The Statesman 6 April 2014 (Editorial)
A large heart
Let’s Look Among The Meek And Humble
martin kämpchen IT is easy for men and women in positions of power to show magnanimity. Their qualities are on public view. People around them will say, “Oh, how generous he is!”, or, “Look, she is so humble to visit us!” Praise will come easily to them. But is this generosity of spirit or rather a show of it? Power has a calculating and aggressive side which cannot be hidden for long. Powerful people must be constantly alert that their power remains intact. It is never a secure possession but something which needs to be ascertained day after day. This is not the atmosphere in which generosity can grow. Generosity more likely evolves from persons who feel secure in their emotions and intellectual grasp. They will prefer to act anonymously, away from the limelight and away from trading applause. Applause would rather demean the sanctity of a generous act. Magnanimity is essentially a state of mind and heart which views the world and its humanity with affirmation. It explores the positive side and the goodness of people, suspending, for the time being, judgment on the less attractive attributes of people, their dark or negative side. Following this definition, some people may suspect that magnanimity is the trait of naïve and unrepentant do-gooders who do not wish to see evil even when it happens before their eyes. This is not correct. But magnanimity clings, as long as possible, to the principle that men and women are essentially good. A morale principle is: Do not judge others! The generous will never pronounce a final judgment on their character: they remain forever open to learn more about the other and to find new traits which amend the present impression. This is an attitude which was rigorously followed by Mahatma Gandhi. In order to have a working relationship with others, especially with family members, colleagues, community members, it is necessary to act upon impressions formed about the other persons. Otherwise interaction would not be possible. Practical life relies on such impressions. But the fine balance to be maintained is to act on one’s present knowledge but not to be too sure, too convinced about its veracity. Self-doubt combined with the humility to learn and possibly revise one’s opinion are good guides to keep that balance. Our daily life is full of whims and unexpected events showing people involved in them in an ever different light. Somebody forgets to keep his word; another escapes an accident; a third person celebrates an unanticipated success in his career. Each time a new impression is created which is liable to influence and revise the person’s image. Magnanimity strives to rise above such momentary impressions and changes. To remain unflappably consistent in one’s attitude of magnanimity among these inconstancies and inconsistencies is indeed no easy task. It entails to accept utterances and events we do, at the given moment, not understand, words whose context is unknown to us. We give the benefit of the doubt and accept. Magnanimity even entails accepting situations of adversity. They are the test for our large heart. Somebody accuses us unjustly, some people who we expected to be in sympathy with us, turn against us. Betrayal, indifference, ingratitude, backbiting, exploitative behaviour ~ to accept this without a vehement reaction against the perpetrators needs a strong heart and an unwavering
faith in the efficacy of magnanimity. It is easy to become disappointed, disheartened, worse, to become cynical when faced with negativity. Generosity can be easily exploited and a generous person needs to be wary of this. Generosity may go to unworthy persons who misuse the gifts and the attention they receive, who make fun of generosity, who do not really need it and squander it; who become arrogant or complacent or nonchalant spenders. Generosity can generate jealousy for there will always be some who consider themselves more worthy of the targets of generosity. Generosity must not close its eyes to wickedness and dishonesty. The test of large-heartedness comes whenever the other person does not respond in the same spirit of generosity, that is, with gratitude, with joy, with a willingness to cooperate and put generosity to good use. Then generous persons must reflect whether their response should be to withdraw or to continue being generous on a practical and material level. The limits of generosity are reached when its consequences would be destructive. The term “generous to a fault” indicates that generosity may have an element of foolishness in it because it does not accept the inherent risks of the acts of generosity. Saying it differently, large-hearted persons refuse to become cynical, they will never stop trying even though their heart is being betrayed time and again. Am I being idealistic? Do such people with a large heart exist in today’s world? They do, and those who search will discover them. As mentioned, the large-hearted may not live among the powerful or famous. They may not live among the professional preachers or among the ascetics. Rather, I discover them more easily among the meek and humble, among people with little schooling, people without an agenda, among the servants, the young mothers, among the young who have not yet shed the exuberance of youth. They are unable to speak rudely about others, their minds are still pure which protects them from cynicism and imagining deficiencies in others. Those of us who are of more mature age may yearn for this primeval magnanimity which, perhaps, we once possessed. We can only regain it by trying to discover it in others, no matter who they are. Let us protect their purity, let us give them a voice so that their large heart can play a role in the life of many others. This will heal us as well.
The writer is a German scholar, based in Santiniketan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org