Thursday, September 01, 2005

Racquetball Diaries-IV

It is perilous to underestimate the role temperament plays in our lives. It is equally perilous to ignore the fact that, sometimes, our characteristic reaction to events or arguments is not necessarily effective.

I see this in my four year old daughter every day, and I see it--introspectively--in my own life as well. It is just very difficult to fight one's temperament. You may be able to buff the edges of your temperament, and you may even be able to sand down the certain rough spots over time, but there are very few people who can radically change this fundamental aspect of personhood, this issue of temperament.

What does this have to do with racquetball?

Nearly everything. Let me give you an example. I play racquetball with a friend on a weekly basis. He can hit the ball about as hard as anybody I have ever met. He loves to hit the ball hard. It makes him feel good. And most of the time, against any number of players, hitting the ball is indeed effective. My friend just loves it when people walk by and stop to see how hard he hits the ball; he loves it when opponents are intimidated by hard he hits the ball; and, more often than not, when he is in a bind, he hits the ball hard. When he hits an ace with his drive serve, you can see him swell up with racquetball pride.

One might say that my friend's racquetball temperament is to hit the ball hard. But this temperament can get him in trouble, and in ways he does not even realize. Yesterday, for instance, we played our normal match and, lo and behold, he was hitting the ball hard as ever, especially on his serve. The problem with an over-reliance on the hard serve, however, is that if that kind of serve is "off" just a touch, it is an extremely easy ball for an opponent to put away. Yesterday, my friend's serve was consistently off just a touch, and therefore (theoretically) easy to put away.

But it would have been a mistake for me to consistently do that. Instead, because I am aware of my friend's temperament, I intentionally allowed my pal to "ace" me about every fourth serve: this because I wanted him keep hitting the ball hard, and, even an ace every fourth serve kept him playing the game ineffectively. Within the narrow confines of the racquetball court, my friend was thus an unwitting prisoner of his temperament. Some day, I assume, he is going to figure out that, although it makes him feel good to hit the ball hard, his temperament is actually causing him to lose important matches.

Obviously, there is no rule against being a prisoner to one's temperament. But here are a couple of questions this important racquetball issue raises: how many people play the game a certain way, and ineffectively at that, because they are unwilling to examine the role of temperament in their lives, and, maybe more important, how many people are hampered in this game because of an unwarranted pride produced by that temperament?