I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to go the extra mile lately, and have come to the conclusion that its true meaning is quite far from the most common interpretations. The phrase is usually used to describe someone who goes out of his way in service of another or someone who makes more effort than required or expected in the accomplishment of a goal. While those usages may be valuable, the original intent of the statement referred to a much more formidable requirement.
When the statement most claim as the origin of the phrase was made: “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain”, Roman soldiers, under the law of impressment, were able to commandeer civilians or their property to carry their luggage or other burdens for one mile (1,000 Roman paces or approximately 4,851 feet). This was not invented by the Romans, as the Persians before them used it as likely did many other civilizations before them.
The Judeo-Christian interpretation of this statement typically points to the need for self-sacrifice in serving others, but even that misses the mark originally intended. The Jews were undoubtedly put upon by the Romans at that time as were many other groups, but that, from the standpoint of the statement: “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” was largely beside the point. This wasn’t advice given to exact revenge, make oneself look good or rally against injustice, it was a simple and direct way to describe the attitude and approach that would be taken by someone whose heart was rooted in love and mind was fastened upon truth.
Magnanimity is a radiant approach to living; it is not something done out of reaction to a perceived injustice.