Gravitas – do you have some?  We can use some.

Gravitas is a personal quality typical of personalities like the Dalai Lama or Condoleezza Rice. Bill Gates possesses gravitas galore. When he speaks people listen. The German Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel radiated gravitas. When she spoke people listened and followed.

Gravitas is a quality that is difficult to define, but it is often associated with people who have a presence, a charisma, and authority. It is often associated with people who are serious, dignified, and responsible. It is a personal quality that commands respect and attention. Some models of people who have gravitas include politicians, business leaders, and religious figure.

Origins of Gravitas

It all started in ancient Rome.  Latin was the dominant language.  Gravitas is known as a virtue that denoted “seriousness”.  It was also interpreted variously as personal dignity, and importance. It connotes restraint and moral rigor. It conveys a sense of responsibility and commitment to the task.

Alongside with pietas, severitas, simplicitas, integritas, dignitas, and virtus; gravitas is particularly appreciated as an ideal characteristic of leaders. Gravitas and virtus are considered the two canonical virtues more than the others.

Virtus was used in Rome to describe martial courage.  Eventually it grew to be used to describe a wide range of Roman virtues. It was often divided into different qualities including prudence, justice, temperance, self-control, and courage. This portrayal of virtues as a whole is considered as today Virtue Ethics.

The origins of the word virtus are traced back to the Latin word vir, “man”. The common list of attributes associated with virtus are typically perceived as masculine strengths, which may indicate its derivation from vir. From the early days of the Roman Empire, there appears to have been evolution of how the concept virtus were understood.

Pietas – is personal regard for discipline and authority and is defined as the virtue “which admonishes us to do our duty to our country or our parents or other family relatives.”  A man who possessed pietas “performed all his duties towards God, and his fellow human beings fully and in every respect.”  Cicero the Roman statesman, lawyer and speaker suggested that people should have awareness of their own honor and must always attempt to raise the honor of others with dignified praise.

Auctoritas (authority), referred to the general level of real prestige a person had in society, and as a consequence, his clout, influence, and ability to rally support around his will. Auctoritas was not merely political; it had a mystical content and symbolized the mysterious “power of command” of heroic figures.

Dignitas is a Latin word that referred to an intangible, and subjective social concept in ancient Rome. The word does not have a direct translation in English. Some explanations include “dignity”, which is a derivation from “dignitas”, and also implies “prestige“, “charisma” and “power from personal respect”.

Dignitas is the influence a male citizen acquired and self-projected throughout his life. It included personal reputation, moral standing, and ethical worth, along with the man’s entitlement to respect and proper treatment owing to the reputation and standing of his family.

Arete is a concept in ancient Greek thought that refers to ‘excellence’ of any kind —especially a person or thing’s “full realization of potential or inherent function.”  The term may also refer to excellence in “moral virtue.”

Roman Gravitas in Short

Gravitas was one of the virtues that allowed citizens, particularly statesmen, to embody the concept of Romanitas, which denotes what it meant to be Roman and how Romans regarded themselves, eventually evolving into a national character.  Many Roman philosophers praised constantia (- perseverance, endurance, and courage), dignitas and gravitas as the most important virtues.  

The men of the ruling upper and upper-middle classes were educated in a public school system where Classical language and literature formed basic elements of the curriculum. Gravitas made dignified men capable. 

According to the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, the cultivation of gravitas involves acting with sincerity and dignity and this is to be achieved by being temperate in manner and speech as well as by carrying oneself with authority

Modern Day Concepts of Gravitas

In the British education system, gravitas was seen as one of the pillars of the moral formation of the English gentleman during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It is partly derived from the notion of aristocratic pedigree, indicating polish, grace in manner as well as dignity in outward appearance. The British Empire also derived from the moral concept of imperium so that gravitas and other Roman virtues were idealized in its imperial society and in the governance of its dominion.  India, for instance, was ruled by men whose sense of power were imbued with Roman virtues.  The concept of imperium also dominated the British colonial Civil Service.
No wonder that the late Queen Elizabeth II always projected world-wide Gravitas.

Gravitas is used in communication, particularly in speech, where it denotes the use of emphasis in order to give certain words weight.  Self-monitoring questions can determine expressive behavior and affective display, which could translate to gravitas in the way one conducts oneself or speaks in public.

Self-monitoring questions can include: asking ourselves – am I staying neutral? Am I hindering direction? Is my participation contributive?

To acquire gravitas in our present day of mass media society, we have to:

– Listen to others. They are our teachers.

– Think before we speak.

– Attain relevant literacy in order to bring value to society.

– Respect other people regardless of their skin color and tribal ancestry.

Marcus Tullius Cicero   

Tags: #gravitas #virtus #virtuous #pietas #dignitas #auctoritas #dignity #authority  #perseverance #courage #MarcusAurelius #Cicero #CondoleezaRice #QueenElizabeth #DalaiLama #BillGates #AngelaMerkel

About Mandy Lender

Mandy Lender, MD is an author, physician, public speaker, volunteer and adventurer. He published two books and two more books are in progress. Links:
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