“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Muhammed Ali – Success
How do we know which risks are worth taking?
Everybody wants success, however it is defined. That is clear. The confusion comes when we think about the best way to go about getting success. Some people carry the logic that success will only come from taking risks and that if we don’t learn to push our comfort zone, then we’re destined never to achieve anything. Others conclude that by avoiding risks and taking the slow cautious approach, we can achieve great things over time. The challenge is how to blend these two approaches in a way that maximizes chances for success.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts for a conversation about success using the Teach Different 3-Step conversation method. Make sure you go to teachdifferent.com to learn more, and check out our library of conversation plans, where we’ve compiled dozens of quotes, each with their own claim, counterclaim, and essential question.
Image source: Philosophers for Change | Creative Commons
Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We’re veteran educators who have created the Teach Different conversation podcast to inspire all of us to think deeper, listen with more intention, and understand each other better. If you’re a parent, educator, or anybody who wants to think in new ways that build real understanding about what’s important in life, and to help others do the same, then you’ve come to the perfect place.
Hey, everybody, welcome to the Teach Different podcast this week. We’re very excited to work with a quote from the boxing great, Muhammad Ali, who’s going to share some wisdom on the theme of success. We do not have a guest tonight, so it’s just going to be Steve and me. We’re going to break down the quote using our three step method. We start with a philosophical quote that we interpret by stating what it means, what the claim of the quote is saying from the author’s perspective. Then, we will move to a counterclaim, another way of looking at the world that is equally true, and equally believable, but pushes against the claim. That’s where the tension of the conversation will begin to surface. We’ll end with an essential question. Throughout our conversation, we’ll attempt to make curriculum connections with the different levels of teachers (elementary, middle and high school) who might be listening. If you’re an educator, as you listen, begin to visualize how you might use this with your students in the classroom. Here’s the quote. I’ll say it twice, and then we’re off. “He who is not courageous enough to take risks, will accomplish nothing in life.” “He who is not courageous enough to take risks, will accomplish nothing in life.” Steve, what do you think the claim is?
Steve Fouts 02:19 – Claim
It’s clear that Muhammad Ali is talking about the importance of taking risks, and pushing out of your comfort zone. Somehow that’s being tied to success, like anyone who’s ever been successful in their life has had to put themselves out there. If you live in a safe, comfortable world, then you’re not going to accomplish anything unless you take risks. It seems straightforward. It has courage, success, and risk taking in it. Those are the three big words in there. I can see the kids coming up with all kinds of angles on each of those three words. They’ll have a lot of opinions about this.
Dan Fouts 03:10
Linking courage to risk taking and making the connection that you have to be courageous in some way in order to be successful. Let’s bring this to the classroom. You can ask the kids, what are some risks that you’ve taken where you felt like you had to summon the courage to do something that was out of your comfort zone? How did it work out? I’m thinking public speaking will be brought up. If not, as a teacher you could say, has anyone had to give a public speech? You took a risk, put yourself out there, and were vulnerable. Were you successful as a result? If the students say they were successful with the speech, then that success was a result of taking a risk.
Steve Fouts 04:10
Sorry to interrupt. Here’s another angle you could take. The same idea with a slightly different angle. Ask the kids to talk about times when they’ve had success, or whatever they think success is, then ask them what they had to go through to achieve that success. How did you take risks, or were you successful for some other reason? Get them to figure out whether this quote is true or not. Muhammad Ali is basically saying that if you don’t take risks, you’re not going to have success. That’s what separates the men from the boys.
Dan Fouts 04:58
They could bring up examples with sports. Who has taken a risk to try out for a team? If you made the team and were successful as a result, you would have never achieved that success without the original risk. You could use this quote with relationships. Have you taken a risk in asking a girl or boy out? Were you successful? Help them to link the courage necessary to take a risk with the success that comes from it. They will definitely have examples that you can draw from.
