Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with 82-year-old living legend and Nike’s former Director of International Basketball, Coach George Raveling (@GeorgeRaveling). Coach Raveling was the first African-American head basketball coach in the PAC-8 (now PAC-12). On August 28, 1963, at age 26, while volunteering as security at the March on Washington, Raveling would humbly become the guardian of what we have come to know as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Coach Raveling has held head coaching positions at Washington State, the University of Iowa, and USC. Following a prolific basketball coaching career, he joined Nike at the request of Phil Knight, where he played an integral role in signing a reluctant Michael Jordan. He’s also been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Coach George Raveling made his first appearance on the podcast in 2018, and for me, it was one of the most impactful interviews I’ve done, and I came out of it walking on air.
I invited George back on the podcast to hear his thoughts on everything that is happening right now. These are difficult and uncertain times for millions of people, and my heart goes out to each and every person navigating the depths of sadness, anger, and fear.
As you’ll hear in today’s episode, Coach Raveling has great hope. He’s seen many changes in his lifetime, and we can all strive to be the positive change agents that he implores us to be.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors.
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Tim Ferriss: Coach, I appreciate you taking time to record this follow up to our conversation. It is June 7th, 2020. Following the death of George Floyd, a lot is happening. How or where would you like to start?
George Raveling: I would like to start with a prayer.
Tim Ferriss: Please do.
George Raveling: Dear merciful God, we come before you on this day to request that you compassionately welcome George Floyd into your heavenly kingdom. Please restore his breath, his heartbeat, heal his wounds, allow him to live the life he was denied on Earth. God, shower some of your richest gifts on the Floyd family. Give them the strength during these challenging times. Dear God, answer George’s dying request for his mother. Please, please, unite them one more time. And finally, dear Lord, we ask you to bring comfort and understanding to the multitude of families who have suffered the loss of their own loved ones during these times of social change. We make this request in your name, amen.
Tim Ferriss: Amen. Thank you for that. George, I find myself in a very different place than I normally would in these conversations. I typically come in with a long list of questions, I have typically done a lot of homework on the person I’ll be speaking with, and we’ve already had one very, very long conversation and covered a lot. But this is really an afternoon where I would like to do more listening than anything else and I would just love to hear from you what you’re observing or what you’d like to share about yourself as a way of entering into this conversation.
George Raveling: One of the things that you might find intriguing, Tim, is that I have had what I call a stop strategy, and I’ve had this for years and years and years. And I feel it’s so applicable to contemporary times and the things that we’re dealing with now. I think each of us are given one life to live and each of us have a fundamental responsibility to protect that life and to protect ourselves from death.
When I have conversations with myself I say to myself, “I must never forget this reality. I am black forever and my number one goal is to stay alive.” I’m an 82-year-old black man and I drive a black Lexus, a Lexus SUV, and thus I feel I have to have a stop strategy. What do I do if I’m pulled over by the police? I’ve got to turn off the motor, I’m going to turn on the phone so I have some overt evidence of what took place, I’m going to roll the window down, I’m going to put my hands high up on the steering will so it’ll be obvious that I don’t have anything in my hands, I’ll be polite. I’ll be overly polite and say, “Yes, sir.” And, “No, sir.” Or, “Yes, ma’am.” And, “No, ma’am.” And if there’s a request made for my license, I’ll ask for permission to reach into my pocket and pull it out.
I’ll give them my driver’s license and I’ll also give them an old faculty ID card that I had from when I was coaching at USC, and then I’ll pray. And at that moment, I only have one objective and that is to stay alive. Tim, I don’t know, it comes a time when you’re — when you’ve been a black person, we have to be confronted with this reality and that reality is that we’re black forever, but you know what? The burden of being black is something that I welcome, and hopefully it’ll bring out the best in me, the very best in me.
When all is said and done, the only true validation I seek is my self-validation. I’ve grown to understand that it’s just senseless for me to struggle for America’s validation. If I do that, Tim, I’m always going to be chasing a ghost and so that’s why, as an 82-year-old black male, I understand the importance and relevance of having what I call a stop strategy.
Tim Ferriss: And have you ever had to use that or have you used it outside? Do you have other stop strategies for outside of the automobile? What other strategies have you carried with yourself throughout life as a black male? Do any come to mind?
George Raveling: As it relates to being stopped by a policeman, that’s as simple as — I’ve been pulled over on times and to be totally transparent, it was if I ran a light or I had a speeding ticket, I clearly understand that. But I also recognize that there’s a protocol that the law enforcement has to engage in, and so I’m not going to ever assume that my life is not at risk, and so I want to be prepared when, if, something like that happens. Sadly, I feel like I’ve reached a point in life where I have to live my life on defense. I’ve got to worry more about someone else’s deportment or behavior than my own and I realize that, as I said, I’ll forever be black, so I have to expect that there’s going to be certain preconceived ideas about me as a black male.
