Oscar Wilde plays tennis.

Or not. I have no idea if he did. I just like the visual of the 19th century razor-witted playwright playing doubles with Dorothy Parker, one of the 20th century’s most acidic-tongued and wittiest of intellectuals. That’s a visual. Oh, the banter that would be flying back and forth…

One of the most sorely-lacking qualities in politics and much of culture today is humility. We (the United States) have a leader(?) who values the anti-Christian idea of power as the ultimate arbiter of truth - the idea being that :

If I have the power, it’s because I’m successful and deserve it, and because I deserve it, I can’t be wrong. Even if I am wrong, I can’t be wrong, so the facts must be re-situated and restated to best fit my words and actions.

That is the ultimate arrogance:
even when I’m shown and proved to be wrong…
…I am still not wrong. Because…because I can’t be wrong. I’m successful and powerful and the world wouldn’t work if I acknowledged I was wrong and - gasp - admitted that I was wrong and - deep gasp - said I was truly, deeply sorry. And meant it.

That would be a step that only the strongest and most capable leaders could make, because it takes strength to let truth be your guide and facts your compass…and to acknowledge when you’ve lost your way.

It is a post-logic world.

42-year old bearded male with grimace on his face attacks the net aggressively as he plays a quiet tennis match with his young children. (photo: M.D. Long)

A post-logic, post-compassion, post-facts, post-truth, post-humility sort of world. At least in terms of what is normal and what we can agree on to value. Those things are no longer valued by an overwhelming majority of the country.

Humility. A willingness to acknowledge you might be wrong and to seek correction, even at the expense of your ego. An acceptance that you don’t know everything and to seek wisdom and counsel from those who know more. Or perhaps not even from those who know more, but from those who know something differently or are able to provide a different perspective or lens on a situation.

Humility is how you gain wisdom, and like Socrates famously (allegedly) said: I know that I know nothing. The more skilled you are at something, the more you know about something, the closer you will get to a crossroads where you will take your knowledge, your skill, and wield it with:

  1. the hubris of the over-confident; also known popularly as arrogance, or

  2. the wisdom of the humble; the acceptance that the more you know, the more there is you don’t know.

I am trying to be more humble. It sounds arrogant to say that. But I am. There are skill sets and disciplines and pockets of knowledge in which I possess a certain level of proficiency. I have a level of confidence in those areas that I am able to enthusiastically and somewhat-articulately share my knowledge and interest with others and provide benefit and value on some level…

…but I also realize more and more how many people are so much more talented in some of those areas than myself. I can either pretend they don’t exist, or I can try to continue learning and absorbing what I can from them.

Now, take everything I just said - which I meant - and throw it out when it comes to tennis.

I am fun to play tennis with. Why? Because I leave any traces of humility far away from the court.

What is the worst thing in the world? Playing with a humble tennis player. Worst thing ever. Boring. Know what’s even worse than that? Playing with a really good tennis player who happens to be super-humble. Awful.

Know what’s the best? Playing with an arrogant, smack-talking tennis player who spikes and slams on young children and brags loudly about how he will crush them like vermin.…that’s the best. Seriously. Especially if he’s not actually that good.

That’s the best. Because it feels good to take down an arrogant jerk who’s been talking it up and making big promises about annihilating every opponent. It feels good, like you’re doing the world a favor. Every great film needs a great super villain,

and every great tennis match needs a great obnoxious talker.

That is the gift I give our children.

More opponents to crush. As Voltaire once said: Ecraison l’infante.

Once upon a time, I had a tennis opponent who wore a black dress and thought she was real cool. She is not in these photographs. I would threaten to destroy her on the court, and once I did, and I forgot what happened the other times. It doesn’t matter, we’ve all forgotten.

But someday, I will see her on the court again, and she will be old, because she is a year older than me, and I will completely destruct her, because I will be practicing against these diminutive figures (pictured). I will build up my confidence and my skills by crushing them, again and again, and eventually…

eventually…there will be a reckoning. Bring it. I don’t lose.

And even when I do…I don’t.

Stay cool. Stay humble. As another mediocre writer once said:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

-Samuel Clements, also knowns as Mark Twain. He wrote a few books that were readable.

Other tennis posts:

Steph and Steff
Petra Kvitova

Some are more interested in tennis culture than others; some may be more inclined to follow in Henri Cartier-Bresson’s footsteps. Where is the power button again, Dad?