Dum spiro, spero
(While I breathe, I hope.)
Tennis Match (Scenario 1):
It is match point for the server, but it is second serve. The receiver watches as the ball arches toward the far corner of the service box. He lunges for it, but to no avail. The ball, with the help of the wispiest of breezes, kicks up chalk; the serve is an ace and the receiver plunges into despair as the match is lost.
Tennis Match (Scenario 2):
It is match point for the receiver, and it is second serve. The receiver watches as the ball arches toward the far corner of the service box. He lunges for it, but to no avail. The ball, with the help of the wispiest of breezes, however, lands just outside the service box. It is a double fault. The receiver throws his racket into the air in joy at his triumph.
Now, what should be apparent from these scenarios is that in neither case did the receiver’s actions play any role in the outcome of the point. The laws of physics, the law of gravity, and the whim of Mother Nature determined where the ball would ultimately land. And yet, where the ball landed determined the receiver's emotional reaction. He let forces outside his command control him.*
***In a recent article on Slate.com** Daniel Engber wrote of his rooting for the underdog (or whoever was behind in the game) during the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament:
Soon I found myself cheering for a Spartans team that couldn't get it together in the second half. They made a late run—closing to within one point in the final minute—but, alas, my disappointment was guaranteed. (If Michigan State had come back, I would have been pulling for Butler.) When the game ended, I fell into a sour mood.So, here is a man who didn’t dribble one ball, shoot one basket, or attempt one free throw falling into “a sour mood” because of events completely out of his control.
Surely, the absurdity of allowing, like the tennis receiver or Mr. Engber or the pale lover of Suckling’s poem, agents beyond one’s control to determine one’s emotional well-being should be strikingly evident. To allow oneself to be blown about by the whims of others or to concede to the forces of nature the power to subject one to joy or despair is to surrender one’s emotional autonomy; in reality, to concede that one is a loser. And a loser has only one fallback—hope.
Hope is the food of losers.
At the beginning of this essay I quoted words written in his copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio by King Charles I of England while imprisoned after being dethroned by the forces of Parliament. Charles was the consummate loser; he lost his breath, his hope, and his head simultaneously.
****In The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance, W. Timothy Gallwey looks at this from the perspective of the tennis ball.
**Daniel Engber, “The Underdog Effect: Why do we love a loser?” Available at: http://www.slate.com/id/2252372