I am currently in process of reading Muhammad Ali’s biography by Jonathan Eig. I’m embarrassed to say I really didn’t know much about Ali except that he was a really great boxer and had Parkinson’s Disease. I find it interesting that as I read his biography, I am also getting a history lesson in the civil right’s movement and a little bit about the Vietnam War as well. He was right in the middle of all of it.
I’m frustrated with Ali because I can’t figure him out. I find myself wanting to either hate him or love him, and I can’t seem to put him in either category. He believed in segregation, or at least spoke publicly that he was for it. I am definitely not pro-segregation. He could have taken a deal to serve in the Armed Forces rather than fight the draft. The deal would have allowed him to box as entertainment for the troops instead of being on the battlefield. He refused to take the deal though, knowing he would most likely go to jail. He gave up his heavy weight title and had to stop boxing. All of this to stay true to his religion, his beliefs. I respect him for that. He had his wife set up his extra marital encounters for him, saying it was her duty to do what he asked of her. I don’t really respect that so much. He was a very talented boxer which I respect.
Isn’t that human nature to try to categorize people? How do we decide? Some of us use our gut. Some of us deliberate, research, line up all the facts, and carefully weigh all of it to come to the “right” decision. Look at Ali though. Regardless of his beliefs, I think I may have still liked him as a person. It’s not so simple to place people in categories, even when they don’t believe the same things as you, because at the end of the day, maybe they still make you laugh or their actions, regardless of their beliefs, gain your respect.
We’ve all been taught what’s right and what’s wrong. Those lines aren’t always straight though, are they? Things on paper that you might judge, you may make allowances for if you really know that person. Ali’s own wife chose to accept his extramarital affairs, because she understood it was a part of him and to be part of his world, she would have to accept it. Me, outside looking in, thinks that seems crazy. But who knows, given the situation, living the situation, I may have done the same. Do we ever really have all the facts, all the research to be able to put people in a category? If I listed all my pros and cons, all the nice things about me and all the not so nice things, would you decide to put me in a category, or would you remember me for the person you have experienced me to be?
Thomas Jefferson was one of the original authors of the Declaration of Independence. Yet, he owned slaves, had an extramarital affair, kept the woman in a small, windowless room next to his, freed 7 of her children (and his), and at one point believed that black people were biologically less intelligent then white people. All facts. What category do we put him in? What if rather than a prisoner, the woman was the love of his life and that was the only way he could keep her safe? Can we really categorize him without truly having lived it? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe if we could read his diary. We do have free will though, so if we decide to just put someone in a category because we feel like, well, so be it.
Trudging down the hill in Rome towards our little hotel, my mom, sister and I suddenly were overcome with 1000’s of people speedily walking up the hill. I had a giant backpacker’s backpack on my back, and as I tried to make my way through these awful, rude, fast-paced people, I would turn my shoulder and ram them with my backpack. Totally justified, right? We were the ones trying to get down the hill, they were the ones storming up the hill. Or maybe they were just trying to make their way up the hill, getting back to their homes after a fun celebration and we were rude foreigners pushing our way through the crowd, disrespecting their celebration. Two sides to every story. When I tell you the story from the Italians’ point of view, do you like me a little less? (Hint: You should.)
Overall, we know basic rights from basic wrongs. However, I think we all need to agree the line can be blurry or bent depending on the situation. And when the time comes, all that matters is how you lived your own life because history will only be able to tell part of the story.