When people hear the word “magnanimous”, their first question is usually: “what is that?”
The dictionary describes magnanimous as “generous and noble”. The roots of the word come from the Latin magnanimus – with magnus meaning “great” and animus meaning “soul, mind” – thus great-souled or high-minded. Being magnanimous is of course also connected to that most difficult virtue for many to pronounce, the virtue of magnanimity: “the habit of striving for great things”.
In his book on Virtuous Leadership, Alexandre Havard writes that “leaders are magnanimous in their dreams, visions, and sense of mission; in their capacity for hope, confidence and daring; in their enthusiasm for the effort to bring their work to a successful conclusion; in their propensity for a means proportionate to their goals; in their capacity to challenge themselves and those around them.” Thus, a key quality of a magnanimous leader is that he or she is a dreamer of great dreams.
During the Papal Vigil at the recent World Youth Day in Poland, Pope Francis speaking to a crowd of over one million people invited the youth of the world, and in particular of the Catholic Church, to dream! He recognized that there are many comforts and distractions that seek to steal the dreams of young people. He called them to leave their mark on history (view full text here):
“Dear young people, we didn’t come into this world to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom. We are not free to leave a mark. We lose our freedom. This is the high price we pay. There are so many people who do not want the young to be free; there are so many people who do not wish you well, who want you to be drowsy and dull, and never free! No, this must not be so! We must defend our freedom!”
“That is the secret, dear friends, and all of us are called to share in it. God expects something from you. Have you understood this? God expects something from you, God wants something from you. God hopes in you. God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. God comes to break open everything that keeps you closed in. He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different. This is the challenge.
The times we live in do not call for young “couch potatoes”, but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark. History today calls us to defend our dignity and not to let others decide our future. No! We must decide our future, you must decide your future! As he did on Pentecost, the Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience; he wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands to continue building the world of today. And he wants to build that world with you. And what is your response? Yes or no?”
“Today Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, is calling you, you, and you to leave your mark on history. He, who is life, is asking each of you to leave a mark that brings life to your own history and that of many others. He, who is truth, is asking you to abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness. Are you up to this? [Yes!] Are you up to this? [Yes!] What answer will you give, and I’d like to see it, with your hands and with your feet, to the Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life? Are you up to this? [Yes!] May the Lord bless your dreams. Thank you!”
In order to cultivate great leadership we need to give ourselves permission to dream! The Pope also touches on another key aspect of the virtue of magnanimity: action! Great leaders are dreamers and doers. They aren’t idle daydreamers nor are they blind activists. Great leaders bring discernment to their dreams and decisiveness to their actions.
But it all starts with a dream. So what are your hopes and dreams?
For more on magnanimity, see additional articles: