Not everyone has this moment. Some human beings never look back, or inward, or beyond themselves. They lack perspective. They don’t think about their souls (that’s not meant in a religious sense, only in the sense of exploring life’s deeper meanings). They just try to grab what’s in front of them, pursuing the next hustle, reaching for the next opportunity. Life is a business transaction, every activity a negotiation rather than a path to self-improvement.
If we’re fortunate, we will feel — at certain moments in our lives — the sting of humiliation and embarrassment, a moment when we have either behaved or performed so poorly that our whole being shudders in recognition of how unacceptably we have conducted ourselves. That might seem counterintuitive. That’s fortunate, to feel something so unpleasant and unsettling?
We all need to feel that at some point. We’re reminded how imperfect and small we are. We’re reminded that we’re not walking gods who are untouchable. It’s fortunate to be reminded of that.
The unfortunate ones think they’re untouchable, and they act that way. They think they can get away with anything. Maybe, in a strictly materialist sense, they do … but such a life cannot bring beauty to the Earth, or more precisely, it can’t bring more beauty than suffering. It can’t offer more virtue than vice. People who think they’re untouchable will trample the weak and cause massive pain in this world. People who think they’re untouchable will consistently do what’s wrong.
The fortunate ones will have moments when they realize how wrong they have been. From the depths of that uniquely humbling realization comes a clarity and honesty which enable a human being to pursue truth, authenticity, and improvement, with a level of self-awareness which is always open to what’s real, and significant, and consequential. A life is lived with eyes — and minds, and hearts — wide open, receptive to lessons and ready to receive teaching.
This is hopefully the world of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Taylor Fritz after they shockingly left the U.S. Open on the first night of the tournament.
Both men had a great cchance to make the semifinals. Both were simply not ready to play, and if there were concerns about injuries, both men shrugged off that notion. They both accepted that they played unacceptably bad tennis.
Though both men played immature tennis, they maturely owned their failures. They felt humiliated. The losses certainly aren’t refreshing, but both men felt chastened. They were like Alcoholics Anonymous meeting attendees who realized, yes, they had a problem.
That’s the first step in the road to recovery. That’s what we mean when we say people are fortunate if they feel humiliation.
Tsitsipas and Fritz can’t do anything about these losses until Melbourne in January, which is several months away. Yet, maybe that’s good. They can take a long look in the mirror and begin the slow, patient work of building themselves back to a place where these sorts of losses — and beyond that, leaving big results on the table at the most important tournaments — become a thing of the past.