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Don't Make Things About You

I was a freshman in high school when the 9/11 attacks took place. This was my

introduction to many things but the one that stands out the most was “The Greatest” aka Muhammad Ali. On a Saturday morning following the attacks I went with the colonel to get his car washed and we ate breakfast while we waited. The news was on in the restaurant and Muhammad Ali was being interviewed and spoke about the attacks and how they did not represent Muslims. The colonel, as usual, was dressed in all black with an American flag pin on his collar and a U.S. Army hat. The person sitting a couple seats over was wearing a Vietnam Veteran hat. That person looked over at the colonel and said something along the lines of Muhammad Ali being a draft dodger and a coward. I was just sitting there clueless not knowing who the hell Muhammad Ali was. I mean the Will Smith movie “Ali” wasn’t released till later that year.

The Colonel looked over at the man and politely said “I disagree.” Remember when men (people) could disagree without screaming at each other online? Perhaps the threat of physical altercations subconsciously encouraged people to behave in a more respectful manner. The two men respectfully went back and forth while even sharing laughs but the colonel hammered home an important point. In a nutshell, his point was that Muhammad Ali was not a draft dodger. He was a conscientious objector that gave up his career and heavy weight title because the war went against his beliefs. He described draft dodgers as guys hiding in Canada or shooting off their pinky toes. The colonel went on to say he wanted people to respect his beliefs and he afforded others the same. He described himself and Ali as two sides of the same coin. Both men were willing to sacrifice a lot for what they believed in.

I have no idea if the colonel did anything that day to change that man’s future views of Muhammad Ali nor do I care. I say that as a person with Ali posters and paintings all over my house. The point was two grownups can disagree on something without having it impact their well-being. How were they able to do that? Many reasons I’d imagine. Perhaps they were just two callused veterans that survived so much that they didn’t sweat trivial shit. What can be done to protect our headspace during disagreements for those of us that didn’t grow up during the great depression and survive wars that they were drafted into? A good place to start is not making everything about “you” and stop taking shit personally. I get it, much easier said than done, but its definitely a great skill to acquire.

What we need to understand is that we all have had different upbringings and experiences that have shaped our perceptions. Our perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors are pretty much automatic, especially for those that lack self-awareness. We have all arrived at our worldview uniquely and that should allow for some empathy and/or respect for others and their journey. At the very least, you can tell yourself another person’s opposing views, beliefs, and actions aren’t about you (unless you’re being a total asshole), and that’s just who they are based on their experiences.

As Don Miguel Ruiz describes it in The Four Agreements, “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world,” (1997).

The truth is the colonel told me he did not always hold Ali in such a high regard. At one point he resented Ali which was strange for me to learn being that I witnessed numerous occasions where he stood up for Ali. Heres the backstory........

In Vietnam, a black man saved the colonel’s life and they developed a strong bond. That event and relationship ultimately allowed him to change his perception because it allowed him to be open to another’s worldview. In this case, the man that saved the colonel's life, and fought by his side, loved and supported Ali. He shared a perspective about Ali that the colonel fully received. The colonel would share this very story on Ali’s behalf. That story is how Ali represented the USA in the Olympics, won a gold medal, then came home to constraints on which restaurants he was allowed to eat in because the color of his skin. As the story goes, he went on to throw that medal in a river. See how Ali’s past could have shaped his worldview? So, had that man not saved the colonel’s life in Vietnam, it is quite possible his view could have always been “I was there, he should have been too!” Glad he got to a place where he didn’t have to take shit personally and make it about him!

Anyways, after breakfast and the car wash the colonel took me to the book store where we purchased two books. When Pride Still Mattered, a biography on Vince Lombardi, and The Greatest, an autobiography by Muhammad Ali. I still own both of those copies today. I believe the colonel was a little embarrassed by my ignorance regarding THE GREATEST.

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1 comentário

Ken Elflein
Ken Elflein
15 de jul. de 2023

Thank you

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