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Further, a slow step is thought proper to the magnanimous man… for the man who takes few things seriously is not likely to be hurried…
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

As is often the case, these words of Aristotle must be carefully considered. “The man who takes few things seriously” can sound like a man who doesn’t really value things—as though he were excessively nonchalant and under-estimates the worth of things. From the context it is clear that Aristotle rather is pointing to the man who properly judges things: a man who has recognized the few things that are really important in life.

So the man who judges things well, seeing things for what they are, is not in a hurry. Indeed, he usually walks with a measured, peaceful gait.

I had seen this text long ago, and I didn’t really make much of it. Then last week I was on retreat, and I kept catching myself rushing, bounding up and down stairs as though there wasn’t a minute to lose, when in fact there was no real need to hurry.

Honestly, what also came to mind was the Alabama song: “I’m in a hurry to get things done, Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun. All I really gotta do is live and die. But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.”

Perhaps the last line is what separates me from the magnanimous man. I let myself get in a hurry, even though there isn’t a pressing need. An example comes to mind: how often have I gotten angry at my children when I go to pick them up somewhere if they so much as linger an extra moment to say farewell to their friends? “How dare you keep Daddy waiting!” As though the standard assumption is: Daddy has way too much to do, and you’re holding him up! Let’s get on with this!

But all I’ve really got to do is live well, and to die well. Yes, of course, this calls for being well-organized so as to fit in all the things that must get done; and sometimes it will require moving with alacrity.

Yet my normal mode should not be: I’m in a hurry; I’m behind; you just don’t realize how much I’ve got to do!

I’ve decided to start by slowing down my gait. It’s been hard. Even harder will be to learn really and truly to put first things first, to recognize what really matters and what doesn’t, and to act like it. The magnanimous man, which literally means the ‘great-souled man,’ takes seriously what he should. And for that very reason he is careful not to be in too much of a hurry.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his major ethical work.

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