Tolerate Unevenness

Most kids, it seems to me, are totally self-centered. It’s as if they are The Center of the Universe. Part of this is related to basic survival, I guess. Just like baby birds, the chirping and squawking of babies ensures that older people notice them, attend to their needs, and generally see to it that they make it into next week. Judging by the time, money, and effort we expend on those squawking creatures, perhaps they are the centers of our universe.

Chirping and squawking tends to taper off as the baby ages. However, even as adults, that sense of self-importance is closer to the surface of some people’s skin than others. Part of this squawking is good and keeps us from getting taken advantage of, providing healthy boundaries. Yet, a sense of entitlement is more developed in some people, causing a hypersensitive radar to injustice and a cry of “not fair” when something does not go completely in that person’s favor. This is never more true than at bat.

Thankfully, balls and strikes are still called by real, live human umpires. True, they have spent thousands of hours hunched over hundreds of catchers and have seen thousands of pitches. The number of people who attempt to umpire in the Major League far surpasses the few available spots. They are professionals. Nevertheless, those human umpires are subject to the vagaries of weather, playing conditions, and travel that the players and coaches experience. Which is to say, they have good days and bad days. Strikes zones can be a little wider or narrower, taller or shorter, on any given day. Pitchers accept this. They learn to tolerate unevenness. What they don’t like is inconsistency – wide, narrow, tall, short – all in the same game. Whatever it is, a consistent strike zone is one piece in making the game as fair as it can be. People, still being people, can see a particular pitch as a “ball,” when the umpire called it a “strike.” This is where absorbing the lessons of baseball can help, especially learning to tolerate unevenness.

Some calls are simply wrong. Bad. The umpire blew it (see last week’s blog on generous forgiving). If you are the kind of player whose sense of entitlement is acute, you react to such situations quickly and fiercely. You cannot tolerate unevenness. “Victimization” is another term for this hair-trigger response of outrage when a person’s sense of entitlement has been breached. At the slightest sense of injustice, the person reacts as a victim, with the world against them at every turn. To be sure, there are indeed victims of hunger, fear, injustice or oppression. They live in an unfair world. I’m talking about those who never grew beyond the squawking and chirping of infancy. They never learned that life is not always fair, people make honest mistakes, and stuff just happens.

Not every call in life is going to go your way. There is unevenness in life, as in baseball. Tolerating that unevenness is the key to navigating life’s challenges, or playing baseball. Doing so as a team (or a family or a community), uplifting and encouraging one another, never giving up hope or giving in to despair, allows us to practice grace toward one another. We can learn a great deal from baseball. It’s no wonder that baseball has been such an enduring part of our culture and history for well over a century.

(Adapted from “Swing for the Fences: Show up. Dig in. Suck less.”)

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