Many interviewers have seemed uncomfortable with the Ted Williams story, and in particular his not very politically correct assertions about character deficiencies and shame. Personally, I am inspired.
Like many, I’ve been quite touched by the heartwarming story of a man with a God-given talent and a budding career who lost himself, his family, and fortune to a life on the streets from chronic substance abuse and found new hope during the holidays. Videos of Ted Williams panhandling on the streets by giving passers-by a snapshot of his meant-for-the-media golden voice went viral over the internet and eventually resulted in his being re-discovered and offered some amazing opportunities to put his talent to good use once again and rebuild his life. What touched me more than the particulars of his story, however, was his sincere and ardent testimony about the factors he believes are responsible for life-changing circumstances.
I’ve listened to and read enough of the interviews this man has given to various sources to get a fairly good read on what he believes “saved” him from a life of faded glory, broken dreams, and despair. He has been adamant with everyone he has talked to about these things, and his message appears very clear, sincere, and soul-baring. And his message resonates with thousands of similar messages I’ve come across in my years of work with individuals who struggled with character issues but eventually managed to make the commitment necessary to forge a better sense of self.
One of the most remarkable things to me about Mr Williams’ story is the reaction some of the folks interviewing him appear to have had to some aspects of his testimony. Naturally, all were impressed with his incredible talent. And all were more than joyful about the fact that he is no longer on the streets and appears to have a bright future ahead of him. But many seemed a bit uncomfortable about the attributions he consistently makes not only about reasons for his fall from grace but also the cause of his present good fortune. He admits knowing that he had a God-given talent and that he took it for granted and defaulted on the values instilled in him for the sake of a quick high, and he credits a higher power for saving him from the brink of despair and bestowing abundant blessings upon him as he has striven to rebuild his life. He also points to his sense of shame for what he had let himself become before finding the strength to turn things around. In so doing, he echoes the testimony of thousands of once-struggling characters with whom I have worked over the years who eventually found the keys to change their lives for the better. Such testimonies prompted me to do my best to articulate the major principles of character reformation in my book Character Disturbance. But many of his assertions — as profound as they are — aren’t very politically correct. From his admission that character deficiencies led him down the path that eventually resulted in addiction, to his insistence that a profound sense of shame finally led him to finally stand up for the values his mother tried to instill in him (mental health professionals still generally consider shame a toxic commodity as opposed to a potentially powerful positive motivator), he definitely cut against the grain with respect to popular thinking on how people get themselves into trouble and what they need to do to get themselves out of it. So, while his interviewers seemed to readily celebrate his talent, his recent stroke of good luck, and the outpouring of support and opportunity that has come his way since his videos hit the internet, many appeared uncomfortable with his frequent references to God “as [he] conceives of that entity,” his shame at defaulting on the values he was taught, and his belief in a plan for his personal redemption.
I’m inspired by Ted and his message. Although there’s no guarantee he’s advanced far enough in his personal development to resist the temptation to “relapse,” in his heart he knows the truths of his ordeal and what he has to do to stay the course. He also knows the value of the opportunity and support that has come his way. He even appears more humble about the gift he has and seems to have some sense of obligation to treasure and use it more respectfully than he has in the past. I wish it were true that sincerity of heart is sufficient to overcome a long history of maladaptive behavior, but it is not. Undoubtedly, getting and keeping his life in order will require his steadfast commitment and persistent practice. Some may worry that if his addiction gets the better of him, he will necessarily spiral down into despair from renewed shame and self-condemnation. And while that’s indeed a possibility, I prefer to hold the same humble hope in which Ted appears to now abide. He believes that a greater power is at work in his life, first allowing him to stray to the very brink and then showing him the path of rescue him from it and blessing him with new opportunity. People who have such humility and faith can make believers out of others. His power to inspire comes from the fact that even in the depths of depravity and despair, he too became inspired. He regards what happened to him over the past few weeks as a genuine Christmas miracle. But perhaps he has given the rest of us an even greater gift through his testimony about the eternal truths behind the miraculous changes in his life.
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