THE QUES­TION OF HIGH-SPEED RAIL

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY AN­DREW FIALA Spe­cial to The Bee An­drew Fiala is a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy and direc­tor of The Ethics Cen­ter at Fresno State: @Phi­los­o­phyFiala

Gov. New­som thinks its ex­is­tence is vi­tal, but not all of the state’s big in­flu­encers share that train of thought.

A re­vival of soul-talk is un­der­way. Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bill Weld re­sponded to last week's pres­i­den­tial tweets and cam­paign chants by say­ing, “We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP.” Rep. Il­han Omar wrote that we are in a “fight for the soul of our na­tion.” Joe Bi­den says he is run­ning for pres­i­dent to “restore the soul of this na­tion.” Mar­i­anne Wil­liamson's cam­paign slo­gan is “Let's heal the soul of Amer­ica.”

This may seem trite. This soul­ful lan­guage may sim­ply be po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing. But au­then­tic soultalk fo­cuses our at­ten­tion on moral goods. It is about mean­ing, value and pur­pose. Soul­ful lan­guage in­vokes some­thing larger than the present mo­ment and its petty squab­bles.

It also opens the door to mag­na­nim­ity, which is a for­got­ten virtue. Mag­na­nim­ity lit­er­ally means great­ness of soul. Aris­to­tle said that the great-souled per­son is hon­est, open and self-dep­re­cat­ing. He is sure of him­self and able to over­look small slights. Thomas Aquinas con­nected mag­na­nim­ity with joy, hope and con­fi­dence.

Mag­na­nim­ity com­bines tran­quil dig­nity with coura­geous gen­eros­ity. Mag­nan­i­mous peo­ple are strong enough to bear mi­nor in­jus­tices. But they stand fast and fight for what is right. The mag­nan­i­mous rise above the present mo­ment. They for­give. They are pa­tient and kind. They con­trol their anger. They ex­hibit good hu­mor. They are con­cerned with jus­tice and the greater good.

All of this is con­tained in the idea of a per­son – and a peo­ple – with a soul that is en­larged and en­light­ened. Of course, the soul is mys­te­ri­ous, change­able and sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. It is an in­vi­ta­tion for fur­ther thought. A thought­ful, open-minded at­ti­tude is one of the keys to mag­na­nim­ity.

There are deep ques­tions about the soul and its na­ture. But the call for mag­na­nim­ity need not as­sert a meta­phys­i­cal world­view. This is eth­i­cal, poetic and in­spi­ra­tional. Au­then­tic soul-talk lifts us up and makes us think of larger things.

Emer­son is the best Amer­i­can source for poetic soul-talk. He says, “within man is the soul of the whole.” He ex­plains that a great soul cir­cum­scribes all things, con­tra­dicts all ex­pe­ri­ence, and abol­ishes time and space. In the soul is the ca­pac­ity for thought and for love.

The great soul stretches be­yond the present. It trans­forms words into deeds and ideas into ac­tion. It con­nects with the heart of other peo­ple. It al­lows us to imag­ine the essence of a na­tion. And it peers into the struc­ture of the cos­mos that is of­ten called God. All of this is so weird that Emer­son notes that those who speak of the soul will of­ten seem in­sane.

But soul-deep madness is an­other name for en­light­en­ment. This is the ten­dency to see and feel the larger con­nect­ed­ness of things. We sorely need this to­day. We are di­vided and bit­ter. We are closed­off and closed-in. Our souls have shrunk.

There are di­verse ways of en­larg­ing the soul. In the Chris­tian tra­di­tion, love pro­vides the path to soul­ful growth. Chris­tians are called to love God with all your soul, heart, mind and strength – and to love your neigh­bor as your­self. Bud­dhism teaches com­pas­sion. But in­stead of find­ing God, the Bud­dhist self is en­larged by dis­cov­er­ing that it was noth­ing sub­stan­tial to be­gin with.

Won­der is an­other key to en­large­ment. Emer­son en­cour­ages us to en­counter the world as a mir­a­cle. Aris­to­tle said that won­der lifts us be­yond our­selves to­ward higher things. Prayer, med­i­ta­tion, po­etry and phi­los­o­phy mag­nify the soul. Won­der calms the re­ac­tive mind. It moves us be­yond anger and hate, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for us to achieve un­der­stand­ing.

Po­lit­i­cal strug­gles are of­ten small-minded and ugly. So let's wel­come and en­cour­age the re­turn of soul-talk in pol­i­tics. It fo­cuses our at­ten­tion on some­thing larger than self-in­ter­est. We can all ben­e­fit from that strength of soul that re­sists the pet­ti­ness of par­ti­san bick­er­ing and the soul-killing cyn­i­cism of the twit­ter­ing mob.

But we can't let soultalk be­come an­other bit of jar­gon and slo­ga­neer­ing. This is an age of nar­cis­sism and small screens. Good ideas and great peo­ple are eas­ily shrunk. It is dif­fi­cult to keep your head up and see the larger whole. But lead­ers worth fol­low­ing will ex­em­plify “great­ness of soul,” while seek­ing to mag­nify the soul of the coun­try.

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