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Coach Carter Poem Commentary

November 28, 2005

kr’s note: it took me a significant
amount of time to write this, so let’s keep the inane and sophomoric
comments (such as complaining about the length, etc.) to a minimum
please. If you don’t have anything interesting to add to this thread,
remain silent. I’ll have some comedic posts soon. For those who have
some interesting points to this post, please share them.

I’ve mentioned many times that we can learn a lot of things if we’d do
simple things such as observe people when they walk or talk, keep our
ears open during commercials or movies, etc. I think many times people
either view such trivial matters are insignificant (and of course, the
word ‘unIslamic’, which I have no idea what that means, is also
used…) or simply as entertainment. I think some of the most important
life truths that I’ve learned have not come from a book or a teacher…
but rather from seemingly insignificant mediums such as movies, casual
conversations with friends, and observations of people around me.

Don KZ had done a post
about Coach Carter a while ago and he cited the poem below. Last
weekend, I watched this powerful movie and was quite intrigued and
impressed by the characters, storyline, and most of all, themes
conveyed throughout the movie. The climax of the movie is a poem that
one of the players recites to his coach, as the latter had been asking
him throughout the movie, “What is your deepest fear?” The player, Timo
Cruz, recites the following poem that I’ll add some commentary on. As
for you haters out there, I asked the Don for his permission and
blessing before I proceeded to write a tafseer on it, so back off…

Thus sayeth Timo Cruz (#22):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is
that we are powerful beyond measure…

The very first two lines of the poem bring up the concept of fear and
power, two seemingly opposite things. People hate to be afraid; FDR
said it best in his famous quote: “The only thing we have to fear is
fear itself.” The reason why people are “afraid to be afraid” is that
fear is an emotion that incapacitates the human being. It makes one
feel inadequate and vulnerable–the latter emotion one being
capitalized by the present regime to keep Americans accepting of its
reckless and selfish domestic and international policies. And when a
person feels afraid for his own safety, he will be willing to do
whatever it takes to ensure that safety and remove himself from that
state of fear. In short, people feel afraid when they perceive
themselves as powerless. However, the brilliance of this poem is that
it divorces this dichotomy between fear and power in the opening lines
itself. Our deepest fear isnt that we lack power (qudrah), but that we actually have power beyond our measure and lack the intent/will (iraadah) to do something positive with it.

 It is our light, not our darkness
that most frightens us.

This continues the themes raised in the first two lines. People are
often consumed by gaining power and will do whatever it takes to gain
that power. On the other hand, those not in power feel that the entire
world is against them, and often use this lack of power as a scapegoat
to rationalize their plight, lament about their situation, and wallow
in their self-pity. Yet, it isn’t the lack of qudrah that should
concern us; whether or not we have the iraadah to do anything with it
is of greater concern. This is because most things such as economic
policies, international happenings, and political realities are not
within our power to control. However, there is a whole slew of things
that a person can control and exert power over, the paramount of these
being himself. This is why it is said that the greatest power that one
can ever possess is power over one’s self. The irony being here, of
course, that this greatest power is much more attainable than other
means of power that people seek to wield. Hence, the “light” here is
power, the “darkness” being the lack of it. The reason why power
frightens us, unconsciously of course, is that most humans lack an
appropriate will/intent to go with the power. And while we consciously
and outwardly lament that we lack power, it belies the core fear that
we harbor in our inner selves. This is exactly why simply having
outward power–a solution championed by certain Muslims–will never
solve anything. The poet Stephen Benet once wrote, “We thought, because
we had power, we had wisdom.”… and we’ve learnt that power without
wisdom can threaten the sanctity of the world (exhibit A: the Bush
regime). What should frighten us is whether or not we can maintain a
sound iraadah while attaining enough qudrah to use it for a grander purpose.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t
feel insecure around you.

After having laid the above as a foundation, the poem then describes
this proper balancing of power and intention. It also criticizes those
who shirk from power simply because they fear they won’t know what to
do with it once they have it. Hence, “playing small” can refer to
either having power and no intent or having intent and no power. The
poem suggests that the latter group is more culpable, since such people
have talents, skills, knowledge, and potential to achieve greatness for
themselves and improve the human condition… yet this group has a
blameworthy modesty of worrying about the insecurity of others that
prevents them from shining. Therefore, the greater tragedy isn’t the
first group; it’s those who fear their own success will be a burden on
others… the irony here being that their lack of accomplishing what is
attainable is harming those around them in more ways that they can even
imagine. They are caught up in their outward “politeness”, not
realizing the detriment that their inner and silent rudeness is having
on others.

We are all meant to shine as children do.
It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone
.

