A lot of people cringe at the thought of confrontation. I think that this is why sports and revenge movies are so popular, they allow people to vicariously stand up to obstacles from which they would shrink away in real life. What habits can help us to intentionally take risks without being coward or making senseless risks?
Part of the answer is in learning magnanimity. It is one of the virtues which feeds, supports, and derives from fortitude.
Magnanimity is the virtue of “greatness of soul.” Aquinas says that “Magnanimity by its very name denotes stretching forth of the mind to great things. Now virtue bears a relationship to two things, first to the matter about which it is the field of its activity, secondly to its proper act, which consists in the right use of such matter. And since a virtuous habit is denominated chiefly from its act, a man is said to be magnanimous chiefly because he is minded to do some great act.”
A magnanimous man, in Aquinas’ scheme, is a man who routinely plans to do noble deeds of greatness. To do this, you must turn you mind toward great things regularly so that you can see the greatness thereof. Not only so, but one must meditate on the sorts of deeds which are done by great men.
Aquinas further observes that greatness differs based on context. For a shut-in, a great deed may at first be to go for a walk outside.
The reason magnanimity is important is that it helps to improve confidence, it can help you to receive honor from others because it leads you to accomplish impressive feats, and it can help you be happy with yourself even without the honor of others because you can know that you risked yourself for the purpose of doing what is good.
While this virtue can be pursued in many ways, I want to focus on two here. They are, of course, related to one another:
- The contemplation of great art
I include great literature, sculptures, music, poetry, paintings, architecture etc. Much of the great art of the world focuses on the conquest of humanity over obstacles, the beauty of the ordinary, the beauty of the supernatural, the greatness of specific people and their acts of virtue, and the power of reason and good to overcome confusion and even evil. Good art is practically eschewed as silly or quaint by people who seem to hate knowledge, beauty, and goodness. Contemplating great are can really help you to stretch your thoughts toward great and good things. This can help you to act for noble things rather than rashly based merely on your feelings of anger or malice.
- Use a site like http://www.wga.hu to search out great examples of art. Read about the meaning of piece (back then, art had meaning), and think of how beautiful the vision contained therein makes the virtues of the piece look. Similarly, think of the horror and disgust portrayed in morally evil deeds in the art (they believed in evil then). Finally, consider the limits of man in morally ambiguous pieces (especially art about Abraham).
- Listen to classical music when you work around the house or do homework. Classical music requires more effort than I’m recommending here, but it also requires some getting used to. Thankfully, Youtube has thousands of hours of beautiful classical music that is in the public domain. Do note, that classical music is not always relaxing. Listening to it takes hard work. It can be like talking to a beautiful woman for the first time or observing the grand canyon.
The form of meditation I’ll recommend is called “the body-scan.” It involves sitting/laying in silence (or with a tape explaining what to do) focusing “attention on the present moment through observing the breath, and bodily sensations, while becoming aware of, and accepting without judgement, any thoughts and feelings which arise.” Sessions can last anywhere from 5-30 minutes. I recommend starting with two minutes and working up. I start with noticing everything around me: sounds, smells, tastes, and the limits of my visual field without moving my head. Then I take careful note of the sensations up my left leg, then down my right, then back up, through my torso on the front side of my body, up to my face, then down my back and back down my left leg. This can be a powerful form of self-examination because in the silence your thoughts come up uninhibited. If you’re religious, meditation can often lead to intense prayer for forgiveness at the realization of what your character is truly like. Anyway, here’s why you should engage in it:
- In a clinical environment is has been shown to reduce pain (in a distracting environment, no effect). Many people avoid deeds of greatness or courage precisely because they do not feel physically up to it. Meditating for a few minutes a day can lead to immediate reduction in chronic psychologically debilitating pain.
- Meditation can improve your self-control by leading you to accept and regulate the emotions associated with errors in life. In other words, you can fail without losing confidence and therefore be more tough and effective if you spend time in silent meditation.
- The calming effects of meditation not only can improve positive affect (feelings of happiness), but also immune function. Being more positive can improve your confidence, the hope that one’s actions will succeed in accomplishing some good.
- In several domains related to sports, mindfulness meditation lead to improved outcomes. The outcomes include: concentration, competitiveness, decreased performance related worries, greater awareness of performance quality, and increased flow (feelings of absorption in task for the purpose optimal performance).
There are several disciplines for developing virtue. I hope these two are useful for you.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.). Question CXXIX
 Ibid, “Now an act may be called great in two ways: in one way proportionately, in another absolutely. An act may be called great proportionately, even if it consist in the use of some small or ordinary thing, if, for instance, one make a very good use of it: but an act is simply and absolutely great when it consists in the best use of the greatest thing.”
 Michael Spatz Amy Copland, Claire Nicolaou, Andrew Cargill, Abbey Amini-Tabrizi, Nina McCracken, Lance Ussher, “Immediate Effects of a Brief Mindfulness-Based Body Scan on Patients with Chronic Pain,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 37, no. 1 (February 2014): 128.
 Ibid, 127
 Rimma Teper and Michael Inzlicht, “Meditation, Mindfulness and Executive Control: The Importance of Emotional Acceptance and Brain-Based Performance Monitoring,” Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience 8, no. 1 (January 2013): 90, “The results of our study confirm this finding, but further extend it to suggest that this effect can be accounted for by an increase in the acceptance of emotional states, as well as the neural basis for performance monitoring. In other words, meditators may excel at executive control because of their ability to attend to the emotions associated with making errors; a process implemented in the ACC. Specifically, if emotional acceptance is associated with an increase in error-related neural activity, it is not surprising that meditation practice improves control. These findings shine new light on the effect of meditation practice and mindfulness on executive functioning, suggesting that this relationship may not be purely cognitive in nature. This new focus on the role of emotionality may be an important one for future studies that wish to explore the relationship between meditation, mindfulness and executive control in greater depth.”
 Autumn M Gallegos et al., “Toward Identifying the Effects of the Specific Components of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Biologic and Emotional Outcomes among Older Adults,” Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.) 19, no. 10 (October 2013): 787–792
 Frank L. Gardner and Zella E. Moore, “Mindfulness and Acceptance Models in Sport Psychology: A Decade of Basic and Applied Scientific Advancements,” Canadian Psychology 53, no. 4 (November 2012): 309–318.
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