The Mellifluous Echo of the Magnanimous Soul
Plus, remarks at Alabama Supreme Court on Civil Disobedience, just steps from Dr King's Church; Book in WSJ Again; She Said She said podcast; thoughts on a CR podcast?
“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
Four years ago this month—on Jan 21, 2020— my grandmother, Margaret Johnston, passed away after a months-long battle with cancer.
My Grandma Margaret died surrounded by her five children, their spouses (my aunts and uncles), and over fifteen grandchildren.
During her final days—which occurred just about a month before the world shut down due to COVID-19—her home was a revolving door of hundreds of people who came to her bedside to sing, pray, read Scripture, and offer memories.
Nearly a thousand people attended her celebration of life—none of which would have been possible had she died only a few weeks later.
The way her community and family celebrated her in her final days and after her death reminded me of a beautiful and often overlooked truth: there is far more power to make the world a better and brighter place in a single person’s commitment to bringing friendship, community, and beauty with whomever they run into, wherever they go.
Based on remarks I offered at her celebration of life, I explore this idea in my book, The Soul of Civility.
I call this idea The Mellifluous Echo of the Magnanimous Soul.
The Mellifluous Echo of the Magnanimous Soul
We are all too familiar—either personally, or through news, history, or memoir—with the potential a single individual, especially a parent, has to make choices that have unfortunate reverberations in the lives of those around them, often with consequences that affect generations. One person’s selfish decisions can cause untold harm in later generations and in the lives of others.
These stories dominate our headlines.
We insufficiently appreciate, however, that the inverse is also true.
Just as one person’s self-love can harm others across time and place, one well-composed person with a love for others—one magnanimous soul—can bring grace, beauty and hope to untold others.
We must find and celebrate tales of incredible, extraordinary human beings—that one magnanimous soul, as Aristotle described, is so self-assured that they can be utterly self-forgetful in the presence of others—to produce positive consequences, a mellifluous echo, that reverberate with goodness across time.
Such people have tremendous strength of character and raw determination, and act as their family’s social glue and foundation. Through their lifestyle, their cumulative decisions, they influence those around them—and the generations after them—for the better. These magnanimous souls, people of great personal strength and benevolence, live out a beautiful song that produces a mellifluous echo in successive generations. They initiate a virtuous cycle that begins by building into the lives of those they meet, who in turn build into the lives of othwea. My grandmother epitomized this type of life.
Hers was a life well-lived.
She and my Grandpa Burt raised their children—four daughters and one son—to love God, to be unceasingly considerate of others, to pursue moral excellence, and to walk through life with a joyful, contagious, and song-filled (at least for the sisters!) ebullience. Each of my grandmother’s children, while unique in their own right, have gone on to be the glue in their families and communities. Each of their two to four children—my cousins and siblings—have internalized these values, originally instilled by my grandmother and diffused by our parents, and have become positive lights in their own spheres of influences. This is the extraordinary legacy my grandmother leaves. It is one that is difficult to quantify, but one that has done untold good for more people than she—or I—will ever know on this side of eternity.
In reflecting on Grandma Margaret’s extraordinary life, I realized the reverberations—a mellifluous echo—one person’s life—one magnanimous soul—can have for the betterment of those around them, and our world more broadly.
The examples of my Grandma Margaret and others like her vividly illustrate the error of our all-too-common belief that the actions of a single person can hardly make a difference.
Indeed, we’re also constantly reminded that the actions of a few can matter greatly: the vicious actions of even a single person can be enormously destructive.
My grandmother’s life shows that the opposite is also true: the life and daily actions of one person can do a lot of good, too.
Who are the people who embody the mellifluous echo of the magnanimous soul in your life?
Send me your reflections on this idea and the people who lived their lives according to this other-worldly ethic and logic, and who build community and friendship wherever they go.
These people make life richer, and bring greater warmth to our lives.
Theirs is not any innate or unattainable superpower. We can learn from people like this, emulate them, and seek to the make the world a warmer place in our own spheres of influences, too.
People like and need stories about heroes. But the most important achievements aren’t in watershed historic moments. They are accomplished in the everyday, through the hundreds of small kindnesses that people generously give as they go about their daily routines.
I would love to hear about a “magnanimous soul” in your life. Write to me at email@example.com.
Remarks on Wednesday at Alabama Supreme Court in Montgomery on Civil Disobedience and True Civility
I’d like to share with you a highlight from the launch of my book, The Soul of Civility, so far.
This week, I was invited to speak at Alabama Supreme Court in Montgomery— just steps from Dr Martín Luther King’s church on Dexter Ave. It is also steps from where Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus, was kicked off, and was subsequently arrested.
I spoke about why protest and civil disobedience are duties of citizenship and support our democracy.
I don't often have opportunity to discuss this aspect of the book, but it felt important to do so given the locale and significant of where we stood.
I’m sorry for the poor quality, but here is a recording of my remarks.
I explore how true civility respects others—and ourselves— enough to take action, have uncomfortable conversations, engage in debate, and to speak truth to power in the face of in justice.
If you have a chance to listen, write to me with your thoughts!
Book in WSJ—again!
Thank to those of you who wrote to me abou the citation of my book in this week’s WSJ! Read the story here.
“She Said She Said” podcast
My new friend Laura Cox Kaplan hosted me on her podcast this week to discuss the book—listen and write to me with your thoughts!
Thoughts on a CR podcast?
Speaking of podcasts, should I start one?
I love the interaction that I’m having with our Civic Renaissance community, and many of you have asked if I might consider hosting a podcast. I love to learn out loud, which is why I created Civic Renaissance. Would an audio-visual medium dedicated to conversations around the great conversation, and around the themes of lifelong learning, intellectual omnivorousness, beauty, goodness and truth be valuable to you?
It’s a big undertaking, starting a new initiative such as this. I’d like to be thoughtful and deliberative and clear-sighted before starting. If so, write to me with the types of guests you’d like to hear from and learn with, and the topics you’d like broached.
Thank you for being here!