Steve Fouts 05:42
Excuse me. Kids have different risk tolerances by nature, and adults do too. We may look up to our friends who take more risks sometimes, and see ourselves as a little bit lame. We see people receiving accolades and success, while we’re not achieving as much, because we’re more cautious, and don’t want to take those risks. You’re going to have those dynamics at play in a classroom, because kids are just just different. I would say the younger the kids, the more willing they are to take risks. But, there are kids who are very risk averse at early ages, so there may be some interest in this and perhaps some pushback.
Dan Fouts 06:44
Definitely. Students have different risk tolerances, and some will be outright afraid to take risks. Here’s a tangent you can take in the conversation. Ask people why risk taking is so difficult. They can talk about that as well. That way they can reveal some of their fears. If they’ve been burned before, then naturally they can discuss that as well.
Steve Fouts 07:19
This is also a great chance to teach about Muhammed Ali. There is so much video of him. He was a brash, upfront, courageous talker. He was a spoken poet, and his personality was controversial. I think he is an interesting historical figure to study with this quote.
Dan Fouts 07:51
If you just did this as an SEL conversation with Muhammad Ali in a history class, you could talk about all kinds of leaders who took risks. This would be a great conversation to have before a unit on the presidency in a government class, or World War II and the Great Depression with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Some of the risks that were taken would fit really well in a history, government, or even an English class with a novel where a character had to take a risk. This is a very relevant quote that is relatable to curriculum. You have to throw in the science fields as well. Inventors are great examples of people who put themselves out there, push beyond their own surroundings, and take risks to push science forward. There are a lot of examples of that. This is a quote you could bring into all kinds of multidisciplinary settings. I agree. Well, what about the counterclaim? How would you push back on what Muhammad Ali is saying? We have to believe this counterclaim. Even if you agree with Muhammad Ali, we have to start thinking about a way to push against this quote that’s equally believable.
Steve Fouts 09:50 – Counterclaim
Everyone has had friends who take too many risks and get in trouble. They not only get themselves in trouble, but they get you in trouble too when you’re hanging around them. They decided to put themselves out there, thinking they’re going to accomplish something, and it ends up getting everybody hurt in some way. I would say that being cautious is also a path to success. Instead of using the word cautious, let’s try another word to make it more proactive or determined. Determination also breeds success. That’s so different than risk taking, and having the courage to take risks. Getting up in the morning to do what you know you should do. Putting in the hard work, dedication and perseverance to accomplish a goal over time, when it’s not easy. That’s success. That’s not taking a risk. The quote doesn’t have all of the information to achieve success. I think there are other ways to achieve success.
Dan Fouts 11:29
Small, determined steps lead you to success. I just read an article recently on Tom Brady in The Washington Post. The article described what made him successful as a quarterback. What they concluded was that his rigorous self-discipline is what made him successful. He was better than any other quarterback in NFL history to see success as something that is gained 1% at a time, every day. You don’t take risks. You stay within the confines of your routines, and repeat behaviors over time to become successful. That’s not risk taking. That’s self-discipline. I think that is an equally valuable path to success.
Steve Fouts 12:31
This is another way to bring out the personalities of your students, to get them talking about what success means to them. You’re going to have students in your class who are much more cautious and methodical in the way that they do work, or maybe how they make friends, or how they develop relationships with people. With the counterclaim, you might want to look for responses from some of your quiet or shy types on how they define success. Make sure their ideas are shared. I think that’s what’s going to create tension in this conversation.
Dan Fouts 13:24
I think it will be very important for those quiet kids, who value planning and preparation, to weigh in on this conversation so that the risk takers in the room listen and understand that there is a different way to live, and vice versa. The careful planners can listen to the risk takers and say, wow, they did it. Maybe I can do it, too. People are learning about different ways of behaving.
Steve Fouts 13:55
When they do that, here’s what you hope is going to happen. The risk takers are going to realize that it’s not easy to be cautious, determined, straightforward, and consistent. The risk takers need to develop an appreciation for that. I think the cautious people should be trying to develop an appreciation for risk takers, because risk taking is not always inappropriate or brash. Sometimes it’s logical, chosen, and rational. It’s when a person realizes that they’re tired of who and where they are. I’m going to push my own comfort zone and be my worst enemy. I’m going to put myself out there. I may get rejected. I could lose, and many bad things could happen, but I’m going to step out and do it.