People say they know me, Tim, but they don’t really know me, and I could honestly say to you in my lifetime that most people have never really tried to know me. They have a surface impression of me and maybe one of our challenges is to try to better understand each other. I don’t put an indictment on people, but I feel I’m guilty of that. I think I need to know people better. I need to feel their pain. I need to understand that they’re carrying somebody else’s cross.
Tim Ferriss: And you mentioned impressions, misconceptions, I want to mention for people who perhaps didn’t listen to part one, because I imagine a lot of people will jump to this, very timely at the time of recording, the conversation that we’re having now. But you own probably more than $100,000 worth of black collectibles, including figurines, books, postcards, first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and some of these are very derogatory. A black person eating watermelon with a smile on his face on a postcard, for instance, and some of the notes themselves written on those postcards are very derogatory.
I remember from our first conversation, you started to build this historic collection so that you could have a legacy for your children and their children. Why is that?
George Raveling: I think that, one, they’re historical. Two, I need a constant reminder of times gone by and how we arrived at where we are today. I used to go to postcard and antique shows and I would go and search out the vendors who sold postcards. I have over 1,000 of them and, back to the point, Tim, when you didn’t even have to put a stamp on them. And the one common denominator of them all is the derogatory pictures of black folks eating watermelon, big lips smiling.
The subtle references or inferences that, “Look, they’re happy. They’re not bewildered. Look, we treat them good. Look, they’re smiling.” And they remind me also to tell a story of this long journey of inequity and injustice, and so I’ve collected the cards. I mean if you were to read some of the messages on there, they’re abominable. It’s to remind me of the long road we’ve traveled, and the long road that we still have to travel to become who we say we are.
I say something to you, Tim, that’s been a little bit surprising to me, is — and it’s somewhat of a personal phenomenon but as of this moment that we speak I can — I could report to you that 85 percent of my white friends and associates have not called me and so I think it begs some questions. Do I think they’re obligated? Absolutely not. Am I mad at them or disappointed? No. Do I think it would be helpful? Yes.
So then the question is: why? I think it’s another overt example, in my opinion, it’s because people don’t know what to say. I get it. Most of us are not ready and we’re not good at having real conversations. We’re not good at having difficult conversations, because real conversations challenge us, real conversations and difficult conversations, in my opinion, they make us stand in our own truth and they teach us that we have to be truth-tellers and we’ve got to listen to learn. Not only that, I think we have to learn to ask intelligent questions. We are two-sided. We are the problem and we are the solution.
Tim Ferriss: You and I have chatted recently and you’ve mentioned the importance of honest conversations, and one thing you’ve mentioned to me that I’d love to hear you elaborate on, as you said, honest conversations with others and honest conversations with ourselves. What do you mean by that?
George Raveling: Well, first of all, Tim, when someone says, “Hey, Coach.” Or, “Hey, George. I want to meet with you. I’d like to talk to you about something.” So immediately I go and start to have a conversation with myself and the first thing I say to myself, “Is this going to be a conversation or is this going to be a debate?” Because it’s totally different. Some people, they frame it as a conversation but it really becomes a debate, because if it’s a debate, it’s about winning and losing, it’s about right and wrong and I’m not — I surrender right from the beginning. I’ll gladly say, “You’re right, I’m wrong.” Because you get in this conversation and the person’s sole intent is to prove to you that they are right and you are wrong, or hopefully they can get you to be who they want you to be and to think like they want you to think.
I think to have a real conversation, the first thing a person’s got to do is they’ve got to have the willingness to stand in their own truth, and they’ve got to be willing to tell the truth. And I believe people have to listen to learn and to understand. God knows if there is ever a time in our lives when we need to listen, to learn and understand, it’s at this time right now. And another thing I think to have a real conversation is we’ve got to govern our talk-to-listen ratio.
To go back to put more clarity on the question that you ask, I think some of the most important conversations we can have each day are the conversations that we have with ourselves. There’s basically two conversations we engage in, the conversations with others, and the conversation with ourselves. I do believe that probably the most important conversations we’ll have are the conversations we have with ourselves, when we listen to our inner voice and we talk, and in many ways I believe right now two of the most important words in the English language are we and us.
As a society, I would really like to see us have more conversations about life and death, and right and wrong. I really think we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t deal with the fundamentals, the fundamentals of life and there’s nothing more fundamental than a life. And what gives one human being the audacity to think that they have the right to take someone else’s life? What is it that would make one human being totally devalue and disrespect the life of another human being, regardless of what color they are?
