I typically find material for blog posts from my experiences playing or coaching. I didn’t play many matches this week, and I’m coaching half as many people as I did this time last year. Curse you, covid virus! Anyway, I’m forced to search a little deeper for interesting content. I had some ideas floating around, but nothing really compelling. Then it happened. Right in the middle of a mostly civil (not really) Facebook thread somebody got really nasty. Not only was I insulted, but everyone who sympathised with me, or thought I might not be crazy was thrown under the proverbial bus. If you don’t live in the southern part of the United States you could be forgiven for thinking that “Bless your heart” is exactly what it sounds like….a blessing.
There’s a little bit of a blessing in there, but by the time you bless someone’s heart you’re done arguing and moved on to feeling sorry for the poor ignorant soul. It’s particularly egregious to bless the heart of a group. Now you’re not just claiming superiority over your old weird uncle, but entire groups of old weird uncles. To be a table tennis player means that you will sometimes be marginalized. It’s not always from other athletes. Tennis players who have dabbled in table tennis might have a little more respect for the skills involved. But in the United States, table tennis players are misunderstood, and frequently disrespected. I don’t think it’s worth protesting over. If table tennis is really going to matter, our sport will need to earn that respect.
The whole heart blessing thing is interesting because it allows the nicest sweetest people to put down others in a way that they would never do directly. You can even take this one step further and say that you’ll be praying for somebody. The sentiment is great, unless you mean I’ll be praying that you’ll eventually see the error of your ways and agree with me. I didn’t always think this way. My outlook on life changed drastically during my last few years of working at UPS. I found myself working with a group of employees who had mostly taken a different career path than I had. Most of the group was made up of middle aged men. Of the fifty or so employees, I was one of maybe three that had graduated from college. I didn’t always get along very well with my fellow workers. This always surprised me. Afterall, who could be more agreeable than me? Over the course of several years, I gradually gained respect for some of the people who initially had treated me the worst. Eventually I realized they weren’t going to show any more respect for me than I did for them. This raised the question as to why I had not respected them in the first place. Looking back, I know I came across as arrogant. Why did I think I knew more than they did? I discovered there was a lot more to this tight knit group than I had suspected. Few had been to college, but they were incredibly competent, fiercely loyal, strong minded, and sometimes hilarious. My education and ability to sound just like Bob Costas really didn’t do me any good in this new environment.
After retiring from UPS I dove headfirst into table tennis coaching. I tried to bring some of the humility I had acquired to my new endeavor. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I know I’m not the perfect coach for every player. I attempt to treat every player with the respect I would want. My days at UPS were sometimes tense, but whatever tension there was, it rarely seemed like it was about race. Did I have some kind of privilege because I was white? Maybe so, but there were times when it wouldn’t have hurt to be black. The table tennis community is even more diverse than UPS was. It’s one of the things I love about our sport. I may not get to see the world, but I can meet people from every part of it. So, when someone puts me down for the things I believe or argue their point by telling me what the smart people are saying, I see them the same way my old coworkers saw me. If you have the arrogance to believe you’re right, because science is always right, or because you’re just that smart, you might not know all there is to know. Just maybe. It took me quite a few years to realize there are lots of types of education, and not all of them end up with a diploma. I’m glad I do have a diploma. I’m not against formal education, or the formally educated. I am against condescension from anyone. That’s condescension – an attitude of patronizing superiority or disdain. It’s out there, and maybe even in your table tennis club. You might not recognize it at first. Strangely enough, it’s always the nice ones.