Life’s Game of Tag

November 5, 2010


We all remember the times in our early lives when we played the game of tag. We can recall what it was like when someone touched us to make us “it,” and how we almost injured ourselves trying to touch another person so that he or she could be “it” and we could take a break from running to breathe a little easier. When we now think of the lengths that we went through not to be “it,” we have to wonder how we are still here today! As we have gotten older and our desire to play the game of tag has waned. We have all paid the price for our loss of enthusiasm and for not resting until we passed on the designation of “it” to someone else. Although the designation of being “it” did not truly matter in the larger scheme of things when we were children, it has become important as we matured into adolescents and adults. Sadly, our seeking to find others and remind them that they are “it” has slowed to a pace this is unrecognizable, or has completely stopped.

A major part of the game of tag is the dispersing of the group to different locations to avoid being caught, as winning the game requires that we disperse while keeping a watchful eye on others. As we age, we seem to forget this rule, and begin to believe that dispersing so that we can all win and not get caught is a bad thing. However, if we all dispersed with the intention of winning and getting back together, we would gain so much, as we would find the good “spots” that we would never have found had we stayed together. We need to recognize that we are “on our own, but not alone.”

The designation of being “it” is even more crucial today in our fight to counter some of society’s greatest tragedies affecting the human spirit. If we are to combat bullying, suicide, discrimination, and the like, we must be prepared to relaunch that old game of tag and let people know that they can become “it” once again. We must let them know that they matter and are valuable, as well as that life is so enriched by their presence and, more importantly, their participation. A major contribution to the tragedies of bullying, suicide, and discrimination is that so many of the victims and perpetrators suffer from poor self-esteem because too few people let them know that they are valued and appreciated.

The game of tag in later life needs to be played slightly differently, as we now know that once we receive the designation of “it,” it travels with us in our mind, body, and spirit, and we should never lose or give it away. Our goal now is to pass it on to someone else who may have never received it or has lost confidence in his or her designation. One factor that gets in the way of playing the game of tag later in life is the “doing me syndrome.” So many current television shows highlight tragedies of the human spirit that are ignored by the many and addressed by the few. We can watch people being humiliated, abused, and lying in the street while others watch and do nothing. We have to understand that the paramount rule in this new game of tag is that I can get “it” and so can you. That is, we can be “it” together; no one has to be left behind, as there is room for us all. We see every night on the news what happens to people who have been left behind or feel they have been left behind. It is becoming unbearable to watch them and keep living as “innocent bystanders” who have no responsibility to make a change.

What does this new game of tag look like in everyday behavior? It is just speaking to, making eye contact with, and recognizing others while remaining present and available. Having reverence for every person, regardless of his or her station in life, is critical in this new game of tag. When we run into “reluctant players,” we must be steadfast in our determination to change the rules of the existing game of life. We must focus on building up people, places, and things, using our energy only to do things that contribute and make a positive difference. When life challenges this new determination, we must be prepared to firmly answer back, “I no longer live like that. I know that I am special and am not alone in being special. I just need to be reminded that I am special and matter. I will seek to let others know that they are the same. I will not keep a tally. I will just start living differently now. You are IT!”


Launch Your True Self

July 8, 2010

Launch Your True Self: Guide to Reframing Challenging Life Events

By Nathaniel J. Williams, Ed.D., MHS, MPA, MBA

Every person faces countless challenges in his life. There is no way to escape these challenges, and we cannot consciously control many of them. Though they can come in many forms–divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, health issues, a particularly embarrassing moment, challenge to our spiritual beliefs or a difficult childhood, for example- all challenging life events have commonalities: they are life-altering and can keep us trapped in the moment for years, consciously or not.

When I examined my own life, I realized that I had been standing at the foot of my mother’s casket for 35 years, grieving her loss in so many ways in my daily life. I realized that in order to let go of it, put it into perspective, and place it in its rightful place in my life, I had to ‘reframe’ it: turn this challenging life event into a positive opportunity for empowerment and enlightenment.

First step for any person is to identify the challenging life event and explore where it may have influenced our life—not easy to do since we are generally blind to this past event’s existence in our present life. For example, you may have experienced a challenging life event that would fall under the theme of ‘protection’ (in which case you did not feel protected) and today, have an aversion to banks, require numerous medical opinions, or are hypersensitive to criticism. You can see how that challenging life event shows up in ways not immediately recognized.