It’s just human arrogance that one could be so disrespectful of the greatest gift of all, the gift of life, and why don’t we have conversations around that fundamental aspect and why is it that we don’t have meaningful discussions about right and wrong? I think in some ways, Tim, I think each of us tends to see the world through our own lenses. I don’t know, maybe it would be helpful if we would attempt to see the world through the lens of others and I know one thing for sure, it would give us a balanced perspective. Go ahead.
Tim Ferriss: I was just going to say, and I think in also making an attempt to do that, can defuse some of the reactivity or emotion that can escalate things and cause greater problems. One thing that you said to me in our last conversation was that, and I’m paraphrasing here so please feel free to correct it, it relates to what you just said, you said, “If you start with white and black or white versus black, black versus white, immediately many people on both sides are going to be on the defensive.” And it’s going to become, like you said earlier, a debate, and would it not be more helpful to try to go to a higher level where you can find some shared experience or shared important questions to at least begin the conversation so that not everyone is in debate form and reactive? So I just wanted to echo that because it came to mind as you were speaking,
George Raveling: Tim, a hard, cold reality is this: that many days we spend more time talking to the screen than we do face to face with a human being. And I’ve kind of grown in the latter years of my life to understand that I’m a product of an educational system that was based on telling me what to do and what to think, instead of teaching me how to think.
And so, so much of my time now is spent trying to teach myself how to think. And there’s so much time that I have to make up because of the fact that I didn’t ever really understand the relevance or importance of being able to think, because someone always told me what to think. And in many ways, as a black person growing up in a variety of ways, there’s always someone telling you, “We know what’s best for you.” If I don’t know what’s best for me, then how the hell can somebody else think they know what’s best for me?
Tim Ferriss: If you flash back to the civil rights movement — for people who may have jumped ahead and skipped our first conversation — you own the original copy of, what later became known as the I Have a Dream speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. handed you this speech himself as he came off of the dais, because you ended up through an amazing story, which people can listen to part one for, you ended up working security as a volunteer and were handed this speech.
So you’ve been in the thick of so many defining moments in the history of this country, certainly as it to civil rights. What are some of the differences that you see or commonalities that you see when you look back at your experience in the civil rights movement, and you look at what’s happening right now?
George Raveling: I think that I keep going back every day and I have these inner conversations with myself about life and death. And that’s one thing that hasn’t changed is, for a lot of us, it’s still about lives and deaths. I remember watching a documentary on television and it was about the lunch counter demonstrations in Greensboro in years gone by. And the leader of the demonstrators, they were having a meeting in church. At the end of the meeting, the leader said to the demonstrators, he said, “Before y’all leave, I need you to do something. I need you to hug everybody in this room and tell him that you love him.” He said, “And I want every one of you to do it no matter how long it takes. And I want you to tell him goodbye.” He said, “Because tomorrow night when we meet, some of y’all ain’t going to be here.”
It goes back to that same thing, our lives. And to this day, I’m so startled at the courage that those students had. I don’t know when I was 18 or 19 or 20, and I was a student at Villanova, if I would have had the courage to put my life on the line and know that tomorrow night, I might not be back. And Tim, so much of this, we would like to think it’s about black and white — and it is — but it’s about life. It’s about human life. And I don’t know if I could have done it. I don’t know if I — if I had to, I’m sure I would.
Martin Luther King used to say, “If a man or a woman hasn’t found something in life they’re willing to die for, then maybe they’re not fit to live.” And there comes that seminal moment, every one of our lives, where we have to say to ourself, “Do I live or do or die?” So it’s tough.
Something just popped into my mind. You were asking me about the collections and that. And something popped in my mind. I think, if we don’t understand our past Tim and our present, then there’ll be no future. And so there’s symbolic evidence of the past, but if I don’t understand my past and my present, I have no future.
Tim Ferriss: And when you think about building a future and crafting a path towards a future that is better than today, one distinction that you’ve drawn in our previous conversations is group leadership versus, I think, you put it as self-leadership. Could you speak to what that means?
George Raveling: If you were to go into the bathroom in my house right now, Tim, in the middle of the mirror, in the mirror in the main bathroom, is probably six — well, maybe not six feet. Maybe four feet long and it’s very rectangular. And in the middle of it, I have a sign up there and I scotch-taped it so I have to see it every day and every morning, and every evening, and times throughout the day, and the sign simply says, “Practice.” And then underneath, it has two statements, “Self-leadership and self-discipline.” I don’t think that there’s any more relevant or important time to practice those.
