This is a thousand year old Latin expression that translates into ‘You can not give what you do not have.’
What a simple yet profound thought.
If you do not possess something then you can not give it to someone else. If you don’t have a dollar then you cannot give a dollar. That’s easy to understand and to accept, but I want to go to a little deeper place.
If you are not kind, you will not give kindness and you will be mean to people. If you do not have mercy, you cannot give mercy and your justice will be cold and harsh. If you do not have love, you cannot give love and you will be selfish. Love is the exchange of gifts of one person to another, completely, fully, and unconditionally. Therefore the opposite of love is not hate but selfishness because you hold back a part or the good of yourself.
These examples are a little tougher to take because now the focus is on us—on the person I am inside. I mean, if you don’t have a buck you don’t have a buck. No one can fault you for that. But when you’re unkind to someone else, now it becomes something different because the question has to be asked–did you not give kindness because you made a mistake or because you do not possess it?
Now the simple phrase of Nemo Dat Quod Non Habet becames profound and in truth this intention is more inline with the original purpose of the phrase. It is to be a wake up call to greater ‘perfection’ in the individual person. It’s a call to stop pointing fingers and complaining how that person is a real jerk, or that he doesn’t do anything, or that she doesn’t know anything. You’re supposed to apply it to yourself. That is, if you are not giving a desirable good (and it has to be a good) then maybe you don’t possess it and if you don’t, then you have to go get it.
I have to add that if you’re a leader (parent, superintendent, principal, SRO, police chief, teacher, etc) then you have to apply Nemo Dat Quod Non Habet to those under you. If your people are not giving a desirable good consistently, your job is to first determine if they possess it and then if they don’t, to make sure they get it.
This is why counselling, behavior modification, setting the right example, and professional development is so critical. We are trying to better the person—to give them something they do not possess so they can give it to other people.
Now, don’t think that I can let you (the leader) off that easy. Leaders are expected to be wise. You cannot give wisdom if you do not possess wisdom, and wisdom comes from knowledge. Knowledge of the subject matter, your people, the art of leadership, and human behaviors. You must have this knowledge if you want to give wisdom. The good news is that you can—get the knowledge and give wisdom. You just have to remember Nemo Dat Quod Non Habet.
It’s that simple and that profound.