Where is the magnanimity?

by Sean van Staden SJ


St Ignatius of Loyola invites those who make the Spiritual Exercises to enter into the process with “magnanimity and generosity.” Magnanimity is a strange word and difficult to pronounce; we seldom hear or use it anymore. But worse than the disappearance of this word from our vocabulary is its disappearance from our way of life.


Magna- means large, and –animity means spirited (we see this in the word “animated”). Magnanimity refers to bigness of spirit, enthusiasm, and generosity. To do something in a magnanimous way is to dive right in and give oneself fully to an activity. Think of a dancer absorbed by music and movement; an actress entering into the grief of her character, screaming, crying and shaking; a cricket bowler charging down to the crease; the owner of a small bakery kneading dough before the sun has risen; a parent playing in the garden with their children. These are actions magnanimously performed.


I have taken to reading the newspaper while eating my breakfast each morning. This has become a rather depressing activity – I noticed that the Sunday Times even has a “tragedy” column! What do I find each morning in the papers? Delayed board appointments, billions of Rands of losses by State Owned Enterprises, the police failing to prosecute violent criminals, political parties (supposedly partners in co-governance) squabbling over minor issues, countless men and women who are failing to take responsibility for their actions to the detriment of our society. Where is the magnanimity?


Each of us has a responsibility for the well-being of society. If not us, who? The processes and systems that ensure our societies and communities serve us do not operate automatically. People have to choose and act to make them work.


Every day we struggle with potholes, load-shedding, water shortages, crime and corruption. Yet those entrusted with the responsibility for the care of our society (which is all of us) are sitting with our arms folded, complaining about the problems and waiting for someone else to solve them. Even those entrusted with the care of specific aspects of our society are failing to measure up to their responsibilities. Where is the magnanimity?


Perhaps what is needed in South Africa today is for each of us to build our society with “magnanimity and generosity.” Let us look around us, evaluate our needs and the processes we have to meet these needs, let us consider what skills and resources are available to us and magnanimously set about solving our problems. We will not be able to build the South Africa of our dreams with half-heartedness and a lack of enthusiasm.


The realities that our country faces each day challenge us to ask ourselves how we can live and act with greater enthusiasm, creativity, responsibility and magnanimity.


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