We say and rightfully so, that we’re lacking in leadership. I’ve asked numerous of my friends over the last few months, Tim, this question: “Tell me who you think are the five greatest leaders on the globe right now and none of them can be a corporate executive.” And I have not had one single person who could get past three names. So I say that’s overt evidence that we are in the midst of a leadership crisis, a deficit. But I do know that if one were to go to the Library of Congress and look up books on leadership, there would be over 3,000 books written on leadership. But those books all speak to group leadership. There are three or four books on self-leadership. Robert Greenleaf’s book is probably the most prominent.
Tim Ferriss: This is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene?
George Raveling: No, no, no. Not Robert Greene. This is a book by —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, Greenleaf.
George Raveling: Greenleaf. And it’s on self-leadership. And so to me, if you can’t lead yourself, how in the world are you going to lead anybody else? For many of us, the only person we’re ever going to get to lead is ourselves. And so I can continue to say we have bad leadership, or we lack in leadership, but I have a responsibility to lead myself in these times of turmoil. And then the second part of that sign says to be self-disciplined. So I think if nothing else, I have to serve as an overt example of someone who recognizes the need for leadership and recognizes that I can control my self-leadership and I can exercise my self-discipline.
But so much of my life has kind of never changed, Tim. Most of my life has been governed by a simple formula: survive and thrive. If I could take it back to June 27th, 1937, a little black boy who was born in the basement of a segregated hospital in Washington, DC. And they gave that baby the name George, and he was born in the basement of this segregated hospital called Garfield and it was at 11th and Florida Avenue. And blacks could only enter the hospital from the back and they had to go down to the basement. And so the first breath as a human being, that I’d breathe, was from the air of segregation.
From that moment on, I’ve had to figure out: how do I survive? When I was growing up in Washington, DC, the city was 73 percent black. Today, it’s 45 percent black. It slipped under 50 percent for the first time in 50 years. When you hear people use the connotation chocolate city, Washington, DC was the original chocolate city with 73 percent of the population. And so this black boy, child, George Raveling, lived over a meat market. And over the meat market on the second floor, there were three apartments and none of them had a bathroom. There was a bathroom at the end of the hallway that had a commode, a sink, and a tub. And there’s three families who lived in those apartments. We had to learn to be self-disciplined. We had to practice self-leadership. We had to figure out how three families could use one commode, one sink, and one bath. But we made it, we made it work.
We lived on the corner of Florida Avenue and New Jersey Avenue and you could walk from there to what is now Howard University. But at that time, when I was a young boy, Washington had a baseball team called the Washington Senators. And people were fond of saying “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” But they played their games in Griffith Stadium. And I could walk to Griffith Stadium from where I lived. And so I used to walk up there and I got a job selling scorecards. In the old days in baseball, you didn’t have the technology and so forth. And so the fans would have a scorecard and they would keep the data and the score on a scorecard. So what you did is you stood outside the stadium and you sold scorecards and pencils. I also tried to deliver, or did deliver, newspapers to make some little extra money.
In those days, Tim, if you were black, you didn’t have the luxury to dream. Some people say when you were a little kid, did you ever dream you were going to be a coach? Dreaming for a black person in those days was a luxury. You got up every morning and you looked out at the world and checked those stands and you tried to figure out, “How can I survive?” You had no dreams. You had no hopes. It was literally all about surviving from day to day.
And here I am at the age 82, and I still grapple with the same thing. How can I survive? And how can I thrive? Here I am and the reality is this, I’m an 82-year-old, black male, a former basketball coach. And so the challenge for me is how can I remain relevant in an ever-changing world? And what is it that I don’t know, but I need to know to stay relevant? So it’s different times and different faces and different places, but the fundamental hasn’t changed. How do I survive and how do I thrive?
Tim Ferriss: And you are a voracious reader. Your nickname, which people might remember from the first conversation, is The Human Google. You have read thousands upon thousands of books. And just to clarify, you mentioned the name, Robert Greenleaf, is that the book — I just pulled it up here, Servant Leadership, subtitle, A Journey into the Nature —
George Raveling: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And the subtitle is A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, which has been a classic, it looks like, for 25 years at this point. Are there any other books that have helped you in developing your own ability to self-lead or to improve self-discipline? Do any other resources or practices come to mind that you found particularly helpful?
George Raveling: One of the books that I found helpful, and when I say helpful, if I read something in a book that causes me to change my behavior, then I feel I’ve really found something unique and special. I read a book many years ago by Mark McCormack called [What] They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School. It’s always been one of my favorites. The True Believer by Eric Hoffer was another book. There’s tons of books I could name.
