“The Greatest” Change

By Trish Candler

In my home town we recently buried a local hero, known around the world as Muhammad Ali. There have been many commentaries on his life, his courage, his greatness and his ability to connect to so many different types of people. Just consider his eulogists – and the life experiences they described.

This is not another story of the lengthy attributes of Ali though many are still to be written. My focus is on change.

When you have heard stories about someone for a lifetime, you feel you know the person. But is this really true? After all, our stories, are merely that, our stories, our perspectives on life’s events.

How do you know when someone has truly changed? Do you believe it because you’ve heard it? If that were the case think about all of the wonderful, powerful life-changing opportunities available to us. 

When I think of change, particularly in the workplace, it seems we’re slow to accept change, weary of the latest trends, actions or buzzwords – and that’s just processes. People changing in the workplace appears to be a like a fish swimming upstream – very difficult. And just try convince others that someone has changed. 

I typically hear it’s too difficult to change, or “that’s just the way I am” so there’s not a reason to change. I think it comes down to a lack of support to sustain the change, and therefore it’s easier to revert to prior behaviors – just like everyone predicted. 

My desire for a fulfilling life tells me that if I personally experience a change in a person I care about, I am more likely to support, defend, and fight for sustaining that change. I long for the same treatment during my change efforts.

What happens when I don’t personally experience it? I may be skeptical of motives or curious if that person is strong enough to withstand the tests scattered on life’s journey. Think about someone you work with – what changes have you seen in them? Have you supported their efforts or merely watched from the sidelines, grateful you’re not in the throes of tumultuous activities?

Growing up in my suburban middle-class home, there were labels for people like Muhammad Ali, and those labels stuck through many decades even though the man had changed. The media coverage on the life of Muhammad Ali addressed his youthful stance on fairness and equality in the life of a young black man in the 1960s, and thankfully the media spent most of their time on the amazing and wise man he had become. 

However, there are people hanging onto to their experiences – their labels – and resisting the view of the man that evolved through life experiences. What would it have taken for them to experience the Muhammad Ali they were hearing about in the news coverage? 

Labels can be sticky, or we can toss them aside once we learn more, experience more and believe in the humanness of people. Again, in the workplace, consider labels we arbitrarily assign: millennial, baby boomer, slacker, workaholic, smart, clueless, dishonest, truthful … the list is endless, especially when we are seeking to feel better about ourselves by putting others down. You know that “comparison factor.”

When I think about how Muhammad Ali was able to sustain his change, it is apparent that there were people supporting him, people who took the time to understand his beliefs, fears, dreams and hope for a better world. They tossed the negative labels aside; their lens was empathy, compassion and love.

With this lens, and starting with yourself, insert your name in this sentence: I, ______, have beliefs, fears, dreams and hope for a better world, and I will seek out people in my life who will support me in being the change the world needs.

Perhaps this is the real legacy of Muhammad Ali, being an instrument for the greatest change.