What is it to be great?

Posted on July 20th, 2016

Posted by Janne Robinson

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What is it to be great?

Greatness has been in the headlines lately, with Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign and the passing of beloved, Muhammad Ali “The Greatest of all time”.

I think that the majority of our world can agree that the only thing great about Donald Trump and political campaigns is if he doesn’t win them.

Muhammad Ali was great in the ring—but his greatness and battles reached far beyond the confines of his ability to slay in the boxing ring.

As the number of eyes grew following the punches Ali threw, he used that space to speak up against the injustices he faced—including American racism.

After Muhammad was denied service at a fountain counter due to the color of his skin, he threw his Olympic gold medal into a river.

When Ali was drafted to serve in the US army in in 1967, he stood up against the government, refusing to step forward in an Army recruiting station.

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother,” Ali shared in an interview, “…or some darker people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America, and shoot them for what? They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They didn’t put no dogs on me.”

He spoke even when it meant being stripped of his boxing title and sentenced to five years in prison.

His truth was his ultimate weapon against injustice in this world, not his fists.

There is a greatness that was undeniable about Muhammad Ali—and in many ways I believe it stemmed from his complete intolerance to not speak out at the injustices he faced and saw in this world, and his complete faith in his ability to create change.

“It’s the lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself.”- Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali believed he was great, before he had “earned” that greatness with the rest of the world.

His confidence and trust in his voice and abilities as both a boxer and speaker carved liberating pathways of truth for other ears who maybe did not encompass the backbone and the voice to speak it.

He took swings against injustice and stood up to speak even when Parkinson’s literally took his ability to speak a few years ago.

I believe that greatness is honoring our integrity and living our truths.

Not only believing, but doing.

“My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.” –Muhammad Ali

Speaking our truths falls with all sorts of consequences at times and yet compromising them is the biggest price we can pay in regards to our integrity and joy.

Greatness is a friend of mine who modeled in Italy. She received an opportunity to be photographed for a project that would launch her into monetary success and fame.

At the shoot she was asked to drape a dead fox around her shoulders.

She refused, and lost both the gig and opportunity.

She has gone on to fight much bigger wolves in this world, and to use her voice to speak up against much greater things.

Greatness is the 27-year-old storyteller, filmmaker and humanitarian I had coffee with on a green beach blanket in California last week.

Who told me he remembered one time when he was mentoring his high school boys and he went to buy them dinner, the bill came to $27.00 and he only had $31.00 in his bank account. He handed it over and went, “Well, this is it.”

Greatness is those that self sacrifice for they know that giving is richness.

Greatness is my old roommate who came home one night from her shift at a homeless shelter back in Alberta saying she came outside to see a man beating another man with a chain around the man’s neck, and she jumped in to protect his head, saving his life.

Greatness is the women in politics who go to work every day and deal with sexism, shop culture and the old boys club and do their jobs regardless of the harassment they may face.

Greatness is the the young man on the bus who gets up to give his seat to someone whose bones are old and failing.

Greatness is in the poets and philosophers of our time who use their voices to speak of more than just love ballads.

Greatness is the poet who writes love ballads to lighten our hearts.

Greatness is the person who is raped, and holds their attacker accountable so they may not go on to harm others in this world.

Greatness is comedian who make us laugh at their own expense, for laughter cures our weary hearts.

I devour greatness in the clients I coach, who daily are willing to knock the ceilings off the limitations they build to keep them small.

Greatness is those that see their smallness and are willing to sacrifice and let go of their suffering to choose growth.

Greatness is not winning, or fame, or failure or success—greatness is our ability to feel our truths humming in our bellies each day and wake up and live those truths out loud.

It is taking swings and risks and losing and sometimes winning and all the while not losing sight of our integrity.

I believe that “greatness” is something that is deep in the bones of every single individual on this earth and that all we must do is believe, and believe, and believe and do.

*Photo Credit: Muhammad Ali talking a young man attempting suicide off the ledge, Los Angeles, 1981.