Becoming MAGNUS – The Natural Pursuit of Virtue in Policing


We throw all our attention on the utterly idle question whether A has done as well as B, when the only question is whether A has done as well as he could.

– William Graham Sumner

The MAGNUS[1] officer introduced by Javidi et. AL. (2016) is the virtuous officer. Simply, the MAGNUS officer continuously seeks ideal character by pursuing virtues and in the process, learns how to serve with distinction and how to live a life worth living.

Realistically, reaching true virtue is difficult, impossible most say, but what matters is that we try and by so trying we become better and better. Thus, becoming a MAGNUS officer is a journey, a way of life, a way of thinking, speaking and behaving. The purpose of this article is to extend the Javidi (2016) work by offering a few practical tips for beginning the journey. It gathers information from a very few of our greats, ancient and modern, who suggest how we can pursue an exemplary life. Those that set themselves on this path inevitably become much the better for the work where others say they are well thought of, accomplished and quite happy with life. What better way to pursue what matters than by swearing an oath to serve and doing it magnanimously!

MAGNUS in other words, means the pursuit of moral goodness (Cicero, 1971, p. 164 trans. Grant). Cicero considered this our duty and it is a very natural thing to do because human nature is predisposed to doing good. All of us have it in us to be better. Yes, expect to struggle to understand what virtue is and then to practice virtuous conduct; but soon enough it becomes routine and a way of life. It is simple but not easy; it is about doing good works (Franklin, 1950 p. 107) at home, at work and in the community. As we improve in body, mind and spirt we become a whole person – a quality person who is honest, dependable, compassionate and thoughtful (Cicero, 2012, p. 8, trans. Habinek).   In fact, the spirit of the MAGNUS officer is that he and she never cease to improve themselves, and by their example, better the character of those surrounding them. This living virtuously is the best of human nature (Cicero, 2012 p. 109, trans. Habinek). It is not unlike that described by the ancient philosophers who suggested why and especially how to pursue the Cardinal Virtues as Plato defined and then refined the many to only four:

  • Justice – Fairness. Continuously determine right from wrong; from what is advantageous and what is not. Being fair is about building not destroying (Cicero 1971, trans. Grant).
  • Courage – Fortitude. This is about working hard, sometimes beyond endurance, at doing what is right and good. We must plan well to take confident, deliberate, just action.
  • Wisdom – Knowledge. Continuously read, study, learn and expressly apply lessons learned. See what truly matters (Musashi 1974 p. 95, trans. Harris).
  • Temperance – Prudence. Exercise restraint in sensible behavior and modest living (Franklin 1950 p 98).

Of these, Justice is the primary virtue as determining right from wrong determines all other virtues. Their pursuit makes us more than what we otherwise would be. It is about building and leaving a legacy of humble and just leadership, courageous deeds, wise decisions and a lifestyle of moderation (Cicero, 1971, p 197, trans. Grant). It is the result of conducting a life worth living; the ancients understood that virtuous living is worthy work. Their thinking guided individuals, civilizations, religions and republics, throughout the ages and it continues to do so today. Our founding fathers studied and applied this wisdom to improve themselves and consequently gave us the greatest Republic in history.

Ben Franklin, inspired by the ancients, pursued his 13 Virtues (Franklin, 1950 pp. 91-93) by putting them on a grid in a journal.[2] Franklin understood that thought and ideas are nothing without action. He tracked each virtue for a week so he could focus on one at a time, one day at a time, almost hourly for seven days; the ever so practical Franklin. Even he could not track all 13 at once. Every time an infraction of a virtue, say Temperance, occurred, he put a dot by it. That way he could work on improving one virtue all week long, every waking hour including the weekend. Franklin also understood the value of persistence. Since he pursued 13 ideals he could go through each four times per year for years and see the infractions diminish. He continued to improve himself and those around him until his dying day; his influence still remains all around us. Yes, Franklin was a genius, but with this simple, practical action of monitoring his pursuit of virtuous living he became one of the most significant people in history and made our world a much better place. Read his autobiography, which he wrote at age 83, the year before he died. Perhaps you can start your own grid today and track your dots.