I tell you this, Tim, a book I’m reading right now, I would ask all of our listeners to buy this book. And it’s called Tell Me Who You Are. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand why we are in the situation we are today, not from the pandemic, but in all of the other areas of inequity in our social system. I don’t want to talk too much about the book. It’s written by two women. It’s an extraordinary book. I thought I knew a lot about racial injustice, I thought I understood a lot of things about the least of God’s children, but when I read this book it’s very hard, Tim, for me to read more than three pages and I don’t start to tear up.
But if you buy this book, buy it with the intent to learn and understand. Otherwise, if you’re just buying it for entertainment, don’t buy it. It’s a book that’s going to cause you to have difficult conversations with yourself. It’s a book that’s going to reveal what I call “the other America.” There actually was a book written that was the impetus for The War on Poverty, but there was a book written called The Other America by Michael Harrington.
So, I borrowed that phrase, “the other America.” There is an America out there that we don’t know about, but we need to know about. I don’t know the two young ladies that wrote the book. I’m not trying to promote or sell books. I’m just trying to tell you, if you really, really want to understand and you want to learn, you got to read this book. And you don’t have to read it all at once because it’s going to be hard to do because you’re going to cry. You’re going to feel guilty. You’re going to say, “Wow, how could one person treat another person like this?”
Tim Ferriss: Tell Me Who You Are is by a Winona Guo, G-U-O, and Priya Vulchi. I’ll certainly link to that in the show notes for this conversation as well so people will be able to find that at tim.blog/podcast and just search her name. A question I’d love to explore with you, George, is what you would say to people right now who are really angry? Because, as you said, some of these first-person accounts, certainly many people have had personal experiences that are just reflective of such gross injustice, such mistreatment. And you have a lot of people right now who are angry, of all different colors and creeds. What would you say to people who are feeling consumed by anger at the moment?
George Raveling: I would want to ask questions and I would want to listen. I would want to understand in greater depth why they’re angry, because I don’t want to assume the obvious. The obvious is never the obvious. The problem is that [what] we think [it is] is never the problem. Once you attack a problem, what you thought was the real problem was never the real problem. Once you get going, you’ll discover the real problem. So I want to listen and I want to understand and not assume that I know why this person is angry.
I think in many ways all of us need to be angry and we need to be funneling that, because I truly believe that we live in a country, and we live a lie. What I mean by that is, if you pick up our paper currency, it says “United States of America.” If you go back to the Framers, the Framers say “We The People.” But in many ways, we’re living a lie, because we’re not who we say we are. We’re not united and it’s not about the people. These lies, Tim, they’re just going to hold us in hostage, but the truth will free us. And to me, the system is built to separate us not just by race, the system is built to marginalize us. We talk about red states and blue states and Farm Belt and Rust Belt and Democrats and Republicans and conservatives and tea parties and rich people. And we’re all — have these boxes that someone wants to put us in and all these labels. America leads the world in labels. Everything’s got to have a label on it.
And so one of the things that we like to talk about, I guess it maybe makes us feel intellectual, is thinking [outside the] box. My fundamental question is this: why does there have to be a box? Boxes have four walls and at some point they fill up. With four walls, it limits my movement. So, why do I have to operate from a box? The first thing intelligence tells me: if I’m in a box, it impedes my ability to reach for my outer limits as a human being.
So if we allow people to keep us in boxes, how will one ever reach their outer limits? How will one ever be able to answer the question: “Who am I?” If I don’t get a chance to explore my outer limits, how do I know who I am, and why I’m on Earth, and what is it that I’m capable of being? In many ways in this country, we’re living a lie. We’ve got to get back to a point where we are who we say we are. We’re either united or we’re not united. It’s either about we the people or it’s not about we the people. Has the common language of America become not English but money? Our language cannot be the language of money.
I say to myself that I do really believe this, at 82 years old, I’ve finally got my freedom. I’m free to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, and how I want to do it. I’m free to try to discover my outer limits. I’m free to be who God meant for me to be. I honestly and truly believe that the last couple of years of my life, that I can honestly say and feel what Martin Luther King said when he spoke at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “Free at last, free at least, thank God almighty I’m free at last.” It’s the first time that in my existence on this planet that I could authentically believe that I’m a free human being, that I can pursue my outer limits.
Tim Ferriss: What changed? What was the catalyst or the realization?
George Raveling: The realization was that the system is built to create average people. You go to school, you get an average education, you get an average job, you live in an average neighborhood, you live an average amount of time, and the world is populated with average people. And I’m so glad that I lived long enough that I could feel the necessity to be uncommon. In some ways maybe I was born as one of God’s, the least of his children, but I’ve been truly blessed to be on this planet for 82 years and I’ll be able to die knowing that I didn’t die in a societal box, that I was free enough to try to reach for my outer limits.
