Essay

Seeing Ted Williams succeed

I don’t know how anybody could have not seen this video by now, but just in case you missed it, please have a look.

As a former radio disk jockey, I love to hear Ted Williams talk. He has amazing “pipes,” as they say in the biz. But it’s not just his golden voice that makes people root for him. It is his honesty and gentle humility. The moment he admits, with a note of regret in his voice, his drug and alcohol problems and that he’s been clean for two years is the moment we start to care about him. We want to see him use his voice talent to succeed. The opportunities he has been offered – jobs and even mortgages – demonstrate that. (Blogger and pastor Sam Barrington explores this further. Check it out.)

But I’m concerned that he is getting too much too fast, and that he won’t be able to handle it.

Before my church congregation became homeless, we owned a large house. It was on our church property. We used it as part of a ministry, letting people facing hard times live there to get back on their feet. I lived in it for more than a year during and after my divorce. But nine times out of 10, this ended up not really helping. I remember one family badly damaged by drug abuse who moved in. It did help stabilize them initially. But soon they were very comfortable in that house. It oversatisfied their hunger and killed any drive they had to make their lives better. Soon, the drugs returned. It ended badly.

That story is typical of the families who passed through that house. You could argue they needed more than a place to live — they needed strong coaching and mentoring, and they needed there to be the usual natural consequences for bad choices. My congregation made some attempts to coach and mentor, but we weren’t fully equipped for it. And living in the house removed some of those natural consequences – there was always a comfortable home to return to.

If we had it to do over again, we would have made living in the house contingent on a number of expectations – getting and keeping a job, paying rent (on a sliding scale), handling their money well, and staying drug- and alcohol-free. To help them accomplish these things, we would have hooked them up with help available in the community, such as addiction treatment, financial counseling, and job training.

I’m delighted to see Ted Williams so clearly enjoying his glorious moment in the sun. I want him to win! But I’m worried that when the rush is over, he will lack what it takes to make it. I believe he means every word of what he says about getting his life back on track. The families who moved into our house said similar things and meant them, too. But when you’re coming from a position as challenging as Ted’s, my experience has been that people who make it work hard, earn their way incrementally, and have good people behind them. May he be given the help he probably needs.

Seems others are concerned for Ted’s well-being and ability to make it, too. Check out these stories from CNN and CBS News.

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17 thoughts on “Seeing Ted Williams succeed

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Seeing Ted Williams succeed « Down the Road -- Topsy.com

  2. I was a disc jockey in high school and college, and I would have killed for a voice like that. It’s really touching to see so many organizations offer him work (even if they are getting some free publicity in the process), but I’m like you. I hope he has someone in his life who’s looking out only for him, who’ll help him stay sober and be successful. It would be so sad if we hear in 6 months or a year that he’s back on the streets.

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  3. At first, I thought you were talking about the baseball player. I hadn’t heard of this Ted Williams, but I’m glad his life is improving.

    Your points about how to help people were excellent. There must be a happy medium between not helping people at all (a la the Ayn Rand “let ’em starve” zealots) and giving them such unconditional help that they lose motivation to help themselves. I think that we tend to go to one extreme or the other.

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    • One thing I’ve learned is that we tend to assume that people have the same success skills we do. So when we come upon someone down on his luck and wish to help, often we do things that create or approximate the condition we have. Do this a few times, however, and you learn that success skills vary!

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  4. I teach children from families of both generational and situational poverty. I used to think that success and the ability to get off welfare and subsistence depended on which category of poverty you were in. Generational poverty seems to be pretty darn difficult to shake off, but I’ve seen it happen. The number of families that have slipped below the poverty line due to substance abuse is steadily increasing in my area. I look at Ted Williams, and while I want to see hope, I’m a bit jaded. Hopefully he has the support, the skills, and the stamina to see it through to a successful life. I’m cheering for him.

    Your story about your ministry house makes me think about something I read years ago. I think it was in Ruby Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. A desperately poor family had no refrigerator, so someone bought them a new one and had it delivered to their home. Within the week, the refrigerator was sold and the money was used to buy frivolous things. The people who gave them the appliance were amazed and couldn’t understand how such a thing could happen. They meant well, but didn’t understand that there exists a different set of rules and values for different sectors of society. It isn’t anyone’s fault. It just is. We do best in truly helping others when we understand where they are coming from. Too often we impose our own value system upon them when trying to help them. We think, “What would I want or need in this situation?” Free rent for a few months? A house? A refrigerator? “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you’ll feed him for life” comes to mind, but any good teacher must first assess what that man knows and how he feels about fishing so they’ll know where to start with their lessons.

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    • At my church, we fell right into that trap of assuming the values of the families in need were just like ours. If someone belongs to a subculture whose way of life is enough different from mine, perhaps all the coaching in the world won’t change their way of life. I wonder how coaching might help them find success in a way that isn’t such a cultural shift for them.

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  5. Lone Primate says:

    Jim, I found myself moved by what you said. As usual, your candor is admirable. You managed to state real concerns, all the while without being judgemental about Ted — not an easy thing to do, but you did it. Yes, having read your post, I’d have to agree… he’s facing tough times getting re-established as well. It seems perverse that the sincere generosity of others could itself be a problem. It’s a compelling story, and we’ll just have to wait and see and hope it works out.

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  6. It was amazing to see how life was able to turn around for Ted. I also watched him on the Today show and he really has put things into perspective. He is grateful for the second chance and is also realistic about how easily things could go wrong if he let them. He is such a sincere and honest guy, I think he will make it.

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  7. Jim,

    Your comments aren’t entirely fair. I lived in that house also. Even you have to admit if I were left where I was I would have ended up dead, one way or another. The payoff for my success wasn’t imediate or something you could see. What I got when I lived there was a group of people I needed to be accountable to, a quiet place, I learned that I needed and really liked a quiet life, I had the example of several people to see what functional people did (you have to admit that I really didn’t have that before). I know when I left there it looked like I was a failure. Return of old habits and birth of my daughter. However, staying at the church was the first steps in a long journey. After I moved up here to Minnesota things got worse and then it got better. It got better because of the lessons I learned at my time in North Liberty. I’m not at the end of my journey but I’m at least walking it. I’m a year away from two college degrees, I found an industry (that is recession proof) I love working in, found out before it was too late how much joy my children bring me, got engaged to a wonderful man (no arrests, no drug use, and is a one beer guy) who held me accountable for the stupid stuff I pull. Also I’m being treated for a long standing persistent mental illness. Which I imagine was part of my problems when I lived at North Liberty. Yeah, the medication they gave me for Bi Polar type 2 has some weird side effects but it and therapy is helping me live productivly.
    I think of myself as a success story coming from there. Even if no one else does, I think I’ve come a long way. It was because of what I was given there and the people I saw there. I realized that I wanted that and was willing to work for it.
    I guess what I’m saying is, the impact may not be imediate but the change is still there. There are some of us who are truly greatful.

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      • I’m aware you weren’t talking about my story. My intention simply was change isn’t immediate, while it’s easy to get jaded, that ministry does have a long term impact. So, I guess 8 out of 10 instead of 9 out of 10 would be more fair.

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