The ancients, the Greeks, Romans and Asians, gave us the philosophical foundation of the elements of character which develop an individual who continually improves the common good, whether it is their family, their work-place, their community or their republic. Early in life every person of note embarks in introspective self-study to understand themselves, others and life. The warrior-philosopher, Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous Samauri, defined the Way of life which comes gradually by study, training and experience because, “If you practice day and night . . . your spirit will naturally broaden (Musashi 1974 p. 49, trans. Harris).” The Asians understood as did the ancient Latins and Greeks that the pursuit of a virtuous life is natural and inherent in being human. The nine strategies of the Way according to Musashi is remarkable life advice, simple and profound:

    1. Do not think dishonestly. The Master understood that the thought leads to words, then actions, then behavior and then to character. He also recognized that it takes more effort to develop bad character than it does good character. The ancient Greeks and Latins equate Truth with Justice.
    2. The Way is in training. It is not enough to read, study and think. You must practice holistic, virtuous living by improving your body, mind and spirit.
    3. Become acquainted with every art. This is about becoming a well-rounded person; much can be learned from appreciating the beauty of art and music, the discipline of sports and how a well-crafted book communicates images, emotion and a message. Diligently improving your writing skills makes you a much better speaker.
    4. Know the ways of all professions. Every way of earning a living has lessons for how we conduct a career. Can we not study the carpenter who starts a home with a good foundation, gathers wood that is cut sound and makes true corners, walls and a roof? This is a metaphor for how we construct a problem solving idea in the community, from the bottom up.
    5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters. Simply, money is not everything. In fact, it is worthless unless it is in the hands of a good person. The ancients say that happiness is the absence of (chronic) pain and (big) troubles. Just about anyone can have that. What more life can be to the student and practitioner of living virtuously.
    6. Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything. Be able to look at a few situational facts then deduce the correct, often hidden meaning, subsequent action and the repercussions of it. This comes with experience, lots of it.
    7. Perceive those things which cannot be seen. There is always hidden meaning, usually the bit which is most important, that which lies below the surface of just about any circumstance, which most people just don’t realize. Seeing what can’t be seen with the naked eye is a matter of experience. This is also large part of being wise and being able to impart that wisdom.
    8. Pay attention even to trifles. Is it not remarkable that when we don’t have time to do something right the first time, we always have time to do it over? The greatest ideas are simply dreams and wishes until they are slowly realized only by persistent, determined attention to detail.
    9. Do nothing which is of no use. Accomplished people are rarely idle. Even their rest, relaxation and leisure are meaningful. Consequently, they accomplish more than what seems humanly possible and gain great satisfaction from life.

Mushsashi’s introspection, A Book of Five Rings, written almost 450 years ago, is still available and was one of a few volumes in Napoleon’s mobile command post when he was captured at Waterloo. It is a book that matters. While it is written in martial terms, it can and must be read and reread. New insights happen with each reading. Be deliberate about acting on those insights!

The ancient philosophers gave us the path; we must bring the spirit of endeavor to it. The MAGNUS officer evolves their good character and leadership ability by being deliberate, by constantly working, improving, evolving, in:

  • Thought – Read. Develop your professional knowledge and skills. Take classes; finish that degree. Understand the power of good communication and be proficient in the spoken, written and electronic word.
  • Word – Be compelling. Practice persuasiveness where the result is win-win.
  • Action – Take deliberate action. Nothing happens without working at it. But always think about the repercussions of what you do. When you act rashly, the unintended consequences tend to be negative. When you act with forethought, the unintended consequences are usually good.
  • Deed – Do good works. Act as if you will be remembered, because you will.

This article is meant to begin a journey of self-discovery, growth and accomplishment. It is a virtuous cycle of, “. . . growing, knowing, discovering, remembering (Cicero 2012 p. 33, trans. Habinek)” and growing again. While it is a path of many and continuous tests of determination and character, it is as exciting as it is worthy. It matters how the game of life is played. You can begin this moment:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle – There is always time to take care of your physical self. You can exercise every day. You can eat right. You can control stress. Make health a habit.
  • Study, think – Always have a book at your side. Enroll in career-long leadership development classes with the goal of becoming a Credible Leader.
  • Develop virtuously with zest for life – It is just the way of things that the more and harder you work on becoming virtuous, the more accomplished and enthused you become about the work of it. You find yourself in a virtuous cycle of improving and feeling energized about that growth.