Tim Ferriss: To explore that phrase a bit, exploring your outer limits. It seems to imply to me both an awareness of the box that you’ve been put in, or put yourself in, and then a willingness to try to transcend that. What does that look like? Does it look like broad reading? Does it look like uncommon action? For you personally, what has exploring your outer limits looked like?
George Raveling: It’s all built around a fundamental question that I have to ask myself time and time again. What is it that I don’t know but I need to know? What is it that I don’t know but need to know? When I was a student at Villanova and I was on basketball scholarship, our coach said to us one time, and he left an inedible mark on my brain with this quote, he said, “The first sign of intelligence is to admit that you don’t know something.”
So, I’m trying to find out what it is that I don’t know but I need to know, so that I can have a relevance on the remaining time I’m here on the globe. That’s the simple process, is you’ve got to take the fences down around you, because as long as people can build fences around you they can keep you where they want you, and they want you to be average. And I don’t want to be average, I want to be uncommon.
Tim Ferriss: This is a leading question, but I’m curious. Is part of keeping those fences down not applying too many labels to yourself? I’m thinking back to the list that you gave earlier of liberal, progressive, this, that, A versus B, C versus D. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use any of those labels applied to yourself, at least in our conversations that we’ve had. I don’t know if that’s just because of the nature of the conversations that we’ve had. But are there other ways that you keep the fences down?
George Raveling: Yeah, because the first thing is to recognize that there is a fence. People don’t examine. When someone is quick to put a label on you and encourage you to live in this box, the first thing you got to do is have a conversation with yourself and start asking questions. And so to me, I’m aware of these fences and I refuse to allow someone to build a fence around me, because intentionally or unintentionally I’m about to come to a standstill because the more people that are in that box, the less my mobility is.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
George Raveling: The thing that I’ve been telling myself, about what is it that I don’t know but I need to know, I’ve come to recognize that I need to develop 21st-century skills. It’s kind of strange when you get to be 82 and you start thinking about this, but once again when I ask that question, how can I stay relevant, if I’m going to be relevant, I’ve got to be able to develop 21st-century skills. And I’m going to anticipate you saying, “Well Coach, what are 21st-century skills?” I think you have to develop a skill set that are transferable and sustainable in the 21st century.
They’re so obvious. Leadership and communication. And just not oral communication, but written communication, relationships. As long as we live, there’s going to have to be leadership, we’re going to have to communicate, we’re going to have to have relationships, problem-solving, decision-making, information literacy, critical thinking. We can go on. Teamwork, analytical thinking. So, what I try and do is take one of those and for six months read as much as I can about one of them, so that I can better understand how I can equip myself. Because to take the fences down, I got to either pull them down or I can empower — and once I pull them down, I got to get rid of them forever. So, once I take those fences down I can’t pop a cork and think I’ve won. All I’ve done is free up my ability of movement.
And so now I’ve got to equip myself with these 21st-century skills. Particularly at 82, because the last thing I want to be is a relic, and to protect myself from becoming a relic I’ve got to be able to compete in the 21st century. I’ve got to be able to compete with young people, not just old people. I need to compete with young people. I need to understand young people. These young people are our future.
And I feel bad for our young people because they’re the ones that are going to inherit this mess, and they’re the ones that are going to have to fix it. I feel so bad for our grandchildren and children in general. These young people, we’re leaving a mess on them and they’re going to have to excel in these skills because they’re the ones who are going to have to figure out what to do with this mess that we left on their doorstep.
Tim Ferriss: One of the things I enjoy about our interactions, George, is that you’re a man of ideas and concepts, but you’re also a man of action. You do a lot. And it’s informed action. There are millions of people right now, I’m sure probably 10s, hundreds of millions, who are unsure what to do and perhaps also afraid of doing the wrong thing.
And I’d be curious to know if you have any advice for people who are feeling a need to do something but don’t know what to do. Of course, we’ve seen a lot of statements that have been issued, if you have any thoughts on statements, what form they should take, if any. I would just love to hear your thoughts for those who feel like they should or need to do something but are unsure of what to do.
George Raveling: Well, two things. One, what can one do? Just be simple. Just let it start with yourself. Start with you and do your part. I’m going to come back to this public statement thing. But what I would like to ask, and this is a partial answer to what can we do, I would like to ask each of those who are listening to this interview to take a pledge.
