peter Talbot
Hate is not conquered by hate; hate is conquered by love. This is law eternal.
~ Pali Tripitaka
Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.
~ Fred “Mr.” Rogers
Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long must be born a society of which humanity will be proud.
~ Nelson Mandela
There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.
~ Josh Billings
We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility.
~ Rabindranath Tagore
The cure is love. What’s lacking is love. Love warms and softens the hearts of the vicious. Tenderness and affection reclaim the criminal and redeem the damned.
~ Alan Nordstrom
‘You can’t be of help to everybody!’ say the narrow-minded, and help nobody.
~ Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
The most fundamental kind of love, which underlies all types of love, is brotherly love. By this I mean the sense of responsibility, care, respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life. This is the kind of love the Bible speaks of when it says: love thy neighbor as thyself.
~ Erich Fromm
To nourish the soul means to become kinder, more compassionate, wiser, and more loving, often through the making of difficult choices that foster growth rather than safety.
~ Joan Borysenko
Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.
~ Kahli Gibran
Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.
~ Helen Keller
Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe, leaders of the anti-slavery movement, and medical missionaries shared at least one common trait: they were morally inclusive. Their moral concern encircled diverse people. One rescuer even faked a pregnancy on behalf of a pregnant hidden Jew – thus including the soon-to-be-born child within the circle of her own children’s identities (Fogelman, 1994).
~ David G. Meyers and Jean M. Twenge
The spectacle of the Christians loving all men was the most astounding Rome had ever seen.
~ Jane Addams
The day you feel hopeless, horrible, and worse, on that day get out of your room and ask people, “What can I do for you?” That service you have done that day will bring a revolution inside you.
~ Ravi Shankar
Compassion is something you can develop with practice. It involves two things: intention and action. Intention simply means you remember to open your heart to others; you expand what and who matters, from yourself to other people. Action is simply the “what you do about it.”
~ Richard Carlson