“Medals lay upon my chest,
But that is not what says it best.
A man emerged from just a tike,
Honor appeared in the form of a bike.”
- Brent Melton
In 1955, in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay’s bike was stolen. Furious, he swore he would “whup” whoever was responsible. Louisville policeman Joe Martin told him, “Well you better learn how to fight first.” A few weeks later, at a mere 89 pounds, Cassius Clay won his first fight. Less than 10 years later he was the Heavyweight Champion of the world.
It’s nearly inconceivable that any one of these events would happen today. We seldom see kids riding bikes around town anymore, and kids are rarely encouraged to stand up for anything at all, lest they get in trouble. Instead, they go home to their parents, and tell them what happened. They either get a new bike, or their parents seek out the thief for them and press charges. At the heart of it, we are good people who want to shield our children from harm. Unfortunately, in doing so, we also rob them of the life lessons they learn from experiencing consequences.
Denying them an intimate relationship with consequence instills fear in our children– fear that impels them to seek a sense of safety above everything else. The inherent problem with this mindset is that the human brain is not wired to seek out safety at all costs; the human brain needs to experience danger in order to understand the limits of human experience. Caught between these opposing desires, our kids lock their doors, put on headphones, and seek the danger their brains crave through video games. They construct a false sense of security while reinforcing these mythical walls of protection in order to avoid danger. Ironically, this practice puts them at a distinct disadvantage when danger presents itself.
This fear mentality encourages kids to believe that laws and policies have more power than the motives and drives intrinsic to the human spirit. Thus, afraid to look life in the eye, our kids increasingly rely on others to save and protect them. Rather than raising heroes, we raise victims looking for saviors in their media, their lawyers and their lawmakers.
Shielding our children from difficulty and pain ill equips them to take on the world they will inherit, a world that ultimately recognizes each of us as either a boot or a bug. The fear they finally feel, when confronted with difficulty, sends them scurrying to find safety. They search out others to shield them. Historically, the boots have not been able to discriminate for very long between which bugs to protect and which ones to stomp, so a sad reality arrives.
We build for them an “Ain’t Skeered” type of culture and perpetuate a myth that fear is bad. Our children think that being afraid means something is wrong with them. We don’t teach them that fear, like failure, is a friend. We don’t tell them that we are often afraid, or that courage is only possible when fear is present. Life isn’t about avoiding fear, but putting your chin down and walking forward when fear is bearing down on you.
This is not nostalgia for a vanished golden age. Much of the world has gotten better since 1955. But while the freedoms and material advantages for our children have increased astronomically, the expectation of responsibility has decreased dramatically. Without opportunities to take on responsibility for themselves and to learn how to face fear and adversity, our children may never know what greatness lies within them. After all, they have the same blood pumping through their veins that settled the West and stormed the beaches at Normandy. If we provide opportunities for our children to realize their power, we teach them resilience.
Every hero we have, mythical or otherwise, has endured great trials and tests of their courage. Each of them embarked on their own hero’s journey. At times, every hero stands alone. They all feel fear. They act, despite fear.
This boxing club is not about “fighting.” It is about encouraging people to honor and celebrate the fighting spirit they were born with. Building a place where we can express our fighting spirit deters us from expressing it in the wrong places and in the wrong ways.
Knuckles break, noses bleed, and eyes blacken, but the spirit is eternal; we get to choose whether to protect the body or the spirit. By placing ourselves in a position to feel fear and to face adversity, we become the boots. Our children don’t deserve to become bugs; they deserve to inherit an unbreakable spirit, to be empowered to face adversity.
Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” At some point we have to choose to get back on the bike, even if it means trusting a world that will steal it. This boxing club is about helping us find our bike and reclaim our legacy.