I would like you to write this down and take this pledge. If you want to know what you can do, it’s this. And the pledge is, I encourage — I’m going to encourage each of our listeners to do this and the pledge is, “I will fully commit to being a positive change agent, a positive difference-maker in as many lives as possible.” It doesn’t take money, it doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s just a simple pledge. Correcting the wrongs has to start with our behavior. And so I’m going to say that again: God, if you ever wanted to do something for me, just take this pledge and live it. “I will fully commit to being a positive change agent, a positive difference-maker in as many lives as possible.” You don’t have to be rich. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re poor, it doesn’t make any difference if you’re black or white. You can control this. Nobody can take this away from this. Nobody can take this commitment away from you to be a positive change agent, to be a positive difference-maker, to be kind to people.
It might not change the world. But if you save one life, that one life will have a rippling effect, and it’ll save another life, and another life, and another life. And before you know it, we’ll wake up one morning and we will have made significant change in the world and in this place we call America. That’s what I would like to do. As you say, what can a person do? That’s my answer to that.
The public statement thing, honestly, I’ve kind of grown weary of corporate and organizational speak. I don’t know. In my opinion, most of it’s insincere anyway, and it lacks in substance. How many of these statements are really solution-based? These so-called statements, to me, in many ways, are overt evidence of our inability to tell the truth.
Tim Ferriss: What do you mean by that?
George Raveling: There’s a difference, Tim, between a statement and a message. See, that’s the thing, everybody runs around — I can’t believe how many corporate executives and organizational people feel like they have to make a statement. I’ve had friends call and say, “Hey, I’ve got to make a statement. What should I say?” And the ones who’ve asked me that, I said, “The first thing is, don’t make a statement. Make a message.” Messages tell a story that resonates with the listeners. Messages are a commitment. Ultimately, when it’s all said and done, our words must be manifested within our behavior. Anything shorter than that, and we’re living a lie.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
George Raveling: And I just think, at some point, we can make all the statements we want, but the reality is that we have to rise to our higher moral level. And if corporations today — I don’t know. Me, personally, I appreciate their paper currency, but what I really think that society needs from our corporations is their intellectual currency. I think history is replete with evidence that throwing money at the problem is rarely going to be the solution. One of the questions I have with this money part is how much of it will be specifically used to enrich the lives of our young people and their futures? Because we’re leaving them a mess to clean up. I think that what I would like us to do is to tap into the intellectual currency of corporate America. And they’ve got some of the most elite thinkers on the planet in corporations.
And so can a group of corporations come together in a collaborative manner and create programs to help enrich the lives of our young people, to help prepare our young people, to successfully deal with this mess that we’re leaving them? Can corporations create mentor programs? So somebody is going to raise their hand and say, “We have one?” Can they create intern programs? Can they utilize their intellectual currency to help young people develop these 21st-century skills? Can they provide technology and the technology tools, such as laptops and computers, for young people? Can we teach young people how to think? God knows if there’s ever something that we could do that would help young people is to teach them how to think. Stop teaching them what to think. Teach them how to think.
We’ve got some of the greatest minds on the planet housed in these corporations, and I just think that they have a moral obligation to target the least of God’s children. I think our young children out there are pregnant with possibilities for greatness, but we’ve got to help them discover it.
Tim, in my lifetime, and this is not an indictment on my parents, there was never a time in my life when my mom or my dad or my grandma ever said to me, “George, when you grow up, you’re going to go to college.” Hell, they never finished school. How the hell are they going to think that their child is going to go to college? Black people couldn’t dream like that in those days. But there’s so many undiscovered young folks out there. They need somebody to say a simple phrase to them, “I believe in you.”
You know how many kids have never had a human being say to them, “I believe in you?” Corporate America can put together all these elite things, and they don’t just have to say, “I believe in you,” but they can put the programs together that allow that person to believe in themselves. I will never fully buy into throwing money at it as the answer.
Tim Ferriss: You just made me think, George, that if I tried to canvas everyone I’ve interviewed on this podcast, you know, close to 500 people now, I would say that one of the commonalities would have to be that, at some point, someone said, “I believe in you.” Maybe it wasn’t in childhood, but at some point, some mentor, some father figure, or a mother figure, or supporter said, “I believe in you.” So it raises a lot of questions and also brings to mind a lot of possible actions for it, as you said.
George Raveling: And Tim, it’s not sufficient to say, “I believe in you.” And then your behavior has to reflect what you just said. “I believe in you.”
There’s depth and dimension of goodness and intellect in all of us. But, Tim, until I got to Villanova, it wasn’t until I got to Villanova that I found myself intellectually. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t even really understand how important it was to be at Villanova and to be a student, and to learn.
I can remember this so vividly. By the sophomore year — because when I went to Villanova, you had to wear a shirt and tie to class, and you had to sit by alphabet, that’s how they kept roll. And so I graduated with a BS in economics, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I started to find myself intellectually. And I’d hear guys say, “That guy’s really smart, man. You should get him to help you.” And there would be a number of people in my classes that people would identify as being really smart, and so I would listen to them and I would observe them. And honestly, Tim, in my self-talk, there were a number of times when I said, “Hell, I think I’m as smart as him.”
