Being the greatest is much more than telling yourself or anyone who will listen that you are. You must prove it. For much of his professional life, Muhammad Ali told the world that he was the greatest and we believed him because he showed us that he was. Daily, Ali worked to prove his claim. Whether that was through his family, his religion, or through his works, Ali strove to prove to himself that he was the greatest.
Never lose sight of the quintessential truth that you can lie to everyone but yourself. When you make a huge claim only you may be sure its true. If you choose to believe it every day, you will have to prove it to yourself, every day. This was Ali’s true message.
There is perhaps no better example to all of us that there is strength in a belief. Ali was a fighter who did not believe in senseless harm. He was a big man, a brave man, a leader, a national treasure, even a global treasure. From his public persona we can surmise that Ali was not a perfect man but taken as a whole and in the context of American culture he was a good man. A polarizing figure, he caused others to question the validity of their own posturing. In his wake, only the most insecure could shut their eyes to the truth that a good man’s convictions do not challenge a good country’s future. They enhance it. He proved that and in so doing became our proxy in the global community. As a nation, we learned a much about our failings from “The Greatest”.
If we can truly benefit from Muhammad Ali and those like him it is the understanding that questioning the American condition is not unpatriotic neither is it cowardice. If America is to continue to be that shining beacon we tell the world we are, questioning what it means to be American in the modern world is a responsibility that cannot be shirked. As is true for any individual, group, or nation, growth is achieved by learning and adapting. What was true for America 100, 70, or even 20-years ago may not be true for America today and that has global implications because while America represents something important, it does not exist alone; it is one member of a very complex international community. As that community develops and expands, America’s position within it changes. American leadership should not be diminished by such change it should adapt to it and continue guiding the world toward a better future.
I believe America represents the most honest attempt at a democracy that exists today but that may not always be the case. Something better may evolve in the future but until that happens it remains our responsibility to forge the path. Like Ali, we too make mistakes and we are not perfect but perfection is not our birthright. It is our impetus. We improve because we are imperfect. Like Ali, we work daily to be the “greatest”. We must do this because this nation is the pathfinder toward the enlightenment that comes from freedom and equality. Be cautious however, there is hubris in the title. From time-to-time we arrogantly claim it without earning it and without understanding why we can claim it. When we allow this to happen we lose any moral ground let alone the high ground. Sadly today, too many Americans are falling short of our high ideals and they are not only an offense to us, they are an insult to the populations we claim to lead.
As I tell my children regularly, it is an awesome responsibility to be an American because it falls to us to alway act in the face of wrongs; always to strive for the right regardless of the cost to us. It is our burden to carry the pains of discovery and our reward and good fortune to call ourselves Americans but it is our responsibility always to honor the truth.