The model for shining is set here in a simple analogy of children. The
analogy is quite appropriate and insightful because children, due to
their innocence, inherently shine by their mere existence. Moreover,
children, when uncorrupted by parental pressure and societal opinions
on what they should do, will more often than not shine in whatever they
set out to do. This is why most children are always smiling (and it’s
quite heartwarming to see a child’s smile), the smile outwardly
reflecting their inner grace and contentment. This elegance and
simplicity of a child’s smile is the model: to achieve pure greatness,
untainted by third-party agendas or conforming to others’ desires. This
is the potential that lies within all human beings, further reinforced
by the famous verse “Verily We created man in the most excellent of stature“.
The ability to shine isn’t only given to a select few–it lies in
everyone, provided they realize they have this potential. The
Salingeric (as per JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye)
irony is that we knew our potential for true greatness as children…
yet something happens along the way that causes us to lose it.

And as we let our own
lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the
same
.

The solution for this human dilemma is then taken one step further,
suggesting here that it begins with individuals realizing their
“modesty” is harming the world and they seek to rectify this by
allowing their iraadah to guide them in seeking out an appropriate quantity and quality of qudrah.
Once individuals start doing that, it is like a spark of light on a
dark night. It lights the way, gives comfort to those who see it, and
gives a sense of direction to others. Buddha once said, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle“;
when one shines as a candle, the flame can be used by others as a
source to light their own wicks and shine. Perhaps this is how light
gives birth to more light, to the point that it becomes light upon
light… a single greatness begetting countless greatnesses.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically
liberates others
.”

The last line brings it back full circle as the concept of fear is once
again mentioned. One can clearly understand that the only solution then
is to start with one’s self and liberate one’s self from both the fear
of inadequecy and the fear of power. This liberation will bring about
much needed psychological relief and space to work with, but it will
also bring about a greater and nobler responsibility. This is because
while everyone has the potential to shine, not everyone realizes this
potential. Moreover, since such darkness has existed for such a long
time, the immediate vision of light can be incapacitating and
fear-evoking to many, as the great poet Imam al-Busiri writes, “Indeed the eye (sometimes) rejects the ray of sunlight due to its sickness…
Thus those who do realize their inner potential have a greater onus in
that they not only have to shine, but also have the higher
responsibility to liberate others. The beauty of this seemingly
impossible task is that if one can start with himself, the rest is
actually quite easy.

I’ll end this with the chorus from the song (“Hope” by Twista) that
plays at the end of the movie during the credits that I think serves as
appropriate final words to the movie and to this post as well:


Cuz I’m hopeful, yes I am, hopeful for today,



Take this music and use it



Let it take you away,



And be hopeful, hopeful and He’ll make a way



I know it ain’t easy but that’s okay.



Cuz we hopeful

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29 Comments
  1. didnt read it but coming from u, it should be good…btw, remember the titans is better 🙂

  2. Anonymous permalink

    do my props even matter to you anymore?
    nigger-ul-haq

  3. Anonymous permalink

    That poem is an excerpt from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles.
    Nice tafseer.

  4. “kr’s note” pshhawquit being so didactic.”In closing, Ya Allah, [I’d like to reiterate the main points of my dua…]”hehe…yea, I’m a jerk.

  5. Assalam-U-Alaikum…
    your posts are always enlightening….
    Allah Hafiz
    Wasalaam

  6. MashAllah, I like how you weaved together the “secular” and religious stuff here and showed it’s really all the same knowledge. I also liked the metaphor of the candle wick lighting all those other candles… that’s pretty deep.

  7. hey kr…wanted to let you know that I had nothing better to do but you tag you along with 4 others (my site for info)…now you HAVE to tag 5 others 🙂

  8. nice work. i loved this movie. especially that part. that poem is intense, it’s hardcore. “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” crazy.

  9. Wow, you should do your next khutbah on this poem… that’d be dope.

  10. LOVE the tafseer of the last line. right onda money that was. shine on my friend.peace,IJB

  11. You need to list 5 random (useless) things about yourself and then force 5 other people to do the same…I think in some countries it’s considered a form of torture ;Pit’s dumb really…don’t actually need to do it.

  12. Takbir.  Allah akbar. 
    Mashallah little squirrel.  I would write something intelligent, but I’m drained from my pediatrics shelf exam.  Oh, and I also started my Urology clerkship.  ITS AWFUL! Take the akwardness of our workshop last November, triple that, and add in frigtened old men with cancer and asshole residents. 

