Muhammad Ali's "Greatest" Lesson that the Founding Fathers Knew

These are not words Ali would use, but how he lived his life causes me to believe that he intuitively knew and understood that you can't solve a transformational problem with transactional solutions.

By that I mean that even though it was a different matter inside the ring, when he looked out at the world he realized that there was more to life than winning or losing or domination and disregard of the weak and poor by the strong and rich. When he looked at and listened to the world, the fear, hate, anger, pain and especially the injustice called out to him.

I'm guessing he saw the world as uncivilized according to the definition that the measure of a civilization is how it treats those who have hurt it and who are hurting in it.

Such matters do not call out to individuals who live transactionally. This may also explain why people living with hurt, fear and anger feel so unheard, unresponded to and uncared about by the rich and powerful who are consumed with winning and not losing at all costs. It may also explain why the more transactional a person (or Presidential candidate) is, the less their compassion and respect for and commitment to others rings true.

Ali didn't ignore people hurting in the world. He reminds me of a story told about Abraham Lincoln who having passed a horse stuck in a ditch turned around a mile down the road. When one of his group asked Lincoln why he did that, he responded, "I couldn't bear the pain in the horse's eyes."

Ali also knew intuitively that to hear, respond to and care about those cries from humanity instead of ignoring them requires transforming yourself. And to transform yourself means a willingness to let go of your current "form." The problem is that most people are unwilling to let go of their current form (or POV) because of how much they'll lose, because it is what orients them to the world and because it is what causes them to feel a sense of control and keep their anxiety manageable.

Letting go of it is too threatening to most people because they don't trust that they will be transformed. Instead they believe that their anxiety will mount and rather than being transformed, they will become even more anxious, disorganized and even panicky.

So what enabled Ali to let go of his form and lose so much when he refused to fight in the Vietnam war, gave up his livelihood, was branded a coward and traitor with no sign that it would turn around?

He would say it was his deep Muslim faith. I think there was something more at play. I think Ali not only had beliefs from his faith of how wrong it was to hurt, ignore, kill and commit violence between human beings, I'm guessing he also had a vision of a world in which people of all races, religions, cultures and generations could be loving and kind and compassionate to each other.

Instead of seeing a world of people drowning in anger and negativity, he envisioned a world of love and understanding that would serve as a rising tide to lift all hopes. Indeed, he was the ambassador of such a vision and took that wherever he went in the world. When people around the world screamed out his name, "Ali! Ali!", they saw him as a beacon of hope for a better future.

A vision of such a world would mean little, however, if he didn't also conduct himself according to deeply felt values that he didn't just espouse, but also lived. Ali is a great example of how values are not what you say, but how you actually conduct yourself during your day to day lives and even more importantly during crisis and during times when you feel frustrated, hurt, scared, angry and are tempted to veer off course into an eye for an eye approach to life. He no doubt agreed with Gandhi who believed that "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

Which brings us to the Founding Fathers.

I'm not sure why the passing of Ali triggered this in me, but it caused me to consider our Founding Fathers and specifically the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

In 1776, like Ali, the Founding Fathers looked out at Britain as a world filled with selfishness, corruption, abuse of power, entitlement, injustice and declared our independence from it. Perhaps you'll recall how that document begins:

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

Like Ali the Founding Fathers also had a vision of a different future to live into from an unjust past they were declaring their independence from.

And like Ali they also knew that in order to make that vision of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" a reality, there needed to be agreed upon values on how people conducted themselves.

Knowing that caused them to then craft the US Constitution which you'll remember begins with:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Constitution was the foundation of values for our country and in it a code was laid out that explained the conduct necessary to fulfill the vision created by the Declaration of Independence.

It is to the credit of the Founding Fathers who took that vision and those values so seriously that the lion's share of that document has stood the test of time. It may be that having paid such a horrendous price in lost lives and pain and suffering from the Revolutionary War that they wanted to do everything in their power to prevent that from happening again.

By and large the Constitution does a good job of that.

Sadly, what has happened in the past couple decades in America is the rise of a new form of tyranny. This time it is by the greedy, the corrupt, the scheming and the powerful. Ironically, those with the most money and power don't look at the Constitution as a guide on how to live in order to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" and something to help us get back on track when as imperfect humans we veer off. Instead they look for loop holes and ways to take advantage of it so they can grab even more power and wealth.

It may be a long time before another Ali comes our way. However, if we use our Declaration of Independence to give us a great vision and our Constitution as a guide into that vision we may all tap into and come from the Ali that lives within each of us.