As he was leaving office on January 20, 1993, President George H. W. Bush left a letter on the desk of the oval office addressed to incoming President Bill Clinton.
The letter starts out, “Dear Bill,” not President Clinton for we are people before we are job titles.
During the summer and fall of 1992, both Bush and Clinton campaigned long and hard across America vying for the highest office of America. Bush wanted to keep his seat as president, extending his term another four years. Clinton aimed to unseat the Republican to become the first Democrat in the White House since Jimmy Carter.
On election day in 1992, Clinton won 43 percent of the popular vote alongside 370 electoral college votes. He took home the big prize. It wasn’t even close.
President Bush did not have to leave a letter. More so, he most certainly did not have to address it “Dear Bill.”
But he did.
Further, President Bush wished President Clinton “great happiness” while urging him “not to let the critics discourage you or push you off course.” It was fast becoming a letter of advice.
But the letter then veered mightily toward unity. It might be the very definition of magnanimous.
“You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good luck. George”
Having spent the previous four years as President and the eight before that as Vice-President, President Bush could have easily gone negative, even dark. He had been dethroned by a man much younger than he, one who had exhibited questionable personal behaviour as a Governor. Bush’s example could have been one that encouraged others to be arrogant if not ignorant in defeat.
But President Bush rose above the temptation of smearing Clinton in the loss of the Presidency. He wrote a letter that was not only poignant, it was gracious. It was indeed magnanimous.
To be magnanimous, one takes the moral high ground overlooking the temptation to launch insults or seek revenge. It is an individual who consciously chooses to be forgiving and/or generous to a rival.
Magnanimous comes from Latin magnus “great” and animus “soul” … oh, great soul, where art thou?
Why is magnanimous my word of the year for 2017?
Society needs a hug.
We are no longer seeing one another through, we have begun to see through one another.
We have forgotten what it means to be magnanimous. Whichever way the wind blows, each of us is a rival to one another in one way shape or form. But we no longer take the moral high ground. We no longer forgive but we seek revenge. We have misplaced patience for urgency, and with that we have forgotten how to rise above the loss, defeat or difference of opinion.
Your neighbour puts out the trash at 11:00pm one night, waking you from the onset of R.E.M. It’s a one-off occurrence, but you take it upon yourself the next day to spin your vehicle’s tires on his front lawn.
A colleague forgets to send that file you needed for some client analysis that is due. Instead of calmly asking for the file again, you complain to everyone in the cafeteria at lunch how forgetful Jill has become.
A sibling sends you on an errand that–you’re told–will take no longer than 30 minutes. It’s now 45-minutes into the journey and the task is not yet complete. A vitriolic text is sent disparaging him for what you feel is an unfair circumstance.
Whether it’s at work, in your family or in your community, what once was a formidable and hospitable relationship between two people can easily turn into one that shifts to bitter rivals.
I believe we can do better.
I believe we can pause for even more patience among one another.
I believe the knee-jerk reaction to invoke an adversarial and compulsive attitude can be replaced by peace, humility and compassion.
I believe we can become magnanimous (again) in 2017.
Like President George H.W. Bush, I (still) believe.