Imagine you’re taking a Sunday stroll. You pass a ball field where there is a group of children playing football. A few blocks later you pass a house where two children are playing catch. Then, a few houses down you spot a child on the front lawn, alone tossing a ball in the air: both quarterback and receiver.
Our first impression here might be sympathy; feeling bad for the child with no one else to play with. We might want to stop and offer to play catch. This would give us the chance to feel good about ourselves while also helping a lonely child. And, it would in fact be a touching thing to witness. A genuine act of kindness.
Let’s now consider something beyond our usual perception. Of all the aforementioned scenarios, the child playing alone is the only example of ownership and accountability. The child as both quarterback and receiver has no one else to blame for dropping the ball. The child is solely responsible. If the child chooses to toss the ball only a few feet up, there’s safety in that choice. The likelihood of dropping the ball is low. Conversely, if the child repeatedly attempts Hail Mary passes across the yard, requiring the need to sprint and dive for the ball, the risk of failure is high, as is the risk of injury, and it’s physically exhausting. The child is in control of the difficulty. The child is in control of the pace. The child is in control of the risk. The child is in control of every choice. If motivated by boredom, a simple toss may amplify the boredom and loneliness. If motivated by the desire to improve in preparation for competition, the risks of sprinting and diving don’t outweigh the rewards of getting better. Who feels sympathy for those who strive to be better? Perhaps the child is alone in a league of one’s own.