In an era where African Americans were not seen by the dominant culture as possessing few positive attributes and held back by a system of hatred and oppression; simply meeting basic needs for survival in a racist system is what most family’s did just to maintain a level of dignity.
Muhammad Ali, without knowing it, helped to restore the admirable characteristics of black people that society had frequently demeaned, degraded and made it down right undesirable to possess. At a time when it may come across as conceited or arrogant, Ali boldly proclaimed his extraordinary abilities through the use of his booming voice on a national stage to be heard by everyone.
Ali taught us to love ourselves unapologetically. He made statements like “I’m so pretty!” while boldly and unabashedly telling the world that he is someone to be loved and adored. He demonstrated an outward expression of self-love when it was common place for television programs, magazine articles and radio ads that portrayed negative images of black people. When Ali, a man, and a boxer called himself pretty, it stirred feelings of self-love that most were unfamiliar with. It encouraged many to affirm their own beauty. Muhammad Ali wasn’t the only black person during that era to declare his humanity, manhood, beauty and power; he just made it look so darn good!
POSITIVE SELF TALK
I call it positive self-talk, but back then, Ali’s self-aggrandizement was referred to as ‘trash talk’. This is a type of talk that boxers engage in to promote oneself as powerful. It is also used to instill fear in the opponent and challenge their confidence. If done correctly, the goal is to win the game (mind game) before it ever gets started. He is known for his famous proclamation, “I float like a butterfly and sting like bee, your hand can’t touch what your eyes can’t see.”
Today most people accept that what we say to ourselves has enormous power over what shows up in our lives. Ali seemed to know the power of the tongue and feeding oneself with positive self-talk. He understood that while the media, the government and various intuitions were persistent with their negative portrayal of African Americans, he probably sensed that the damaging messages were destroying the self-esteem and confidence of his people. He probably figured out that repetitive, negative messages that permeated the culture would create irreparable damage to the minds of the people. I want to believe that his goal was not only to distract and weaken his opponent but also to encourage all those that could see or hear him, to never doubt nor criticize themselves, but rather to offer themselves words of praise and encouragement at all times.
As a therapist, I frequently suggest that my clients use daily affirmations to help change limiting self-beliefs in exchange for positive and productive statements. Ali utilized these principals and has been quoted as making countless I am statements which are affirmations that are spiritually and energetically charged to bring what you say into alignment with the Almighty.
One of his most prolific statements is when Ali proudly said "I am the greatest; I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest."
I can only imagine how powerful and transformational those words must of have been to someone struggling with their own self-worth.
USE OF IMAGINATION
“The man with no imagination has no wings.” ~ Muhammad Ali
When Ali was a young fighter in the 60’s and 70’s, kids of that era with the hope to one day become a doctor or a lawyer was beyond their reach, in many cases. Often times their dreams were thwarted and they were discouraged from dreaming big dreams. But Ali was different. He encouraged people to imagine and dream big. He was quoted as saying “What you're thinking is what you're becoming.” Ali knew as a young man the importance of seeing success first in your mind’s eye.
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it - then I can achieve it.” ~ Muhammad Ali
"Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing." ~ Muhammad Ali
Ali persevered in the face of oppression and resistance. He fought with confidence both in and out of the ring for his rights and for the rights of his people. Ali’s highly developed sense of self helped him to push through many obstacles. Boxing taught us all that when knocked down, one should get back up and jump right back in the ring. Ali demonstrated this when he was defeated by Joe Frazier (1971) in their first fight, but because he believed in his abilities and never gave up, he came back more confident than before and defeated Frazier in their second fight (1974).
Young boys and girls watched as he stood up to the great power structure of this nation and declared that he was not going to fight in a war that he felt was not his own. Although he lost that battle and was ultimately stripped of his title, he got right back in the game and was triumphant once again. Muhammad Ali is a true hero to all us, not only for his sportsmanship and athletic talents, but for his political strength, humanity, charity, and the lessons he taught us about self confidence and self love. He truly was the Greatest!