Dan Fouts 14:56
Right there in a classroom you could use the example of students sharing something sensitive as being a risk.
Steve Fouts 15:06
There you go. Have you ever given a speech and gotten really embarrassed? Who’s been really embarrassed? Can someone share a story about when you got embarrassed because you put yourself out there? Bring that stuff out. Getting both sides to participate in and appreciate the other perspective is doable with this quote. That’s what I would be doing as a facilitator.
Dan Fouts 15:41 – Essential Question
What a great opportunity for storytelling, for students to learn from each other. The kids may realize after this conversation that it is ultimately a balance between the two, and that both are valuable ways of living your life. There are a lot of possibilities for an essential question with this quote, and the students will likely bring up some during the conversation that you can use. Here’s an essential question that you could ask at the end of the conversation to wrap things up and to keep kids thinking. How do we know when taking a risk will lead to success?
Steve Fouts 16:45
You can even say, how do we know when taking a risk is worth it? Same idea.
Dan Fouts 16:51
Steve Fouts 16:53
Yeah, I don’t know how I would answer that personally.
Dan Fouts 16:59
Because the essence of risk taking is that you don’t know.
Steve Fouts 17:01
I have a way that I’m going to answer that. If over time I keep thinking that I should be taking the same risk, but I don’t do it, then it probably means that it’s something I should do. That’s just me, but there’s a reason why it keeps coming up. That little voice in your head is saying that you could do more if you put yourself out there. When I was 22, I met some guy from Toastmasters and he said, you know that you’re going to be speaking in front of 500 people. We have everybody do it for practice. It’s going to cost $80 a month. I wanted to get better at public speaking, but I never did it. I never ended up signing up. Instead, I became a teacher, which I guess is another way to get over your fear of it.
Dan Fouts 18:22
Yeah. I was scared to death of public speaking. That’s a good example for me, too. To your point. If your conscience keeps telling you that you should be doing something, then that’s a sign that taking a risk would probably lead to success. Let’s say your teacher, parent or another role model, keeps telling you to do something. They keep reminding you that you could be doing this, but it’s a risk. That’s a sign that they believe in you. Maybe you don’t believe in yourself enough.
Steve Fouts 18:58
I’m sorry. The counterclaim just reared its ugly head on that one. Think of a peer telling you to take a risk that you know you shouldn’t take. Now, you’re feeling pressured because your friend wants you to do something that you perhaps know is wrong. There are influences and forces in the other direction. People might be pushing you to take a risk that may not lead to success. You used the word conscience, like when your conscience tells you to do it. How do you know when you are listening to your conscience versus the voices in your head?
Dan Fouts 19:42
Well, and when authorities tell you to do things to what extent do you believe in the validity of what they’re saying based on their position? If you’re saying with peer pressure and it’s negative, then you don’t want to follow that and take risks. I think the theme here is that life is hard. How do you decide when to act and how to act out in the right way?
Steve Fouts 20:06
And when to take risks. What a great question to get anyone thinking about this. It’s a great self-reflection exercise.
Dan Fouts 20:14
As we get older, it doesn’t go away. Adults face this in completely different settings, of course.
Steve Fouts 20:21
Honestly, you get more frustrated with yourself when you get older. I’m still having this hang up about not wanting to put myself out there and take a risk. That’s embarrassing. But, like you’re saying, it never goes away. You strike a balance at different points in your life.
Dan Fouts 20:47
Thanks, everybody. This was great. We hope you enjoyed this conversation on Muhammad Ali’s famous quote on success. “He who is not courageous enough to take risks, will accomplish nothing in life.” We hope to see you again. Goodbye.
Steve Fouts 21:08
Dan Fouts 21:10
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and are confident that conversations like this are possible with just a little bit of planning and a three step method. Make sure you go to teachdifferent.com to learn more, and check out our library of conversation plans, where we’ve compiled dozens of quotes, each with their own claim, counterclaim and a central question. Good luck. And don’t forget to teach different with conversations and make a difference every day.