Recall a past event that had a profound effect on you at the time. Write down your thoughts and feelings as a result of that event, immediately following it or years after. Consider how it may have impacted other areas of your life such as spirituality, family and friends, and financial, as listed on the chart.    

Failure to appreciate the significance of these challenging life events prevents us from reaching our full potential and can exert a lasting impression on others and ourselves. Reframing the event allows us to truly understand it and use it to launch ourselves forward, rather than allowing it to hold us back. For example: a person who was a victim of childhood abuse might turn the hurt, pain, embarrassment and loss of power and control he suffered as a child into an opportunity to share what he learned and work towards prevention and empowerment of himself and others.

In the case of my mother’s death, I reframed my feelings of abandonment and isolation into the understanding that she had stayed with me as long as she could and didn’t leave before giving me the blueprint to be all I could be. Today, I view my life as a train ride upon which my mother is with me. I imagine that I am taking her to places that surprise her and places she envisioned her children would go. Write down the “old framed” view and associated feelings and thoughts (in my case, feelings of abandonment/isolation) and next to them, the “reframed” feelings and thoughts (my mother already gave me all that I need.)

The most important aspect of reframing is recognizing that whatever person, place, thing, words, metaphor, character, etc. we use to replace the challenging life event, we must avoid reframed concepts that point fingers, assign blame, refer to our own or others shortcomings, or elicit any other negative connotation. Positioned on a positive and empowering foundation, a truly reframed event is one upon which a person can build and from which we can launch our true selves. 


The 4C’s of Compassion

January 27, 2010

I feel compelled that we must learn something about ourselves to better prepare us to handle life’s challenges when they occur.

I believe our problem as a society is that we don’t have a way to:

“The 4Cs of Compassion – Care Consistently about the Capacity to Cope”

We allow for poverty, poor education, crime, abuse, coping, health, and environmental issues to go unaddressed until a crisis occurs. Then we temporarily overreact.  The amounts of money which go from one crisis to another are so misused. 

A consistent effort to care is the only solution.

So often our philanthropic efforts are part of the problem because they don’t recognize the full society or the full person. They don’t have to address all the needed issues, but they need to be in concert with others who address the other aspects of the full community and/or person.



We Must Do Better

December 8, 2009

There are 500,000 in foster care in the United States on any given day and 800,000 children who go through the system in a year’s time. I don’t think anybody realizes the magnitude of this movement of precious lives. The traffic of these 800,000 children would make them tied to be the 13th largest city in the US. Imagine all of the people living in Jacksonville, San Francisco, Austin, Memphis, or Baltimore being asked to leave their city so just the nation’s foster care children could live in one place. Mind you this is only the children, if you included their parents, grandparents, and siblings who are not in foster care the impacted numbers by foster care would truly be astronomical. Because the impact of children in foster care is muted by the disbursement throughout the United States we don’t recognize the true cost of this phenomenon. These children, who often through no fault of their own, are placed in a system that was never meant to be their surrogate parent but attempts to do the best that it can. We all know that government was never meant to take the place of a family – especially a parent. So often foster children graduate to other systems of correction, supports, and services at a great cost to all.

We must garner the strength and conviction to support these children, their families, and communities. I recently worked with a young teenager, already a mother of a 5 month old, to stay connected to her family and prevent placement in the foster care system. As the grandmother and young teen mom attempted to reconcile their differences which could allow them to stay together, the system worked to bring them apart. As a product of the nation’s largest cities, New York’s, foster care system I refused to let this happen. I know what it is like to be placed in foster care at age 5 along with 9 other siblings, to be shuffled often 100s of miles away from home. Thus, I committed to personally provide the nominal funds to aid this family in staying together. I challenge caring adults everywhere to embrace these children and do what we can to make this segment of our population under the population of the 50th largest city – 375,000 by 2015. A 2008 report cited “of those children who grow up in foster care, more than 30 percent don’t finish high school, and only about 3 percent obtain a bachelor’s degree.” We can, we must, do better by these vulnerable children through concern by advocacy and philanthropic support.