[Vision2020] Muhammad Ali and the Power of Pride

Nicholas Gier ngier006 at gmail.com
Tue Jun 14 09:37:52 PDT 2016

Dear Visionaries:

What a crying/screaming shame that the celebration of Ali's magnificent
life in Louisville was followed by the senseless tragedy in Orlando.  Well,
the right-wingers still have their God, Guns, and Guts.

I just want to observe, as many reporters have, that the FBI was following
several of the 9/11 hijackers and suspects in other cases before their
heinous acts, and the agents and the agency dropped the ball.  How did this
guy pass a background check after he had been interviewed by the FBI, not
once but twice?  The FBI, under Bush and under Obama, has failed us

This New York Times article reminds us that the chances of being a victim
of a gun homicide in Japan is the same as being hit by lightning.  For the
odds in other civilized countries see
I grieve for our nation and the mental patterns that cause so much
destruction here and abroad,


This column was published in the Daily News, the Idaho State Journal (1700
words), and will soon appear in the Sandpoint Reader and the Los Cabos
Daily News.

*Muhammad Ali and the Power of Pride*
*Muhammad Ali taught us all that, whatever color you are, **whatever
religion you are, you can be proud of who you are.*

—Bill Clinton

            Most of the nation’s founders were intellectuals who drew moral
and political lessons from ancient philosophy. With regard to pride, they
would have been aware that Aristotle ranked it as a virtue second only to
wisdom. They would also have known that in the Christian tradition pride
was one of the seven deadly sins.

In Sunday School we are taught that boasting is a sin, but the previous
Friday or Saturday we were out rooting for our athletic teams with
unabashed pride.  It is also still common to see the 9/11 bumper sticker
“The Power of Pride.”

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that pride is knowing what we have
accomplished and freely acknowledging that we have done it.  Aristotle did
not respect people who hid their lights under a bushel.

NPR’s inspiring series *This I Believe* ended with an essay by Muhammad
Ali, and he sounded just like the brash young boxer we knew in the 1960s.
Ali said that he was still the greatest and that everyone could succeed
just as he did.  Ali was unwittingly following Aristotle when he once
proclaimed “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”

Normally we would not tolerate people who say that they are the greatest
even though they may have accomplished much. Do we give Ali a pass because
he was a unique personality, or because he was one of the greatest boxers
of all time, or because of his great humanitarian accomplishments while
crippled with Parkinson’s disease?

As a young black man, facing brutal discrimination at every turn, Ali felt
that he had no choice but to lash out and refuse to be yet another “white
man’s Negro.” Black athletes were expected to be kind, civil, and grateful,
but not Ali.

Here is one of his most provocative statements: “I am America. I am the
part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my
name not yours. My religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”
Not only did we get used to him, but we have made him, rightfully so, into
a national hero.

Newspapers persisted in referring to him by his “slave name” Cassius Clay,
and *Time* magazine called him “Gaseous Cassius.” Even Howard University,
America’s finest black school, blocked him from speaking in a campus hall.

With regard to the Vietnam War, he was defiant: “I ain’t got no quarrel
with them Viet Cong. Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go
10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in
Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs
and denied simple human rights?

He had of course more to say: “They never called me nigger, they never
lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my
nationality, rape or kill my mother and father.”

Ali converted to Islam and took a new name that means “beloved of Allah.”
His spiritual journey took him from the radical black nationalism of Malcom
X (he said that he never believed that white men were devils), then to
orthodox Sunni Islam, and finally to the peace-loving Sufis.  His favorite
author was the Indian Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan, who founded the Sufi Order
of the West and who believed in the unity of all religions.

The Muslim world honored Ali, and the king of Muslim Jordan and president
of Muslim attended his funeral. The United Nations made him “A Messenger of
Peace,” and in 1985 he was successful bringing back four Americans held in
Beirut, Lebanon. In 1990, six weeks before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait,
Ali traveled to Baghdad and secured the release of 15 American hostages.

In his autobiography Ali writes: “I guess I’d settle for being remembered
only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people,” and
with a twinkle in his eye and a glimmer of true humility, adds: “And I
wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”

The Greek word *megalopsychia*, which we translate as “pride,” literally
means “having a great soul.” Muhammad Ali was definitely a great soul, but
not the greatest. May this fierce yet gentle soul rest in peace and may he
continue to be an inspiration to us all.

Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy and religion at the University of
Idaho for 31 years. Read all of his columns on civil rights at


A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.

-Greek proverb

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understand-ing!—that is the motto of enlightenment.

--Immanuel Kant
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