Muhammad Ali may have made his living and his name by beating people up, but he has remained a modern-day hero because he was as inspiring outside of the ring as he was inside it.
Across the globe, we are witnessing a deserved outpouring of tributes.
“Many will remember the wit, grace and beauty he brought to boxing… All over the world people also flocked to hear him offer his view on the achievement of democracy and particularly equal rights when they were so strikingly missing in some of the richest countries of the world. He brought his message of freedom and respect for people of all races to all the continents of the world.
As a sportsman and humanitarian, and as someone who struggled for a very long time with one of the most debilitating illnesses, he offered courage in the face of great difficulties. He was intent on going on communicating right to the very end.”
~ Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland
I was a child when Ali was at the peak of his career, and though I wasn’t a boxing fan, I was still aware of this icon who unashamedly declared, “I am the greatest.”
I didn’t know much about what was going on in the world, but I knew who Mohammad Ali was—and I knew he was very good at his job.
I didn’t understand then what charisma was, but I experienced its effects nonetheless.
As an adult, I saw why this man garnered so much respect. Unafraid to express his strong opinions on racism or religion, or to refuse to fight in a war he didn’t believe in, Ali left a quote-worthy legacy.
The following are my favorites:
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
“Don’t count the days; make the days count.”
“Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”
“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”
Ali was an icon for self-belief. He didn’t believe in presenting a humble face to the public, and yet he was, arguably, humble despite his proclamations of greatness.
“At home I am a nice guy, but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”
“It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”
He demonstrated that humility can stand alongside self-belief and, for those who struggle with that, taking some of his words to heart may help to inspire a shift toward greater courage, confidence and belief in possibility:
“Impossible is just a big 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 not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.”
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
“A man who has no imagination has no wings.”
“If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.”
“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.“
But Ali also had a sense of humor, which was often woven into his declarations of greatness. Without a sense of humor, life would often feel unbearable. So, when we remember all that Muhammad Ali stood for, let’s remember that too.
“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”
Author: Hilda Carroll
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Youtube Screenshot