Every so often a human being emerges to remind us of the greatness we are capable of.  Muhammad Ali was such a being.

He was The Greatest.  He told us so. And he showed us so.  We saw him fight for that title. In the sports ring or in front of a microphone. In humanitarianism. Or in facing illness.   He was a man who had the courage to stand by his principles and stand up to those in power. A man who amongst his notable acts, sacrificed his title and the prime time of his career rather than kill Vietnamese.

The flaw of Great Man Theory

Such a great man, such a great leader can tip us back into buying into the “Great Man” theory of leadership made popular in the 19thcentury.  The likes of historian Thomas Carlyle believed that the capacity of leadership is inherent. That leaders are born not made.  Effective leaders were seen as those gifted with divine inspiration. Who due to their particular characteristics of charisma, intelligence and wisdom were the ones able to have a decisive historical impact.

The flaw in sticking with this theory is that it fails to account for context, change and human potential.  We can end up putting such great people on a pedestal. Which in itself is understandable. There are indeed extraordinary people.  It is just a waste of the inspiration and gifts they have for each of us.   Worshipping them from afar detaches us from the possibility that they have entered our life, our consciousness, to offer us different ways of relating to ourselves, to others and the world.  Or to shine a light on our own great qualities.

Reclaiming our great qualities

We can admire Ali’s attitudes, actions and achievements.  Celebrate him for just being him.  And we can use that admiration to dig deep to reclaim the great qualities we admire in him, in ourselves.

We may never be as pretty. But we can believe in ourselves.  Like him, we can fight for justice, freedom and equality.  We can show bravery and courage in what we do. Demonstrate faith and integrity in our lives.  We can explore new ways to improve our own natural talents.  Certainly we can help others.  Or show grace. We can take risks. Keep our mischievousness.  Embody paradox. Become conscious.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

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