The benefits of the journey are really many and worthy. Let’s turn to Franklin (p 98) again for inspiration about what the journey did for him:

  • Real accomplishment – You will get better and better at living and life. Expect longevity way beyond your career when you will have your greatest impact.
  • Earned respect, honor and trust – You will leave a legacy to your community, your peers and especially your family.
  • Happiness – Living with integrity and being just is the definition of a life well lived.

Perfection is not the goal, but effort and persistence is; by your trying the person mends (Franklin, 1950 p. 98). Start small, keep it simple and proceed incrementally – But start you must.

  • Acquire knowledge – Build a small library by some of the best thinkers of all time. Buy and study the books in the References. Write all your thoughts in the margins.
  • Learn – Determine to enroll in the Credible Leadership curriculum and commit to completing all the phases. As you learn, teach those around you.
  • Train – Track your growth. Do something for the body, mind and spirit every day.

We suspect you are asking basic questions. “Why should I commit to the virtuous MAGNUS journey?” “Where will I find the time?” “What can I expect?” “How will it affect me and mine?” Simply, you will achieve more personally from yourself and get more, much more, out of life. You will grow in self-awareness – more cognizant of what matters. Trodding the journey will become routine and rather quickly at that. You will be much more resilient when, not if, you go through the ups and downs of a career. As you become a better and better person you will become a better father, mother, spouse, friend, policeman or woman and more successful at home, on the job and in the community. Most important, you will continuously develop your strength of character as your depth of understanding right and wrong, good and bad grows.

. . . by the endeavor (of seeking a virtuous life, I became) a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been.

– Benjamin Franklin

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  1. Extracted from Aristotle’s discussion of magnanimity or magnanimous from which we coin the term MAGNUS. Socrates (b. 471 BC) began the discussion of how virtue defined character. Plato (b. 428 BC) made the case that happiness depends on living virtuously. Essentially, Aristotle (b. 384 BC) argues that to live well, that is live a meaningful life, one must be virtuous. Together they make a compelling case, and fascinating reading, that the pursuit of virtue is the way to conduct a life worth living and worthy of the work; it is the key to success and happiness.
  2. Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues are: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, Humility. They are in his autobiography and worth a read.


Cicero, M 1971, Selected Works, trans. Michael Grant, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England.

Cicero, M 2012, On Living and Dying Well, trans. Thomas Habinek, Penguin Books, London, England.

Franklin, B 1950, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin & Selections from His Other Writings, Random House, Inc., NY.

Javidi, M., Nash, R., Normore, Hoina, C., Valenti, V., Scott, W., Watt,R., Klopovic, J., Cooper, B., Clapham, W., Anderson, T., Ellis, E., Bass, S., & Javidi, A. (2016). Magnanimous Officers. The International Academy of Public Safety. Available On-line:

Musashi, M 1974, A Book of Five Rings, trans. Victor Harris, The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY.

Dr. James Klopovic, Director of the Credible Law Enforcement Organization (CLO), holds a Doctorate of Public Policy from Charles Sturt University, Sydney Australia, with concentration on service project capacity building at the organizational and community levels focusing on community policing, delinquency prevention, reducing recidivism and reducing prison populations.  He has served as a senior staffer on The North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission for 24 years and he is retired from the United States Air Force where he served in multiple locales including South East Asia and the Middle East in numerous capacities including as a logistics line officer, training detachment commander, Department of Defense Advisor (from 1977-78) to the Imperial Iranian Air Force, Area Recruiter for the ROTC and  Air Force Academy and Associate Professor, Arizona State University.  James has 45 years of experience in the public sector providing leadership at federal, state and local levels with subject matter expertise in strategic planning, municipal governance, financial development, federal granting, community and organizational development, implementation and evaluation. 

Mitch Javidi, Ph.D., is the founder of the International Academy of Public Safety, the Institute for Credible Leadership development and the Criminal Justice Commission for Credible Leadership Development. As a globally recognized expert on leadership development, Mitch has trained leaders at the Joint Special Operations Command, and the US Army Special Operations Command and is an honorary member of the United States Army Special Operations Command. A past tenured Associate Professor at NC State University, he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor at NC State and Illinois State Universities. He is a member of the “Academy of Outstanding Teachers and Scholars” and the Distinguished 2004 Alumni of the University of Oklahoma. Honorary Sheriff Mitch Javidi holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma and is the co-founder of the International Academy of Public Safety (IAPS), Sheriffs Institute for Credible Leadership Development, and the Criminal Justice Commission on Credible.

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