  13. Anonymous permalink

    Purpose of the middle section, the story, was just to provide a story. It’s the after part, I wanted to convey. What value does the experience serve for a person with values? without values? …I hope that clears it up.
    Here are 2 eprops well deserved. This post was deep, profound, thought-provoking…etc, etc, you get the idea.
    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…”These are not two seemingly opposite things – they appear to be the same thing. I fear that I am inadequate, I fear that I have the potential, the savvy, to do better. I despise myself everyday, because I have trouble finding the will (as you put it, iradaah) to change myself. I look into the mirror everyday, and see potential energy, wasted. I was hoping this Ramadan, with all the self-discipline I harnessed, I’d set my mind to making myself change for the better. It’s very difficult to do so far; I’ve decided that self-discipline only comes through during Ramadan because Shaytan is truly locked up, and because we are doing it for Allah. Allah, is a cause far greater than any human being, to serve as a catalyst for change. 
     It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
    This reminded me of my older brother. My parents fear for him. Allah has blessed him with such intelligence, such knowledge, such potential, Mashallah. Yet, without the proper guidance, all power (qudrah) will go to waste. He has not gained the complete wisdom that is necessary to go hand-in-hand with power.
    Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.There is complete validity to the statement. How do others profit from your potential lest you learn and share?
    We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
    I liked the explanation on this; few people tell us to embrace our inner child.
    And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.Strengthens the previous statement and explanation. I like.
    As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
    I forget…did you mention how one is suppose to go about finding and fulfilling that potential? I’ll have to go back and re-read this post. As in depth as it was, a lot of the concepts will take time to internalize and register for me.
    …the endnote lyrics were good too.

  14. Anonymous permalink

    it took me a significant amount of time to write this, so let’s keep the inane and sophomoric comments (such as complaining about the length, etc.) to a minimum please. If you don’t have anything interesting to add to this thread, remain silent. I’ll have some comedic posts soon. For those who have some interesting points to this post, please share them.
    Why dont you get on aim and go cry to someone who cares… MOM

  15. Anonymous permalink

    Yeah i pretty much stopped reading there

  16. ^ that guy hates you.i thought the movie was good. i cant remember where i saw it though. o well

  17. ^ everyone hates that guy… if you look up jagbag in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of hisham… he’s been hating on my xanga ever since he realized no one ever reads his joke of a blog and everyone reads mine.and hisham, my mom read my post (she reads all my posts) and she said she liked it. she also asked who’s hishashish (no joke)… what should i tell her…thats right, jagbag.

  18. very enlightening article… more than that, the picture of the jagbag in the dictionary was hillarious…hahaha! there’s ur comic post right there

  19. the movie was inspiring. i love it when the people you least expect to speak such deep truths blow you away. it’s like water gushing out of a desert, and it’s stuff like that that puts you in your place.// i do learn alot by just observing. for example, and u may think this is pathetic, but i love the airport, and if i was bored enough one day, i would probably go there with my laptop, bring my books, a buddy, and chill there becuase I like watching the hussle bussle of the people. and they pay no attention to you amidst their hussle bussle, and u see kids with luggage that match their shoes and you wonder where theyre going. the best is when u see couples fighting. and u dont realize it, but you learn a couple thangs here and there. teh hehhh.
    asalamu alaikum waramatullah.

  20. I like the line, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” It is the opposite of what one expects to fear light rather than darkness. I wonder if it is signficant that the speaker here is a black male. The darkness he is alluding to could be the darkness of his own skin. He is saying that he does not fear his own dark skin, but he fears the power within him, the “light” within him. This power evokes fear because it has the potential to be misused and abused.

  21. KR, you should do more tafseers on songs/poems that we hear of in movies/tv… I think that’d be helpful for a lot of people.

  22. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
    The commentary on this part of the poem was especially good.

  23. Anonymous permalink

    I read Ahadith_and_Events‘s comment and rolled my eyes.. You know your posts should have a word limit.

  24. zabeha: are you referring to Ahadith’s post on Mommies? 2 eprops for Timo.

  25. Anonymous permalink

    lol I love you KR. I’ll read the post tomorrow at work iA. iA being the operative word

  26. Anonymous permalink

    I read it KR. I hated too much early on (plus youre super pissed lately). It was the usual. Deep I guess.
    Good post. Do a funny post though. Maybe one about the interesting people you know = h2. lol thats gotta be a riot.
    2 eprops kr and why dont you try to be jolly like the dude in your picture…

  27. The Don approves.
    The quotes which you cited outside from the poem were all extremely insightful. And although your analysis of the poem discussed the poem in the most general sense, you might want to try another commentary on this poem simple within the context of the movie.

  28. i meant to prop this earlier. note to self: must see this movie.

  29. Anonymous permalink

    As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
    -good one; i think the jist of most of these quotes is that our changing ourselves, in whatever manner, has a positive effect on others. good post yaar.

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