I Wanted to Be a Jedi. Being a Psychologist is the Closest I Could Get.
Psychologist and ex-NBA player John Amaechi's mother was a doctor who had an uncanny ability to calm anxious patients and relatives, which is why Amaechi grew up thinking she was a Jedi.
John Amaechi is a British psychologist and a former NBA basketball player. At the age of 17, when he first picked up a basketball, Amaechi was not considered athletic enough to have any chance of success in domestic sports, much less overseas. Six years later he became a starting center in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Over his eight-year career in basketball, he also played for the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz.
Since retiring from sports, Amaechi pursued a Ph.D. in psychology, recently co-authoring a paper on the subject of self-esteem, goal setting, and personality. He is a fifteen year veteran of the American Psychological Association (APA) and a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS), its division of occupational psychology, and the BPS Psychometric Testing Group.
In 2007, he released his bestselling memoir “Man in the Middle,” chronicling his life and work and revealing to the world that he was gay, making him the only openly gay man ever to have played in the NBA.
Amaechi also has his own charity, the ABC Foundation, with a center in Manchester that sees 2,000 young people per week go through its doors. He has teamed with researchers at the Pennsylvania State University and the San Diego University for Integrative Studies to create a program that promotes social emotional training in young people who are coached in life as much as in sports.
Question: What is your personal philosophy?
John Amaechi: I am an atheist. I would say that I’m not... not that I shy away from this at all, but I’m not a radical atheist in that I’m not one of these people that says "If you believe in God you must be a complete moron." I may hold that thought in my head at times, but I’m not one of these people that thinks I should bash other people over the head. Because I’ve been to nearly every type of church or synagogue or temple and when I watch people leave that place, even if it is just once a week, even if they only go because they feel they have to... and if I see them leave that place filled with a bit of joy, better able to handle the next week coming, then I’m happy for that. I know many atheists are not. However, for me, I don’t need that kind of vertical framework. I don’t need to think that I’m being loomed over my shoulder in order to behave in a way that's moral.
I think my guidance came from my mother. She was also an atheist, but she was a doctor and I used to watch her go on visits—because in Britain doctors actually visit you when you’re sick. And she used to go on visits and I wouldn’t go upstairs to see her dong medicine stuff with whoever was ill, but I would be downstairs—this was when I was 7 years old—and sat around in a room full of relatives who were very, very anxious, very, very scared, panicked about what was going on because if a doctor visits you you’re very sick. And I would watch my mother sit in the room and just be... calm everybody down just by talking to them. You’d see the tension drop and release. And so this for me was amazing. This was in '77, '78 maybe and Star Wars was all the rage. And I literally spent my youth imagining, believing that my mother was a Jedi, because she could talk to patients and be like "It’s all right, you’ll be able to cope." And I would see them just relax and it wasn’t that they thought the problems had gone away, but they were able to cope because my mom said so and so that is my framework.
I grew up thinking the best job in the world would be a Jedi and being a psychologist is the closest thing I could get, so I wanted to be a Jedi and I don’t want to be a Sith, so that is what keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Recorded October 7, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Psychologist and ex-NBA player John Amaechi explains his personal philosophy in this video interview from 2010. Amaechi's mother was a doctor who had an uncanny ability to calm anxious patients and relatives, which is why he grew up thinking she was a Jedi. It was his admiration of this power that drew him to the field of psychology.
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