And that was the beginning of me trying to discover myself intellectually. I didn’t have a frame of reference. No one ever told me that I was smart. No one ever told me that. The only way I ended up in college was because of basketball and the scholarship. I didn’t really understand it all. And if I had to do it all over, I honestly believe I could have been an honors student. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know that education could take me to places and help me learn how to be a better human being. It took a long time. I’ve kind of been running from behind most of my life. A guy told me one time, “If a man gets behind in a race, he must forever remain behind or run faster than the man in front.” And man, I’ve been on the sprint for about the last 40 years.
Tim Ferriss: It’s an incredible life story. I mean, I don’t know how you have managed to cram so much into your lifetime, which, granted, is 82 years thus far, but it’s still a blink of the eye in some respects. It’s really just incredible.
And for those people who are listening, who are, say, parents of kids in difficult circumstances, maybe they themselves don’t have many resources. Aside from the “I believe in you” and behavior to support that, besides the pledge, which you mentioned earlier, about being a positive change agent and positive difference-maker, would you have any advice for those parents, for people who are trying to raise their kids and enable them in the greatest way possible?
George Raveling: I think it’s so difficult to be a parent today, because at one time I used to think it was a black problem, but today I think it’s a societal problem. We live in a society today where most of the young people are raised in a single-parent household. My nine years at USC, I only coached two black players who came from a dual-parent household.
So the first issue is the parent. And when we say — is usually going to be the mother. Because of our judicial system, the courts usually award the child to the mother. And so those mothers are true so-called American heroes. They work two and three jobs. Most parents would do things for their children they would never do for themselves. And so it’s such an enormous challenge now to raise a child. I think that you just have to try as hard as you can to provide the best for your children and to teach them a sustainable value system of right and wrong, of perseverance. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know if I’m equipped to say, because I’m still trying to raise myself.
Tim Ferriss: What are your hopes for what could come of this turbulent time, these turbulent times, I should say, certainly, that are really sort of exhibiting and showing to us ruptures that have existed for a long time? What are some of your hopes for what can come out of this, and what are some of your fears of what might come out of this? If you have any.
George Raveling: My hope is that we will be who we say we are. All of us. That if we are the United States of America, then we need to start to live it. And not continue to live a lie. So that is my hope as we proceed. As I shared earlier in the conversation, we’re the problem, and we’re the solution.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, we are the problem, and we are the solution.
Well, George, I want to be respectful of your time. We’ve covered a lot. I’m not in any rush. I can continue to go as long as you would like to go. But is there anything else you would like to say or share at this point?
George Raveling: No, I think we’ve touched a lot of the sensitive nerves. And when we conclude, I would just like to conclude the same way we started, but if there’s some things that you think merit some discussion, I’m open to it.
Tim Ferriss: I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. And by we, I mean you. I think you have offered some direction, a lot of recommendations. You’ve offered resources, like Tell Me Who You Are. Of course we’ll link to all of these things. You mentioned Robert Greenleaf and servant leadership. As far as resources go, many different takeaways that people can, I think, apply, or at the very least, think about. But, as you mentioned, if we put words into our heads or out into the world, what matters is the behavior that follows those, and the practice. Like you have on your bathroom mirror, of self-leadership and self-discipline. Since you need to lead yourself before you can hope to lead any type of group.
And I think we’re at a good place where we could end the way we started for now.
George Raveling: So I would just like to conclude with the way I started, with the prayer. And my prayer is, “Dear God, please help us unite as a nation. Please help us be who we say we are: a United States of America. Amen.”
Tim Ferriss: Amen.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share the breadth and richness of your life experience. And also the insights that you’ve come to after 82 years on this planet. I really appreciate you taking the time, George.
George Raveling: Thank you, Tim. And I appreciate the opportunity, and more importantly, I appreciate your friendship.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you so much. And you are such a positive change agent. And I think, as you said, if you save one life, that has ripple effects. I think your positive impact on so many people has a real, incredible ripple effect. So I would just say, please keep doing what you’re doing. I really appreciate you.
George Raveling: Well, thank you. Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: And to everybody listening, we will have links to everything that we discussed in the show notes. And you can find that, as always, at tim.blog/podcast, and simply search for George’s name. And in fact, what we’ll do is create a short link, which will just be tim.blog/george. And that will take us all to the resources specifically for this episode.
And until next time, thank you for tuning in, be kind, be safe, and always strive to be the person you say you are. Thank you.
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