Magnanimity

The Women's Gold Medalist in Judo this year was also the first American to do so, Kayla Harrison.  She has been incredibly candid about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a coach while in her adolescence and for her to reach beyond that, then to rise to the epitome of the sport, is beyond amazing.  She said in an interview, there were plenty of reasons she could quit, and each time, her coach and others helped keep her looking forward.

I will also admit my bias, but her dream to return home and to pursue a career as a firefighter elevates her even higher in my regard.  And after her win, she didn't bump chests or high-five others, she hugged her opponent, her coach, and then leapt into the crowd to hug her fiance.  There was no taunting.  There was no puffing up and proclaiming that she was the greatest in the history of Judo.

I watched Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee, compete for a trip to the semi-finals in the 400m while running on carbon-fiber prosthetics.  Controversy aside, this man could have packed it in, could have easily said it couldn't be done, and could have without dispute lived a life of feeling sorry for himself, of mediocrity.  When he completed his run, he simply expressed his appreciation for being given a chance and shared that the whole experience of being able to compete was "surreal".

These individuals exemplify magnanimity. Magnanimity literally means "greatly generous"; it describes the virtue of being great of mind and heart.  It was discussed by Aristotle as the "crowning virtue" and infers actions for noble purposes.  Forms of magnanimity include refusing to be petty, of not "rubbing in" a victory, and in being benevolent.  The USA Men's Basketball team?  No, not so much.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Magnanimity makes a man deem himself worthy of great things in consideration of the gifts he holds from God."  Yesterday I used the statement, "Of those with much, much is expected", which was shared by President John F. Kennedy and actually relates to The Parable of the Talents found in the Gospel (Matthew, Chapter 22).  It should go without saying that if you really are the best at what you do, whatever it may be, you have a responsibility to share that "wealth" with others.  This is being magnanimous.  If you are so good at something that you are flawless, you don't have the right to shove that in the face of others.  It likely wasn't the same way in which you received that knowledge or skill.  Someone had to share that information with you, or barring that, at least show you how to find knowledge, such as how to experiment until you got it right. 

Magnanimous individuals are not content with being good.  They constantly strive for quiet greatness.  Again, Aquinas poses that God chooses for us to aspire to greatness and the flaw in those who fail to strive for excellence is that they doubt in the talents God has given us.  To have faith in ourselves is to have faith in the ability God has gifted us with.  Kayla Harrison and Oscar Pistorius, in my opinion, define the term.

God, I'm assuming, would not be pleased with anyone taking advantage of someone who lacks talent, much less rubbing it in their faces. But just for a second, let's understand that if we give you everything you need to succeed, we expect you to succeed.  It's not a cause for celebration when you win a fight with the most powerful weapons in any modern arsenal.  I can appreciate celebration of a win over a worthy adversary.  I was wondering why there weren't any spinning dunks and laughing it up as the Lithuanians took it to the 2012 "Dream" Team.  I'm hoping their near miss will cause them to be a little bit more humble.

While I have been a football coach and I have spent the majority of my life participating in organized sports, I can use combat as a frame of reference when determining strategy without believing for a second that it equates with real warfare.  Likewise, I can use sports analogies to express concepts in battle as well as in command and control of emergency scenes without deluding myself that it is a game.  But just as people around the world celebrate their nationalism through the Olympic games, they are just games.  

And while I understand the USA Men's Basketball Team beating up on Nigeria is the figurative equivalent of a supercarrier task force taking on a flotilla of jon-boats, I also know that if the U.S. Navy vaporized that flotilla, they would not be running around and high-fiving. The reason I know this is because our servicemen and women, they understand magnanimity.  They understand that you don't celebrate being able to kick the shit out of someone who can barely defend themselves.  You do it if you must, but you keep it strictly business.  And people who do that are high class individuals, they do the job and say thanks for recognizing them, but it's "just doing the job".  It's a lot like we like our firefighters to be.

Being the strongest nation in the world bears the responsibility of using our power judiciously.  Being the strongest sports team on the court requires us to respect our opponent- not mail it in- but certainly not to rejoice in their destruction either.  Being leaders, it is our responsibility to be great, but humble.  It is our responsibility to be quietly professional.  It is our responsibility to be magnanimous.

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