Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hospitality at the sports center

   Whether you're aware of it or not, sports and sports centers depend on hospitality.

Take, for example, the concept of a lap lane. The sign says it all: “continuous swimming” is required. As such, "lap” becomes a verb: “to complete the circuit of (a racecourse)” or “to traverse a course” [Merriam Webster]. Hence, when a swimmer approaches a pool gabber with the request to “share” the lane, the polite nudge is to swim or give up the lane. Despite these three guides—the sign, the verb, and the nudge—said pool puddler will likely agree to share but remain gabbing in the lane. For your next 24 laps. This is unnecessary. The sports center has done its job, the lapper has done his job, but the swimless swimmer has not. Hospitality has been breached. And, as always, the question lurks, can one insist upon another’s hospitality? Yes. A simple conversation is appropriate the first time you must swim around the guy standing in the lap lane. It should go something like this: “It’s not easy to maintain my momentum when I have to swim around you.” No response? Next lap: "Wearing these goggles makes it difficult for me to see you. I’d hate to run into you.” No response?  Well, then you've beggared your hospitality strategies and must give up. The lug won; you lost. But if your finger tips should lightly graze the lap intruder on your next lap as you barely pass around him—due to the difficulty of spotting him, of course-- you’ve broken no hospitality rules. And you may just find the lane a bit emptier upon your next lap. That’s one intruder handled if not hospitably, at least not inhospitably.

A similar lack of a gentle hospitality solution occurs with the tennis court encroacher.  For not the first, second, or third time, you’re playing with your chums on a court one of you reserved when this familiar Termagant stomps up to you and announces that she has reserved your court for this time and that you and your buddies must vacate immediately.  No discussion, no apology, no collegiality--just her usual blustering attack on your right to play.  Maintaining your equanimity, you suggest she check with the tennis pro.  She won't.  You're still playing.  A hospitatality standoff ensues.  Superadded to your frustration with her is your frustration with your friends who back down. Why you're surprised, I can't say; for they always relinquish the court to this female bully.  You know that this is misplaced chivalry on your friends’ part, but you fail to convince them.  The final insult occurs when, after giving up the court, you discover that the female group is missing their fourth. When you return home early, your wife asks if you were rained out. You reply that you were “womaned out.” Your wife will now hear this all too familiar story of female bullying. It's time to face the truth: no amount of hospitality can convert a bully. A bully esteems hospitality as a weakness. A bully attacks the weak. Hospitality Morality recommends stepping up your hospitality game instead. Ask the sport center's authorities to assize the dispute. If the error was yours, leave the court and apologize to only those who have been polite to you. If all have been rude, simply leave. If you feel the need to apologize, you probably won’t be sincere. And bullies don’t want apologies. So don’t bother. If the error was theirs, play on and ignore any taunts.  A bully will look elsewhere for a less formidable foe.  Beware court #2!

We can we learn three lessons about hospitality from these sports scenarios. First, hospitality is critical to maintaining a convivial atmosphere in a competitive environment. Second, hospitality may require a bit of chicancery. Third, only authoritative hospitality affects bullies.

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