Posted by: coachingparents | March 21, 2009


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
We’ve all heard the expression, “It not whether you win or lose,
it’s how you play the game.”  Clearly in sports, participation is most
important. One of the desired goals of most good teachers is to “get
the kids to participate” in group activities.  Especially now,
politicians are encouraging us to “participate in the democratic
process.”   President Obama has asked us to “participate in service”
to our country.  In serving others, participation is primary.
About 25 years ago, one of the transformative changes encouraged in
business was called “quality circles.”  Employees were encouraged to
participate in almost all activities previously believed to be
exclusive to supervisors, managers and executives.  “Management by
participation” was a buzz word for middle- and upper level managers. 
Participation by everyone in the business enterprise became a new
corporate goal.
We are social creatures.  If we don’t participate in any endeavor,
we do not grow.  Participation in the social processes of life is
critical to us reaching our full potential as human beings.  So why do
we often find it so hard to participate?  Why are we reluctant to
speak up in front of others, to actively listen, to confront and
respect differences, to understand how to reach social consensus and
to facilitate the participation of others?
There are many reasons why we resist participating.  Participation,
particularly concerning things that matter, touches our emotions. 
Moreover, the emotion of fear is the biggest block to our
participating in anything.  Fear of failure.  Fear of looking awkward
or “stupid.”  Fear of ridicule or humiliation.  Fear of taking risks. 
Fear of losing or loss.
Even in those who are secure and confident in themselves, who have
little fear, still don’t volunteer to participate, because they lack
the practice or training in how to participate.  Most of us grew up
passively watching others participate.  We spent thousands and
thousands of hours being passively entertained by television, instead
of practicing our participatory skills.  We would rather watch a few
select “experts” participate, than involve ourselves in the
participatory process.  What a waste of human potential!  When we
don’t participate, we rarely develop any personal/social skills.
Sometimes we fail to participate because we fail to see the
opportunity to do so.  Sometimes, opportunities to participate are
denied us.  Authorities of any kind need to be very wary of their
denial of offering opportunities to everyone to participate. 
Teachers, parents, executives, presidents, police, societal leaders
who deny or withhold opportunities for others to participate, do so at
their own peril.  History has taught us that our natural tendency and
desire to involve ourselves in participating, when thwarted, leads to
rebellion, even revolution.  Think about the reasons for America’s
founding fathers to rebel.
Individuals do not change without participating in new endeavors. 
Since organizations are made up of individuals, organizational
structures do not change without making participation safe, meaningful
and rewarded.
In his book, “Creating Strategic Change,” William Pasmore writes,
“Organizational change and individual change are synonymous and
complementary.  When approached together consciously, they provide the
potential for a synergistic reinforcement of one another that can
produce truly significant and lasting changes in the thinking,
feeling, and sense-making of individuals as well as the practices,
structures, processes, and arrangements of organizing.”
Simply put, only when we participate in any endeavor, can we succeed
in accomplishing our individual, organizational, community and
cultural goals in a manner far exceeding our dreams and expectations. 
After all, it is not whether you win or lose, it’s whether or not you
participate in the game of Life.  Fully participate in living and your
experience of being alive becomes greater than you might have ever
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life
coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams)
the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton
2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on


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